Every football fan hates to see his or her team lose. And every football fan is entitled to criticise the manager or the players for whatever they feel led them to that defeat – doing so does not make you any less of a supporter, despite what some will have you believe. We all have frustrations, decisions we cannot fathom, players that we do not rate as highly as others, and for those reasons the life of a fan can be one on the edge.
What is new is the innate cynicism that seems to plague fans these days, at least of certain clubs, of which Arsenal are undoubtedly one. We may mock Spurs fans for their blind optimism (yes, we will finish above you this year) but it seems a huge swathe of Gooners go in completely the opposite direction, taking any opportunity to write off the entire club based on the actions of one day.
In case you hadn’t noticed, we lost at home to Newcastle on Sunday, the second promoted side to come to the Emirates and win this season. Liverpool then beat Chelsea to offer us an olive branch, or compound our frustration, depending on your point of view. But the fact remains that we are five points off the lead with 27 games to go.
But according to many, we are out of the title race. That’s right, we have no chance to overhaul a five point deficit when there are 81 points left at stake. It makes no sense. Doubting our capacity to win the league is a completely different thing, and a lot more understandable – if we keep repeating the WBA and Newcastle performances then we will get no closer to ending our trophy drought, but you cannot write us off at this stage. You couldn’t even if the gap was wider – we closed a far bigger one last season with a greatly depleted team.
It seems to be a modern myth that only perfect teams win the league. We look at champions from the past few years and all we see is flaws in our own team. Perhaps that is a by-product of the Invincibles, perhaps our expectations of a title winning team are too steep and sit forever in that great team’s shadow. But Chelsea are aging and have a comparatively small squad, a fact that may undermine them in the latter half of the season. United have been poor so far, yet somehow remain unbeaten and in contention. And the rest are not likely to be contenders. The league is wide open.
So what do we really have to fear? There are certainly enough vulnerabilities in our rivals to believe we have the chance to capture silverware this season, the only obstacle appears to be our own inconsistencies. And while many will point to the fact that we’re already off the pace as evidence that we will fail, I would happily take a five point deficit at Christmas because it would mean we had navigated the trickiest half of the campaign and remained in contention. Remember that Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd, Liverpool, Everton and Villa all have to come to the Emirates in the second half of the season in what is a freakish coincidence. That is essentially the league’s top eight excluding Spurs. And they got their once-a-decade victory over us out of the way last time out.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying we will win it. What I’m saying is ease up a little – practically every time Chelsea have been tested this season, they’ve been found wanting, while United keep relying on late winners to take three points they scarcely deserve. As for us, we are hugely inconsistent, so all three teams should look at each other and realise that a good run of form could see them seize the initiative. There is no reason for it not to be us, particularly given the players returning from injury.
If we are still in the hunt at Christmas, we have a real opportunity. We could go on to throw that away with more listless performances, or we could repeat the heroics of the 1997/98 team, who were roundly written off following a 3-1 home defeat to Blackburn in December, before embarking on a long unbeaten run that clinched the title.
Either way, it would be an opportunity. What more can we ask for at this stage?