Arsenal the Heartbreakers strike again.
Beer was thrown, curses were hurled, tears were welled and a point was lost. I say a point because we were never in a winning position in the game and didn’t look like we were likely to be putting ourselves at a winning position at any point during the game either. But whatever way you look at it, this afternoon was the stuff of nightmares once more.
It would appear we have hit the oil tanker. Quick, to the back of the ship! Get in those lifeboats and paddle for your lives! The good ship Titletanic may be steadily sinking, but we can still save ourselves!
As Arsenal matches go, it was not the usual formula of point droppage. In fact, it was almost a little bit unorthodox of us. Bolton were largely the better team in the first half – although not as much as the Sky commentary team thought. Sweet mother of all that is good and Holy, with every match I see my suspicions that they plot their script and go with it regardless of on-pitch activity, are confirmed. Bolton went ahead via a Daniel Sturridge header seven minutes before half time and delivered a sucker punch to us all.
But, no matter, we are usually better at coming from behind anyway. So it was only a mini-sucker punch really. The threat of a medium-sized sucker punch reared its ugly head almost immediately after the break when Johan Djourou appeared to bring down that same Daniel Sturridge in the box.
Except that he didn’t, of course. Even Mr. and Mrs. Bolton up there in the commentary box agreed that it was the wrong call to make. So, up stepped Kevin Davies to put the match to bed (unless you’re Arsenal, obvs)… and his penalty was saved by Wojciech Szczesny. The save proved to be the kick up the backside we needed and just three minutes later we were level from a Robin van Persie goal, which made its way through a fairly chocka penalty area to hit the back of the net. I was too busy celebrating to note it down exactly but I think RvP now holds a Premier League record, having scored seven goals in seven consecutive away games. I think. What a stat and what a man!
This would have been the point at which in previous seasons we all clubbed together and went “Right, let’s DO this. This match is ours.” But, it’s not previous seasons, it’s this season, so we all just sat there trembling, our clammy little hands round our empty beer bottles, mumbling under our breath the sort of things that would ordinarily have you headed straight for the looney bin.
After the goal, we dominated. Again. But we couldn’t make any goals. Again. Walcott crossed, Nasri hit straight at the keeper, Cesc had a few more goes… and we couldn’t get a goal for love nor money nor WHSmith vouchers. Up and down the country and all across the globe, Gooners were united in one word and one word alone: “SHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOT”.
But, as is Arsenal’s nature, we didn’t. Jack, making his first return to the Reebok Stadium after his time on loan at the club last season, came off. Theo came off. Marouane Chamakh and Andrei Arshavin came on. And we still couldn’t do anything. Then, in the 89th minute, Johan Elmander made an attempt, which Szczesny saved. They got a corner, and from that corner, Tamir Cohen headed in the winning goal. Sucker punch to end all sucker punches. Well played Bolton, OH MY GOD Arsenal.
Goodbye title. Goodbye cruel world.
Szczesny’s face said it all. “Mugs. I make mental saves. I save a penalty. And then you do that to me? MUGS.” Wenger looked a broken man, Cesc looked on the verge of tears and Jack’s facial expression was thus:
We’d done it again and everyone is laughing at us. Maybe it’s good that the inevitable is unlikely to be prolonged. We’re nine points off Man United now, with only twelve available. Should be doable. With Arsenal… who knows if it’s doable.
I can’t actually look at Arsene Wenger’s face at the moment. It’s too painful to see a man I admire and adore that much so gutted. He’s skinny anyway but my God, doesn’t it look like the air has been sucked out of him? He hides a lot of things from the fans, surely. And I don’t mean that as a criticism. I mean he takes the criticism for a lot of other people to protect them from taking it themselves. Here’s a quote from after the match. I got it from the Guardian:
“I feel the players had an outstanding attitude all season and are not to blame. If someone is to blame, it is me. I pick the team, I choose the players.
“It’s very unsatisfactory because we have had one of our easiest run-ins for a long, long time and we didn’t take our chances. That is frustrating because I feel the potential is there but we still lack something – maturity and experience and calm in important situations.”
The second part is all a bit ‘No shit, Sherlock’. The first part is wrong and makes me sad. And angry at some of the players too, actually. True, he picks the team. True, he gets more of a say in buying and selling than the players do. Of course he is not entirely blameless for the shortcomings of the team. But if my boss picked up enough of the excessive amounts of slack given to me time and time again, it would be top on my list of priorities to pay that back. I don’t think finger-pointing will help anyone at this point in time when the season is still there and when turning backs on people would be even more suicidal than a goalkeeper-centre back miscommunication in the 90th minute. But we all have our own choices of players who’ve fallen short. If they can’t do it for themselves or for their team mates, can they not do it for the man who, over and over, has coached them and encouraged them and supported them and defended them and ended up covered in verbal manure intended for them?
I know opinion on Wenger is getting increasingly divided. I still think he’s the only man for the job at the moment and I’d be absolutely devastated if he left. I also think that (some of) the players owe him better than they’ve shown him this season. That’s just an opinion, but I know it’s one shared by many. And, as with everyone associated with the club, I’ll back them 100% until the day they are no longer associated with the club.
This season has been difficult, to say the least. Even old Polly Positivity over here is outwardly admitting we won’t be winning the title this year (inwardly a tiny part of me is yelling like a drunk aunty at a wedding that we’ll do it, but I’m trying to restrain her, should she make the rest of me believe it and thus leave me with an even further broken heart come the end of May). But you know what? The season will start again. We will get to fix the holes in the ship over the summer and set sail again in August. There is still a battle on in the league, make no mistake. Give up now and we could lose our Champions League place as well as all of our hair. But when all’s said and done, now is the time we need to stick together. In summer, changes can come. Right now though, finger pointing will be futile. Regretting missed chances and massive mistakes will only make you greyer. The past is the past and will never be anything more than the past. The future is what’s ahead. Short term, it’s to back the team until the last minute of the last match this season. Long term is more complicated. But let’s just get through this bit first.