If you believe everything you read in the media, it’s a pretty awful time to be an Arsenal fan right now. Apparently, we’re out of the top four, going backwards, Villa are flying, we aren’t going to sign anyone,we probably won’t qualify for the Champions League and then we’ll go even further back in the summer.
And that is, unfortunately, the view held by a fairly large number of supporters, but isn’t a view that stands up when you analyse things a bit more closely. Some of the above is factual – we are indeed outside the top four, and Villa are going strong. We also may or may not sign Arshavin in the next few days but given that there are only fourteen games he is eligible to play in after tomorrow, his arrival is hardly likely to transform our season.
Of course, if you believe the hype, our league season is in ruins, but let’s have a look at the table, shall we?
United – 50 points, on a roll, and very likely to retain their title
Chelsea – 48 points, four wins from their last ten games
Liverpool – 48 points, four wins from their last ten games
Villa – 47 points, and going strong
Arsenal – 42 points, five wins and four draws in their last nine games
Now clearly I’m trying to highlight something here, and it is this – it is often the plight of a fan to see only the problems at their own club and compare unfavourably to selected others. Early in the season, we were comparing ourselves to Liverpool, who we came ahead of last season but who had started the campaign strongly. Now, we are ignoring the fact that they are struggling for goals, let alone wins, and are in the process of throwing away an excellent position. Instead we are comparing ourselves to United or Villa, the current flavour of the month. Meanwhile Chelsea also have four wins in ten, have looked unconvincing even when taking three points, and their fans, along with Liverpool’s, are getting restless.
United are storming away at present and will probably win the league. That is not our issue – frankly (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), I’d rather they won it than Chelsea or Liverpool. The former have bought a team without even trying to operate as a viable business, while the latter will bleat on about a league title for evermore if their Champions League triumph is anything to go by.
And then we come to Villa. Luck is certainly smiling on them at the moment, as it was with us for the first two thirds of last season. But fate has a funny habit of doing an about face, and a couple of injuries could derail their season, which in fairness would be harsh on them. It was harsh on us almost exactly a year ago. But with a small squad and UEFA Cup football to contend with, they’re in for a busy few months.
Tomorrow, we play West Ham at home in an extremely winnable game. Victory will take us to within three points of the Chelsea-Liverpool loser, or four points from both. And believe it or not, we’re in far better form than either of them.
I’m not trying to make out that we don’t have our own problems. But sometimes you can get so caught up in negatives that you fail to see the positives. And I’m not just talking about the nine match unbeaten run, although that is certainly a bonus. I’m talking about the improvement in our defence since Djourou cemented his place, or the form Van Persie is in, surely the best patch he has ever had for us. Then there are the late goals that show we do have some mental strength, and the emergence of Nasri as a critical player who will only improve.
More important than that, we are a sensibly run club. It does not surprise me in the slightest that the budgeting at Arsenal has not assumed Champions League qualification every season. Such a foolish gamble leads you to the position when expected income does not arrive, you are forced to sell, and recovery is doubly hard. Leeds paid a spectacular price for that exact mistake, yet it is a path so many want us to take.
I for one am glad that we live within our means. If that results in us saving a bit of money because of the credit crunch, and because finishing in the top four is not guaranteed, then fine. Much better that than throwing your chips on the table and losing everything you’ve built up over decades. Imagine what would happen if Liverpool, already steeped in massive debt, continued to falter and slipped to fifth? My bet is they’d cope a lot worse than we would.
The point I’m trying to make is this – apart from United, the whole top five has issues that could destroy their season. It may be a case of who screws up the least.
And if we win tomorrow, if will not be Villa who would worry – they do not expect Champions League qualification and are rightly revelling in an excellent run. It will be the two teams taking to Anfield on Sunday, knowing that defeat would see us hot on their heels.
There is no reason for that not to happen. Have faith everyone, it could be a hell of a lot worse.