Last season was meant to be our season. At New Year’s Day 2016 we were many pundits’ tip for the Title – partly because we were playing well and partly because other teams were floundering. It didn’t happen and we found ourselves in a fight – successful – for second place. Not to be scoffed at but not in the circumstances the real goal. Yes – we were delighted/elated when we beat Villa and THFC lost to Newcastle. We chortled. We had the bragging rights and we sang out aloud and enjoyed ourselves. But it masked the season’s failure. We had missed out again.
We were Top Four not Top One. We were miserable, low, angry, disappointed. The Bridesmaid again. A Great Debate ensued – Wenger In/Wenger Out. The social media and the websites revealed deep seated tensions and animosities. We all know it well and there is no need to step back into the battle. The Jury is still out – we have bounced back from the 3-4 Liverpool first match defeat. We are on a run . We are a better team. Mustaphi and Xhaka have brought strength and commitment. Our football is better. But we do not know how it will end. We have to watch and wait and hope.
A defining moment last season was the 1-2 defeat at home to Swansea. We had a strong team – they had a weakened team. The match came at the right time for us and we were confident we were going to get three points and re-charge our title challenge. We all know it did not happen. We hit the bar and the post and we had possession but the Swans held on, took their chances and the three points. Coming on the back of a Rashford inspired win for United at Old Trafford we were low – very low. I recall past low moments – FA Cup defeats at Northampton in 1958, at Peterborough in 1965 and Blackburn Rovers in 1966. We all have our own moments of despair. Swansea was the most recent.
It’s not that Saturdays game gives us an opportunity to restore the balance. Last season has gone. The issue is whether it will happen again. So let me make clear what disappointed the most was that we were beaten twice by Swansea that day – on the pitch and in our heads. We lost confidence, self-belief, inner strength. It should not have happened. It is not just the defeat it was the manner of the defeat. Against Liverpool we fought back and should have got the equaliser – against Swansea the fight dissipated, the spirit evaporated, the points lost.
Like the 0-5 walloping by Stoke City in the Double Year of 1971 which was a wake up call and helped to ensure our success on 3 May 8 May 1971 let us hope there is steel and guts and determination never to lower our heads and allow ourselves to be out fought.
This is a management issue – this is where Wenger has to get into the heads of the Team and the Bench. This is when we have to be up for the fight – win the one on one – respond to a mistake or a wrong call by the Referee with renewed effort and commitment. We will be tested and challenged – Swansea will believe that having done it once they can do it again. They will be up for it. Will we?
If we want to be Champions we have to be fighters – winners not losers – always up for the fight. Swansea have seen our shoulders sag once. They will believe they can do it again.
There is another point. The Swans have a new manager – Bob Bradley. He was successful for the US in their World Cup run. He will have instilled fight into the minds of the Swansea players. He has a relegation fight on his hands but he is used to handling the underdogs and his record will give Swansea belief and focus.
It should be a great match. Both teams have their agendas. We are all hungry for Premier football – the qualification World Cup matches never really trigger our excitement. We want the regular diet of Premier football. We want another three points. We want to maintain our run – our momentum. We fought back well to get the last second goal v Burnley. We were sharp with the corner – Theo with the header and the Ox and Kos there for the goal. We have much to go for. Let’s hope the desire that we have is firmly located in the minds of our squad. Let’s know that the whites of their eyes show steel and guts and effort. It is ours to lose – perish the thought. The match on Saturday is that important to us.