A week off with a banjaxed modem has done nothing to diminish my perception of today’s game against West Bromwich Albion as one of the most important of recent reasons. The opposition may not be glamorous, the occasion less than glorious but Arsenal’s future, certainly in terms of next season and perhaps beyond rests on the outcome of this match.
The battle for Champions League qualification has been a tightly fought battle all season. No team has been exempt from poor form or bizarre slip ups and nobody has managed to take a decisive advantage. Spurs at one point looked unassailable only to be caught, and we too seemed to be home and dry before blowing the advantage we had built for ourselves. Newcastle have done very well all through the season, at one point they looked out of contention, and I doubted their ability to stay the course but the fact can’t be doubted today that they have a chance of playing in the Champions League next season.
I find the suggestion that not qualifying for the Champions League for one season may work to our long term advantage a little tough to understand. I see no benefit to it at all because the Champions League is so integral to the club’s operating as it presently does. And perhaps people are so eager for a “shake-up” at the club that they can see a bright side to the club losing a massive source of cash income or the ability to attract top class players to the team. I don’t, and I think the Europa League is a total joke of a competition, I don’t think I could bring myself to watch it even if Arsenal were in it.
Best then, that we beat West Brom today, as that will guarantee our participation in next season’s Champions League. Easier said than done perhaps based on recent form. The team seems to have abandoned the hard work and strong character that saw us rise to third place to begin with, and in the weeks before last week’s calamity against Norwich there was a worrying air of complacency about more or less everyone at the club who spoke publicly about finishing third as if it had already happened. Today we can’t have that attitude in the team, it has to be the never-say-die, hard working, quality Arsenal side that put together seven wins in a row in the league.
What we do not need is the Arsenal team that turns up to play teams further down the table and thinks they’ve won just because they’re there. We’ve seen too much of that team this season and in recent reasons. You know the one I mean, the one that was deservedly beaten 2-1 by Hull City at home a couple of years back, the one that only a couple of weeks ago swaggered onto the pitch and got beaten by Wigan for their arrogance, and indeed the one that lost to a committed West Bromwich Albion team a season or two ago, perhaps a very pertinent example indeed.
The makeup of the team may be different, but the complacency that caused those results is the same in each case. I don’t even know how Arsenal get the idea into their heads now that they can take a Premier League match for granted. We have lost ten games this season – ten. It’s only the fact that other teams around us have been inconsistent as well that means we are even in the frame for a Champions League place this season, and yet the attitude that all we have to do is turn up continues to show itself.
It’s amazing in some ways that this match could provoke such nervousness as it has among Arsenal fans, not because of the opposition because West Brom are a good outfit with an excellent manager, but because the worry of so many fans is about the effort that we’re going to see from the team today – the concentration, the mistakes, energy levels and so on. I know it’s a long season and our players are only human but this game is as important as any that the team put in supreme efforts in to beat earlier in the season, and it needs to be treated that way. One last big effort and then everyone can have a holiday!
Arsene Wenger claims the team haven’t received the credit they deserve for some of the things that have been accomplished this season, and yes, I see his point, winning at Udinese with such a depleted squad as we had was worthy of note, victory over Borussia Dortmund was written off as standard even though they’re a very good team indeed. But this is the wrong time to talk about that I think, today’s game will in many ways be the judge of how this season is looked back on and what credit or demerit is dished out and that’s where the focus has to be.
It’s Pat Rice’s last day in the dugout today, let’s make it a good one for him, and let’s make it the right result for us. Win and qualification is ours, anything less and it could all get very anxious indeed.
That’s all from me then, get behind the team today, and COME ON ARSENAL!