07 April 2014

Standing eight-count: Get back up and fight!

I wallowed, like the rest of us. I sank into a pit of despair. I was just about ready to give in and throw it all away, to throw in the towel. We've lost, again, in depressing fashion to a rival planning to overtake us. Instead of boldly going into the enemy's lair and confidently snatching points, we capitulated timorously, taking punch after punch after punch (at times, almost literally if Ross Barkley has anything to say. Blood was spilled. Eventually, a yellow card was shown, but the outcome was never really in doubt: an 0-3 loss that sends us spinning perilously into the ropes. However—however—it's too early to count us out. We've been battered, it's true, but—dammit—we've got to dust ourselves off and come out swinging in the next round. That's all there is to it. Set aside for now who's coming or going once the season ends. We have five Prem fixtures left and a FA Cup semifinal, not to mention the final itself, to fight for. Seven matches, seven rounds. If we're going down, we go down swinging.

Let's be honest. There were some dark hours that include the match itself and the rest of my Sunday (with the match ending around 9:30am over here, I had to face the rest of the day before collapsing into bed. Somehow, I managed not to scapegoat anyone within arm's reach). We scapegoated all match long: Why didn't Osman see red? Wasn't Naismith screening Szcz on that second? Sanogo was onsides for that goal. And so on. We made excuses: Injuries. Fatigue. Lack of confidence. The list goes on, but frankly, I'm too pissed to bother itemizing. Yeah, Vermaelen and Monreal looked lost. Yes, we were toothless on offense. Excuse after excuse after excuse. This is the squad we have, and whether or not we all agree on him, Arsène is the manager we have. For as much as we might pine after Martinez or Klopp, they are the proverbials birds in the bush.

Let's set aside the self-pity. It's abject. It's pathetic. Part of it is our own fault—we took at face value the glorious run that lasted through January, taking it as a factual and reliable indicator of the squad's abilities. At times, we even convinced ourselves that this was not a thin squad, that, in fact, we had incredible depth where it mattered, and for a time, that looked to be true. However, once we staggered, once we took one too many blows, whether these be player-injuries or match-results, it became more clear that we were over-performing, riding a wave of confidence and form that transcended the actual quality in the squad. It was a cycle that fed itself—success bred confidence, confidence fed success. Take away one of those, and the whole deck of cards tumbles.

And so now here we are, bloodied, battered, bruised, fumbling to pick up the bloody, drool-sopped mouth-guard with boxing gloves that are themselves covered in blood and slobber, while the ref counts. Vision, blurry. Legs, rubbery. The room swims, and the roar of the crowd can't match the roaring of waves crashing inside the skull. Why fight back when to succumb would be so much simpler? Just take a knee and let the ref finish the count. Better yet, throw in the towel and beat him to the punch, so to speak. Right? We're done-for anyway, so we might as well quit before we're beaten.

Riiiight. 

How about, instead of all the hand-wringing, we decide to knuckle down and fight like the cornered animals we've become? Maybe being the front-runners didn't suit this squad. Not yet. We're not ready to simply boss other squads around; we haven't yet earned that right nor proven it to ourselves. This doesn't mean we should just stand there and take the pummeling. Between us and a resurrection stand seven clubs. To a club, we should and must defeat them all. So get up. Dust yourselves off. Shake off the cobwebs. We've taken our lumps and taken them from some of the best players and clubs in the world, but we're still on our feet. Uncertain on those feet, it's true, but we're still on our feet. After taking only 11 points from the last 33, we're still in fourth place, a far cry from where we hope but also a far cry better than most might be, especially considering the superior form so many of them have been in.

Let's end this pity-party, stop obsessing over which permutation of FA Cup and Prem positions will allow us to hold our heads high. Put away the abacus and the slide rule. Set yer jaws, lads, and lead with the chin. Get those knuckles lined up nice and pretty, and fight, for crissakes. Leave the woe and emo to the other guys.

I'll borrow from Rocky Balboa, one of the kings of the improbably comeback:
For a time, after all, just watchin' was a privilege. We took on the world, but somewhere, something changed. We stopped being us, we let people stick a finger in our faces and tell us we're no good, and we believed 'em. Things got had, and we looked for something to blame, and that became a bigger shadow than the teams we had to fight against. The Prem is a mean, nasty place, and it will beat you to your knees if you let it. But it ain't about how hard you get hit, it's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward—how much you can take. You gotta be willing to take the hits. More than that, you gotta hit back.
We're so busy counting the bruises and cuts that we're forgetting how to fight, how to hit back. Arteta gets shoved down. No response. A goal gets scored. We hang our heads and assume the worst. It's a mentality.

Good news? You can change your mentality. Injuries, referees' calls, transfer-windows, they're gonna do whatever they do. Mentality, however, is entirely within our control—if we want it to be. Shrug off the sorrow, ignore the table, and decide that we're not TKO'd. Not yet.