To be honest, it’s a little bit difficult to pinpoint how I feel about this weekend’s events. On the one hand of course Arsenal failed to get the crucial win over Norwich that they needed, a result which left us open to being overtaken in the race for Champions League qualification, whilst on the other we got out of jail as both Newcastle and more surprisingly Spurs failed to take advantage of the situation.
There seemed to be a feeling of relief among a lot of Arsenal supporters yesterday, and that seems quite understandable. Whereas after the result against Norwich there was understandable frustration and even anger, after yesterday’s results there was euphoria and gleeful mocking of Spurs’ endless ability to blow opportunities to finally finish above us in the table. Though I felt the relief myself I have to say I feel less than cheerful about the weekend’s events.
Maybe I’m being a bit glass-half-empty about this but I was hoping for a strong finish to this season from Arsenal. Instead of that, we are crawling toward the finish line, and in my view it’s still very possible that we may fail to qualify for the Champions League. Our last game certainly can’t be taken for granted as we face West Bromwich Albion, a club quietly enjoying one of the best Premier League seasons they’ve ever had and who will be looking to give manager Roy Hodgson a good send-off as his efficient management of the club has earned him the England manager’s job after the end of the season.
Whether the other teams in the frame for Champions League qualification took advantage of our slips over the last few weeks or not also seems to be somewhat irrelevant in so much as we still blew a commanding position. We still gave our rivals the opportunity to overtake us, and indeed we may yet hand them the prize again. In the past, this has been punished severely when we’ve been going for the title because clubs like Manchester United simply do not let that sort of chance pass them by. Newcastle and Spurs have thus far proved more forgiving, but the fact remains that we once again blew a strong league position and were reduced to nervously looking to a dire Aston Villa side to get a result against Spurs.
The circumstances may be different, but the story is the same as last season, and the season before that and the season before that. We’ve come down to the last few games of a season and either the pressure has told or our concentration has evaporated, and results are familiar. Another May spent lethargically stumbling to the end of the season. And it’s tough to know what the problem is exactly, because fans will always point the finger at individual players or the manager but I don’t think that answers the question. At this point, different Arsenal squads of almost completely different makeups have done this, more or less ever since the move from Highbury (not that I’m suggesting that’s the reason, it’s simply true), so I don’t buy that it’s down to the character of a few players.
As for the manager, well, that’s perhaps more credible because he’s the constant factor but I don’t believe for a second he allows that sort of attitude to breathe on the training pitch. You only need to look at the fact that when Arsenal are playing as they have done over the last few games, nobody hates it more than Arsene Wenger. Nobody goes more mental in the stadium, nobody works harder to turn it around.
Yesterday, Arseblog described our habit of capitulating at the end of the season as “hard-wired” into the club. As depressing as it is, I’m starting to see it that way too. I don’t think it would matter if we replaced the entire squad, the manager and all the support staff. It seems to me that Arsenal as a club are stuck in this rut. Maybe the climate at the club has become such that if the club is qualifying for the Champions League then there’s no pressure from upstairs to do better, but that’s just idle speculation.
Anyway, let’s not make it all doom and gloom this morning. It’s perfectly true that we’ve been handed a reprieve and one more chance to get this job done. Beat West Brom this weekend and it’s a third placed finish for us and automatic Champions League qualification, and perhaps just as importantly a summer to take stock and make much-needed changes. That’s all anyone involved with the club should be thinking of right now, that is the only objective that matters.
On that note, I’m signing off. Enjoy your Monday and I’ll return soon.