I'm back again after a bit of a hiatus and I'm sure you all missed my writing. This hiatus was once again due to a lack of televised games. The Manchester derby was shown instead of the Arsenal win over Stoke (correct programming choice, just annoying for a Gunners fan) and the victory over Bolton in the Carling Cup match was mysteriously not shown on television at all. I rushed home from work to DVR the match (I had forgotten to previously set up a recording) only to find that my efforts would gain me a replayed Serie A match rather than the confrontation I wanted to see. So, no posts for those matches as I don't like to write with secondhand information. But even though I was out of town for the weekend, I managed to watched the Arsenal vs Chelsea match live and it turns out that this particular match was the best of the bunch to actually see.
I have stood up for Arsenal this season even when I probably shouldn't have. I defended (to a degree) the moves made during the transfer window, argued for patience after the slow start, and didn't fill up a blog post with 73 f-bombs after the drubbing at the hands of Manchester United. But at no point during all of that rationalizing did I think that Arsenal had a chance to qualify for European play again next year. This win over Chelsea have given me that hope and to be honest, it's making me quite scared. That seems counter-intuitive, I know. Why would seeing your team succeed make you afraid? It's the same reason that I can't get all wrapped up in the hype when the New York Giants are winning: I don't trust them. Sometimes this kind of attitude will be proven wrong of course. But the crux of it is that if you are a fan of a team, you need them to prove something to you before you throw your emotional weight behind them.
Sport is strange like that. The athletic talent on the field and the intelligence during preparation and play are obviously the most important factors in success or failure. Emotional character can only take a bunch of out of shape novices so far before the reality of the world catches up with them. But there is something real in the support that players receive from their fans and what that support can will the players to do during the game. Good crowds can lift teams just like constant booing and listlessness can sink bad teams faster than would happen naturally. The strange part of the whole thing is that fans need something from their team first to truly get behind them and give them the support that can propel them to great heights. Of course there are fans that will go to every game and be rabid and those fans get credit for their passion and commitment. But for most of us, sports isn't an obsession that we invest in so easily. This isn't a value judgment mind you, just a statement of my impression of reality. I love sports. That should be obvious by the fact that I'm writing this blog about a soccer team that plays all of it's matches at times that are five hours removed from the ideal time for me to watch them. And I love a lot of sports. I will watch soccer, hockey, football, baseball, basketball, tennis, lacrosse, and even NASCAR if drinking is involved. But I can't say that I am emotionally invested in all of them. The Minnesota Twins won their division last year and while I was definitely rooting for them, I didn't think they had the pitching to win the World Series. So I wasn't crushed when they were swept by the Yankees. The Pittsburgh Penguins were, at times last year, the best team in the NHL. But they went into the playoffs without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. So I wasn't crushed when they lost game seven 1-0 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. I was annoyed perhaps, maybe even upset. But it didn't ruin my week and it didn't fuck up my world. For that to happen, I need to truly believe in a team. I need to think that they have the talent and the mindset to win it all. If I do, then I am all-in and opening myself up to be crushed if things don't work out. Much like love (or at least a much reduced version of love), no one wants to lay it all out there and be devastated. You have to believe in the future to allow yourself to expose your heart to the often cruel forces of the outer world, the world that you can't control. This of course is risky, but we do it for those times (that time, if I'm to continue the analogy) when everything works out right.
I'm not there yet with Arsenal. The collapse from last year is too fresh in my mind. The bad start this year is too fresh in my mind. The loss to Man U is too fresh in my mind. Hell, the fact that the Gunners were up 3-2 with 80 minutes gone in the Chelsea match and let in a goal to almost fail to close it out is too fresh in my mind. But this really is a step for me, to get into that mindset where I believe that I can start to hope. Will they win the Champions League this year? No, despite currently topping their group with two out of their last three group stage matches at home. Will they win the Premier League this year? No, Man U and Man City are simply too talented for Arsenal to compete. But can they place in the top four and play in the Champions League next year? I'm starting to believe that they can.
-This win was really all about Robin Van Persie. I have ripped on him a ton of times and have stated in this very blog that he's not an elite striker (which I'm sure he's read and used as bulletin board material). However, the Dutchman has absolutely surprised me this year, and not just with his goal scoring ability. The fact that he was handed the captaincy and has picked this team up at times and been the vocal leader slash leader by example that they need is astounding. I would have made this entire article an apology letter but I got going on the emotional connection with sports, plus David Hirshey already did that but with Arsene Wenger instead. So, Robin will have to do with this small section instead. My apologies.
-Speaking of Wenger, I'm impressed that he's resisting the "fuck you I told you so" urge that surely is swelling in him as we speak. To be fair, if I'm not 100% sold on Arsenal this season, I'm sure Wenger isn't either. He has to have belief to motivate his team, but he also has to be a realist so that he can assess their strengths and weaknesses in order to improve. It's an impressive tightrope walk that I didn't realize coaches had to walk until, well, now. Regardless, if Wenger is able to guide Arsenal to the Champions League next year with this current squad after all the criticism he's taken, it'll be an all time season for him. I obviously wish him the best.
-I don't want to sound like a broken record, but can Arsenal never play Kieran Gibbs again? I don't say this out of a man crush on Andre Santos. He's not the best on-the-ball defender and he looks downright exposed at times. But his pace down the wing, his crossing, and his playmaking abilities are heads and shoulders above Gibbs. Of course I understand that it's a long season and Gibbs will have to play at points to spell Santos. I get that, despite my rhetoric. But if Gibbs ever starts in a "must win, must have" kind of game, I will be floored. As always, Go Gunners.