In my 11 years of supporting Arsenal I’ve seen us lose a lot of games. Home and away, by a fine margin and only just, to big teams playing crap football and small sides rising to the occasion. Every defeat was, and still is, different. Simply because you can’t play two identical games even against the same opponent.
Yet, and I think you’ll agree, sometimes there is this feeling of “same old, same old”. It’s like watching Fabianski race out of goal after you thought you’ve seen the last of it with Almunia. Like conceding from the opposition’s first shot on target. Like seeing the team not turn up for the game.
In that sense, yesterday’s defeat feels exactly like it’s happened before. It was like watching a horror movie you’ve never watched, yet knew what the ending would be like. And when the movie peters out towards its inevitable conclusion, you are not left with a sour taste in the mouth. You don’t feel robbed, angry, disappointed or cheated out of a better ending. You only feel deflation. As if you already knew, deep down, that this was inevitable, that the movie itself was just an exercise in frustration, a pointless prelude to the main event.
That was exactly how I felt when the final whistle blew. I didn’t feel like shouting at Ospina for dropping a clanger, I didn’t want to kick furniture, I didn’t want to blame the ref for his ineptitude or scream to the heavens at the gross injustice that I’ve just witnessed. I just wanted to brush my teeth, take a validol and go to bed. Which I did. Which was exactly what I did a week ago, after we lost to Zagreb. And which I’m sure I’ll do again this season, be it after another European or domestic fixture.
I’ve become accustomed to Arsenal screwing with my expectations over the years. I shout and point and scream and name players names during the game. After it, I feel emotionally drained. Numb. No longer able to react. No longer wanting to react.
Is it a consequence of really getting used to losing? Is it a kind of protective reaction from my body? At times like these I wish I was less emotionally involved in the matter, though I have no idea how this can be achieved.
Yesterday’s loss felt all the more ironic considering how we talked before the game of the importance of winning your home games. Even more so if we take into account Olympiacos’ form in England. But the crunch of it all were our chances of qualifying. In a season when we were supposed to kick on and produce a better result in the Champions League we only went on and lost two opening games against Zagreb and Olympiacos, of all sides, and made qualification from the group nigh on impossible. If Arsenal wasn’t involved, or if you were a fan with a particularly dark sense of humour, you would have laughed. We can’t make it out of the group in a year when we wanted to at least make it to the last eight. How ironic can it get?
I’ll be completely honest with you: we have no business in the knock-out rounds this season. We don’t play with any stability, conviction or consistency, at least in Europe. When you are beaten by Zagreb and Olympiacos, let’s face it, you are not a heavyweight, one which could go on and have a meaningful European campaign. Heavyweights produce miraculous comebacks in the last ten minutes, heavyweights thrash opponents everyone expects them to thrash. They deliver on a consistent basis. As for us, well, we’ll try again next year (if we make the CL spots) and hope we will do better.
Do we try and get into Europa League should we not get the desired results against Bayern? Or should we just leave it, finish fourth and have our Thursdays free? The question is purely speculative, because one man once said “If you play for Arsenal, you don’t give up, whatever the score is”. I’m sure this man will fight. I’m sure he won’t go down, accept defeat and play damage limitation. For him the question of whether we should deliberately lose games doesn’t exist. Therefore, I expect him to fight for qualification and then, if he fails, fight for the third place. And then fight in every game of the Europa League, should we make it.
It’s painful. In my 11 years, I’ve never seen Arsenal not make it out of the group stages. Yet the harsh reality is such we are likely to need 10 points from 4 remaining games and will also have to rely on others doing us favours. We have to get the minimum of 4 points from our back-to-back Bayern games. A team which has crushed Olympiacos and Zagreb. As they should have. As any big team worth their salt should have. As WE should have.