Into Enemy Territory We Go

It’s been a difficult and busy week or so in the world of Arsenal Football Club. On more than one occasion I have started to type my thoughts, only to stop after a few paragraphs in order to really take stock. I want to be reflective, not reactive. So let’s see how it goes.

Arsenal 0 Blackburn 1

Without doubt the most painful defeat of the season. During the week building up to the game I had a rant on twitter because all I kept reading and hearing was Bayern this, Bayern that, Champions League this, Champions League that. Wenger’s team selection seemed to reflect fans mentality, with a raft of key players rested ahead of the Bayern tie. But in Arsene’s defence he started with ten players capped for their senior international sides. The eleventh, uncapped man, was Mikel Arteta. At home to lower league opposition it should have been enough, but it wasn’t.

We were lethargic and cruised around the pitch expecting and waiting for something to happen, as opposed to making it happen. When Rosicky decided to take the bull by the horns his efforts were halted by the Blackburn cross bar and some woeful Gervinho finishing. Both domestic cup exits have been to lower league opposition and both will be remembered for Gervinho missing crucial sitters on the stroke of half-time.

Arsenal lost a home FA Cup tie under Wenger for only the second time (the first being against Leeds in 1997) and for the first time ever (home or away) against lower league opposition, a fate that he’d experienced only in the League Cup. Our only realistic chance to win a trophy, thrown away as if it didn’t really matter and that to me is unforgivable.

Arsenal 1 Bayern Munich 3

Another painful defeat, but for very different reasons. Blackburn was the realisation that we’d thrown away our only realistic chance of silverware, at least for another season. But this defeat was the painful realisation as to just how far we now are from the very best teams in Europe. I’m guilty of using clichés and another one is about to follow; it was like men against boys.

The early Wenger years saw us struggle in Europe as we learnt to adapt to the difference in pace, tactics, level of competition, and European gamesmanship. When we finally adapted we kept falling to English opposition (Chelsea, Liverpool, and United) or came ever so close, but yet so far (Barcelona in 2006). And even in more recent seasons, when we’ve had weaker squads, we’ve still put up a fight, remaining undefeated at home to Barcelona and Milan (two wins, one draw), only to be defeated on the road due to Messi genius, diabolical refereeing (Robin’s red card), and an awful night in Milan.

But this time? Well this time we couldn’t even get a result at home and, bar the first five minutes, never looked like getting one. Bayern are not as great (aesthetically) as Barcelona or Madrid, but they’re disciplined, organised, focussed, hardworking, talented, and sky high on confidence. We on the other hand lack pretty much all of those things, certainly on a consistent basis. I’ve heard many people reference Chelsea’s unlikely and underserved triumph last season, saying if they can fluke it why can’t we? But the difference is they know how to park the bus, how to adapt tactics to stop others playing. We can’t and Wenger wouldn’t anyway. Instead we go toe-to-toe, and when you do that it comes down to ability, which means we’re always going to meet someone slightly bigger and slightly better. Sadly we’ve got a long way to go until we reach another European Cup Final.

Arsenal 2 Aston Villa 1

A much needed win for many reasons. Firstly to respond to our cup defeats, secondly to keep up with those currently occupying the Champions League places, and thirdly to keep our league form going. Its 13 points from the last 15 available in the Premier League, form that only United can currently equal, so it was important to keep it going.

It was a thoroughly deserved win, even if we did gift them a goal to make proceedings a little more uncomfortable than they needed to be. I was pleased to see Giroud return to the starting line-up, I’ve no idea why he didn’t start against Bayern. And then of course there was Cazorla, easily man of the match. His work rate was phenomenal, his ability is never in doubt, and it was great to see him get both of the goals. That’s 11 league goals from him this season which is a very good return for a midfielder, especially for their debut season.

West Ham, having led 2-1, let us down on Monday night, but Man City didn’t on Sunday afternoon. It means that Chelsea are right in the dog fight for third and fourth, so it’s going to be a crazy few months ahead!

Dennis Bergkamp

It was officially announced this week, following some leaked photos, that Dennis Bergkamp will be the next Arsenal legend to have a statue erected outside The New Home of Football. I fucking love Dennis Bergkamp. He was skilful, elegant, classy, edgy, and a true Gooner. He helped us win 7 major trophies, scored 120 goals, and quite simply is the best I’ve ever seen. Patrick Vieira is my favourite, Thierry Henry was Thierry Henry, but Bergkamp was something, and is someone, very special. His signature was a change in our club’s direction, the beginning of the revolution. I often wonder if Wenger would have been so successful, so quickly, if he didn’t have the famous back five and Dennis Bergkamp ready and waiting upon his arrival. Well done Dennis, richly deserved. (Ps: when are you coming home? We’d be happy to have you back!)

North London Derby

This weekend is ‘Round 2’ of the North London Derby for season 2012/13. I won’t go into detail as to how I feel about these fixtures; you can read my ramblings from before our 5-2 home win for that. What I will say is that, quite obviously, this is a massive game. Having made the fight for a top four finish a three horse race (having pulled Chelsea back in), what we can’t afford to do is lose this weekend. That would mean a 7 point game for the scum, with only 10 games remaining, and on this occasion I think that would be too much. Of course we want to win, for many reasons, but I don’t think a draw would be too disastrous. We need to find the right balance between going for the win, and that lovely sounding 1 point gap, and not going too gung-ho because as I say, defeat isn’t really an option.

It’s going to be horrible, from first minute to last. I will only enjoy it if and when we get a result and the full time whistle has been blown. Sunday 4pm kick-off means Monday morning for me here in Sydney. I’ll be waking up early to watch it before going to work, so watch out colleagues, my mood will be very high or very low!

Right, that’s more than enough for today. I will close by sharing this Bob Wilson quote, which seems more appropriate than ever given where we travel this weekend…come on you Gunners!!!

“It was the feeling you were wearing this big gun on your chest, and my goodness, everywhere you went you felt proud to be wearing it.” – Bob Wilson

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