Going into the first fixture of this year's Champions League, a fan of soccer most likely had certain expectations. Soccer is one of the sports where home advantage still matters, with teams having to travel all over Europe in order to play their away matches. Good teams can be expected to draw when they're away from home and then get their wins in their home stadiums. Great teams are assumed to be able to win anywhere against lesser competition. If Manchester United travels to the Ukraine to play, people expect them to win, as they should. The best teams beat the average teams regardless of home field advantage... or at least that's how it should be. This week saw Man U draw at Benfica (pretty reasonable considering the quality of Benfica), Manchester City draw at home with Napoli (poor result when you're claiming to be a contender for the title), and Inter lose at home to Trabzonspor. What the fuck is a Trabzonspor? So perhaps we have unrealistic expectations of our teams. Even the best clubs can lose or draw in adverse conditions, or when they're feeling nervous, or when they... I don't know, get scared to death of random Turkish sides? Maybe we need to temper our expectations and realize that the dream scenario that we want will not always happen just to please us.
Guess what Arsenal fans? I'm not-so-subtly directing that statement at you. We have become accustomed to expecting everything from our team and while of course I still desire excellence, I'm not sure that such expectations are valid anymore. For the last several years, Arsenal has been a youth project with the components to be great. But of course they haven't quite gotten then. But whatever the reasoning behind why they haven't (and the various theories out there are the stuff of soccer pundits' wet dreams), Arsenal is in a different position now, much different from even a year ago. Last year the Gunners were a potential title winner that just had to overcome their youth and attitude to seize opportunity. But then they lost their effective left winger. And then their captain and creative force. And then their most dynamic playmaker. All that was left at the end was an incredibly young team who lost their most pivotal components. Is it any wonder that Arsenal was expected to finish behind the two Manchester teams, Chelsea, Liverpool, and even Spurs depending on what crackpot you were listening to? Now, I'm not saying that this should be accepted. That we should be fine with Arsenal being a less than dominant squad. It was just a week or two ago that I was arguing about how Arsenal was a big boy and should spend/act like a big boy. I don't want that kind of thinking to go by the wayside... but I also see potential in the future as opposed to the present.
Look at this year's Arsenal squad. I mean really look at it. Tell me how many end-of-the-line starters they really have. Van Persie? I mean, he counts, but he's not as elite as he'd like you to believe. The midfield right now is Walcott, Gervinho, Song, Arteta, and Benayoun. Tell me which of those players you'd want on a top of the line club. Don't get me wrong, I like Walcott and Song. They've been good players for Arsenal for the last couple of years and I've learned to gloss over their flaws in the name of loyalty. Walcott can't cross for his life and Song loves to take terrible challenges, turn them into cards, and turn them into being unavailable for his team. But what do they do after that? For defenders, they have Vermaelen (if he's healthy), Mertesacker now (work in progress), Sanga (who I admittedly love), and ?????????. I say ?????????? because I refuse to believe that Kieran Gibbs will ever play soccer again. To be honest, I like the backline, I do. But is it a championship line? That's the question that stops everyone. So out of the entire lineup, we have a striker we like, but isn't the best; a midfield that has potential but isn't there yet; and a defense that might actually be good if opponents couldn't rip through the left flank. I like this team. I really do. But I like it. I don't trust it. And that's what makes me think about the rest of this year.
I want this year to turn out well. I want it to be an EPL championship when Man U's youth crap's out. I want it to be a Carling Cup championship when Laurent Koscielny learns to speak Polish. I want it to be a Champions League championship when everyone pulls through as a team and plays to their ability. I really do. But I think that for this year, the best case scenario is a young team that figures out how to play together and has some limited success. I'm not wishing this to be the case because I of course root for everything. But as a logical fan, if this expectation was granted, I couldn't possibly be upset. When Arsenal went to Germany, I was ready for them to lose or weakly tie. Instead, I was heart-broken by the late goal that brought Dortmund back to a draw because of how Arsenal played. Is that fandom, or is that logical readjustment? I have no idea, but I can't wait to see them play again. As always, Go Gunners.