For all the crisis talk, it hasn’t been a bad fortnight for Arsenal. At half time against Villa, we were staring down the barrel of a fourth successive defeat, and an early exit from a competition that was beginning to open up thanks to some high profile ties that we had managed to avoid. Since then, we have seen actual mental strength (as opposed to the professed type that leaves us scratching our heads in disbelief) in that comeback win, a match against Bolton which, while frustrating from a result point of view, was a sharp improvement in performance on those that had come before, and a thumping seven goal win over a Blackburn side that inflicted perhaps our most painful defeat of the season back in September (yes, I count that 4-3 loss as worse than the United hammering).
That win made the rest of the weekend highly enjoyable – we knew others would drop points, and a combination of draws meant plenty did. After emerging from a horrible run of form, we are still just three points from fourth, with the goal difference deficit almost eradicated. To top it all off, our next opponents, Sunderland, fielded a strong side in their midweek cup replay and were taken all the way to extra time. Lovely.
Of course, that counts for little unless we find some consistency over the next few weeks. For all our flaws, those around us have plenty of their own, and are dropping points with a regularity that ensures any kind of decent run would elevate us back into the top four. It is perfectly achievable.
It seems this Arsenal team performs best when out of the spotlight. When rivals drop points at the start of a weekend, we often fail to capitalise, and when eyes are on us, we can falter. So it is in our interest to quietly accumulate the points while waiting for those around us to slip. In short, we have no interest in being ‘the story’.
And after the week English football has just had, we are in no danger of grabbing any kind of spotlight. All eyes are now on Spurs, after Redknapp was first acquitted of tax evasion and then installed as overwhelming favourite to take over the England job from the departing Fabio Capello. The coverage of the latter event was almost laughable – Capello described as a hopeless case, while a manager who has won just 6% of his managerial trophy haul (1 FA Cup vs 16 major trophies) is being touted as the saviour. Where is the sense?
Still, it can’t do us any harm. I was looking at the odds on us finishing in the top four on Wednesday, to see what effect the Redknapp judgement would have. As it happened, the odds changed very little when the jury found him not guilty, but what was more interesting was the immediate shortening of our odds as soon as Capello resigned. To put it simply – the bookies believe we are now much more likely to finish in the Champions League spots.
Personally, I don’t think it will make much difference. There seems little doubt that Redknapp will get the job, but I would be extremely surprised to see him leave Spurs before May. I do, however, find it quite entertaining that Spurs are crowing about how big a club they are becoming, and yet their manager wants to leave to bigger and better things.
With all that going on, plus the small matter of United-Liverpool tomorrow, complete with Suarez-Evra subplot, we are likely to be out of the spotlight for some time to come. And that suits us just fine.
Bring on Sunderland.