Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Confused Exhaultation

After watching the Arsenal vs Tottenham match on Sunday morning (Eastern time, that is), I have come to several conclusions:

1. This Arsenal season has been constructed for the sole purpose of making anyone who comments on this Arsenal season look like utter fools.
2. It's not too late to jump aboard the "Gareth Bale is the Welsh Christiano Ronaldo" bandwagon (or maybe the non-racist Luis Suarez bandwagon? - get back to me on that).
3. It was inevitable that Spurs would jump out to a 2-0 lead before giving up five unanswered goals because God enjoys making Gunners fans drink alcohol. Or Spurs fans. Either works, I suppose.
4. Everything we thought about Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott is completely wrong, until it inevitably is proven to be correct after all.
5. Sunday's Arsenal squad was secretly replaced by aliens from the foremost soccer playing planet. So... Barcelona.
6. I find it supremely difficult to dislike Scott Parker, even when he's getting sent off for hard tackles against my team. I blame Men In Blazers for drilling the "World War I fighter ace" image into my head.
7. This match was completely inexplicable, totally unexpected, and undoubtedly enjoyable.

This match was so enjoyable, in fact, that I've been having a difficult time putting my thoughts into written form. That, by itself, is a bit of a strange situation. My favorite soccer club defeated, in spectacular fashion, their hated rivals and brought light to what was a very dark time for Arsenal. I should be all over this. I should be shouting from the rooftops about this success, stopping strangers in the street for hugs, and generally acting like Arsenal had just decimated Spurs 5-2. But... I can't. It's not that I didn't enjoy the win. Trust me, I most definitely did. For quite some time afterward. Right now, just thinking about the Rosicky goal and hearing the stadium explode with emotion brings a smile to my face. But I am having difficulty putting into words my feelings about the game. I think, if we boil it down, the reason for that is: I'm confused.

The reason for this confusion is the contrast of the euphoria of this match versus Spurs and the state of Arsenal as a team directly preceding said match. If you're reading this now, odds are you read this blog regularly, which means you've seen the pessimistic attitude that I've carried over the last couple of weeks. An attitude that I stand by as being perfectly reasonable. 4-0 at Milan to essentially knock the Gunners out of the Champions League. 2-0 at Sunderland (Sunderland!!) to knock the Gunners out of the FA Cup. Pessimism was at an all time high, despite back-dooring their way into 4th place on the Premier League table due to the events of the previous match day. Going into this game, there was a feeling of dread hanging over the Arsenal fans that I was keeping up with. It was Spurs so of course people were up for the game, but there was that feeling of "we are playing like absolute gash right now, are we really going to lose to Spurs as well?" The "Arsenal is obviously better than Tottenham" bluster normally runs pretty deep, but it's hard to manufacture that type of confidence when you've just been knocked out of two competitions while those insufferable bastards are ten points ahead of you playing the most attractive soccer in the league (well, when they're not faced with the raw power of Stevenage at least). So, going into Sunday it was tough to proclaim superiority, a position that Arsenal fans are not that used to.

That is what makes the aftermath of the Spurs match so strange. It's a feeling of pure joy and success with a backdrop of things not exactly going that same way. I would compare it to the 7-1 drubbing of Blackburn amidst another bad run, but that win was easily dismissed by saying "yeah, but it's Blackburn." That's not the case here. Even if Tottenham was 18th on the table, it would still be a grand occasion, beating your arch rivals. But this year? Tottenham is sitting third and has generally impressed everyone from neutral to begrudging Arsenal fan alike. This year they are a good squad who figure to make the Champions League and at one time were seriously contending with the powerhouses from Manchester. A win over them not only fills an Arsenal fan's heart with pure ecstasy, but it has the added "benefit" of giving hope for the future. Hope that this Gunners team doesn't necessarily deserve.

It may be a strange time to a degree, but it's still a happy time. Arsenal beat Spurs 5-2. FIVE TO TWO. Enjoy the feeling because if this season turns further south, it will be one of the best moments available to look back on. And if the season improves and Arsenal roars past Tottenham into the 3rd spot on the table and a guaranteed Champions League birth, expect all the pundits to say they knew it would happen... right before they go and delete their posts from the past.

Game Notes

-Every time you think it's the right move to write Theo Walcott off, he does something like this. I guess by "writing off" I mean acknowledging that Theo isn't going to be a superstar and adjusting our expectations to fit his game. But then he turns in two clinical finishes (and these really were beauties, if you haven't seen them) and makes the case to be man of the match. He isn't going to be the next big thing for this team, or for England, but just when you want to dismiss him, he comes through with a surprise. A microcosm for this Arsenal season, perhaps.

-Though I of course want to sing Arsenal's praises and build up my hope for the future, I'm wondering how much of this 5-2 scoreline (god I can't mention that enough) was Arsenal's skill vs Tottenham's indifference. I don't know how it can happen in one of the biggest rivalries in soccer, but Spurs never really seemed like they were into this game. Scotty (better than Scottie, right?) Parker was the only Spurs player who looked like he cared and he still was a step slow, administering clumsy tackles rather than the smartly timed warnings of the past. Of course I tend to side with crediting Arsenal, but after a draw against Stevenage and now this performance, one wonders if Tottenham's stock might be falling.

-Speaking of stock, it appears that Tomas Rosicky's is on the rise at Arsenal. He played like a maniac against Spurs and had a strong showing or two before that as well. Now, I have been critical of Rosicky in the past. Some might call it "hyper critical." Though he never reached Arshavin territory, his play has struck me as less than inspired in his (mostly substitute) appearances. However, he was fantastic on Sunday, and in a season where Aaron Ramsey has been less than fantastic all around, why not ride the hot hand? Ramsey is nursing one of the 8786372 injuries that Arsenal have suffered this year, so why not let him get healthy while Rosicky hopefully continues his hot streak? If he can, it might even drive up his value so that Arsenal make a prettier penny for him come this summer. Seems like a win-win for the Gunners, and that's been rare lately, even with this fantastic victory. As Always, Go Gunners.

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