25 March 2014

After the Swansea setback, wrestling with despair...

What. the. hell. You know I'm down when I resort to that crappy one. word. sentence. approach. Of all the half-hearted, slapdash efforts, this was one we could ill-afford. So much for a response after the embarrassment at Stamford Bridge. We may have come away with a point; we may have scored two goals; we may have been victims of bad luck—but it's hard to say we deserve the point we salvaged, not when we looked toothless and inept and even disinterested for long stretches save the 60 seconds that saw us score two goals to take the lead. I don't even care how the dropped points slam shut the door, once and for all, on our hopes of a Prem title. That ship sailed (before slamming the door, presumably. Maybe it was the same gust of wind.) on Satruday. The dropped points are window-dressing. I'm worried that the season itself is unraveling. Worse, we're the ones pulling the thread.

You can go elsewhere for a play-by-play, I'm sure. I don't have the heart to subject myself to it at the moment. Maybe after I sleep (it's 6:30pm as I write). For now, prepare yourself for some unmitigated, maudlin melodrama as I ponder the void into which I peer and, apparently, have poured a fair amount of my own heart and soul.

I took in stride the losses at Man City, Liverpool, and Chelsea. I told myself that there were special circumstances, namely that we were away from home, facing the wealthiest, oiliest, or hottest clubs in the Prem while fighting through injuries. I told myself that this squad is still finding itself, what with so many young players and injuries and all. I told myself that Arsène has a master plan; he's taken the high-road of fiscal sanity, and it's a long and winding road that will set the club for long-term success as the FFP rules kick in.

Not now.

Not in this moment, at least.

I'm not sure where I stand, nor am I sure what we stand for. We capitulated. We quit. We never even seemed eager to fight. Once Swansea went up 0-1, I expected us to coming roaring back, enraged that a team would dare to score on us in our supposed fortress. I demanded it, and the spittle on my laptop's screen is the evidence of my demands. Instead, after Bony's goal, all I saw were Gunners milling about, wondering what had happened and who was responsible. There was no response, as if no one was quite sure what was supposed to happen next. Very little, apparently. Nothing, in fact, as we continued to pass and pass and pass with very little purpose in mind, as if we were the ones winning the match, forgetting that the gap between us and Swansea—33 points, 11 spots lower than us—matters not a whit in foretelling the outcome. A win would have leveled us on points with Liverpool, who have a game in hand. Now, instead of trying to keep up with them and close the gap on Chelsea or Man City, we have to turn our eyes to the rearview to see that Everton, with their own game in hand, are a mere six points behind us. Behind them lurk the Spuds, seven points back but, thank god, no game in hand.

But I digress. I follow the Arsenal as I always have, for more than three decades, and this pathetic performance, this draw when we really had to win, not just to stay in the hunt in the Prem but to restore some semblance of confidence among the fan, not to mention the players, this pathetic performance hurts. It feels worse than losing to Blackburn. Worse than losing to Bradford or Birmingham. Why? Those losses at least involved silverware, right? So why does this tepid, comparatively inconsequential draw hurt me more? After all, it's not like our chances of winning the Prem before the match were 50-50. I think the odds-makers had us at 4% or something, so just north of a snowball's chance in hell anyway.

Why, then?

I had started to believe, at long last, that we had turned a corner. Even the horrific losses couldn't deter me. However, in this draw, it felt like there was no fight-back, no heart, no...no... nothing. They were just playing, playing as if we're comfortably and firmly ensconced mid-table, nothing to gain, nothing to lose, just playing.  We were lucky to escape with a draw, as we barely managed to scrape out a lead. That we couldn't hold it for 20 minutes against a club that hadn't won since early February, against a club that had scored only 14 goals in 15 away-matches all season, that we gave it away on the flukiest of own-goals in injury-time, these are pointless, trivial details. We should never have gone down to an early lead. We should never have had to claw our way back. This was the kind of fixture that a team with legitimate designs on silverware puts away early and ruthlessly—just as has been done to us on a number of occasions.

I've defended Arsène on financial grounds, on philosophical ones, heck, even on moral grounds, portraying him as a pure paladin fighting the amoral and the avaricious, defending football if not civilization itself with his commitment to fiscal sanity, attractive football, and youth-development. I'm wavering. In my current state of despair, I'm not sure how much longer I can hold to this. I'm turning and turning in the widening gyre as things fall apart. If they continue, we won't survive Wigan, nevermind win the FA Cup itself.

Why, then, am I here? Am I deluding myself, wasting my time, putting so much of my potential happiness into a group of men an ocean away? I need something to shake me out of this. To be honest, I feel like shutting down, ignoring everything else—including the FA Cup—and starting fresh next season. I'm not sure I can bear up under the potential agony of seeing the season unravel. I hear that crochet offers a soothing, restorative effect...

You know, though? I gotta snap out of this. We've been decimated by injuries, and what's remarkable is not that we've started to fade down the stretch but that we've refused to go down, that we've stayed in it this long. Hell, we staggered after two other uppercuts before righting ourselves by winning. We did it after the 6-3 loss. We did it again after the 5-1 loss. Who's to say we can't do it after the 6-0 loss? Lose horrifically, draw, then win. It may not look pretty, but fighting back can be a messy business. It wasn't so long ago that we were hailing this squad for its spirit, and despite my early reactions, I'm not ready to count them out yet.