22 November 2014

Now that's a result that changes nothing whatosever.

And do we lurch from one calamity to the next, with this latest one apparently another nail in the coffin of Arsène's tenure. Turning around, it doesn't seem like there are too many more nails left.
We're off to our worst start in three decades, far and away our worst start under Arsène. We've one only four matches while losing three and, if Liverpool and Tottenham manage to pull off some thumping victories on Sunday, winning by seven or eight goals respectively, we could end the weekend as low as tenth place. In the process, of course, we have lost to a hated rival that is itself mired in its own season of mediocrity, a result that seems to symbolize everything that is going wrong at Arsenal. We can't score. We can't defend. We can't win the big matches. We pass and pass and pass and pass. Key players get injured. All of the symbols and portents seem to be aligning against us.

This result was, on its face, a swift kick to the groin. Afer the loss to Swansea, we built up our hopes and fears around this match to such a pitch that anything short of a 4-0 win might have left us despondent. To have lost 1-2 (thanks in part to a face-saving goal from Giroud in the 95th minute) instead feels every bit as bad as losing 8-2 or 6-0 or by any of the other, more humiliating scorelines we've suffered in recent years. It feels fatal, as if our entire season is already over—until we set aside the melodrama and the maudlin moping and look at things with a colder, clearer eye. Forget the symbolism and the pageantry and the portents and the omens. Look at matters with cool, stoic ration.

Nothing has changed, for better or for worse, as we survey the rest of the season. While it's still theoretically possible that we could reel in Chelsea or at least Man City, today's result reduces that chance to "slim to none." However, I'm sure that our rational sides had already written off winning the Prem with an eye to perhaps finishing as high as third. That hasn't changed. Despite losing to Man U, we're still very much in the thick of a very, very crowded race for top-four honors. Sneer if you will at that fourth-place trophy, but do remind yourself that Champions League football is a very real honor. After 12 matches, we are in 8th place with 17 points, level with Everton and three ahead of Liverpool and Tottenham, who each have a game in hand as I write. West Ham and Swansea have also played 12 and are at 18 points, and Newcastle and Man U are at 19. Without unfairly underestimating other clubs, I think it's safe to say that West Ham and Swansea will fade down the stretch. Can we count on Newcastle or Southampton to do the same? Time will tell. My point though, is this: despite a string of terrible, perhaps terrifying results, we are still a mere two points from fourth place. Two. That's a freakishly unlucky Gibbs own-goal away.

We're riding about as rough a patch as we've seen in a long, long time, and it naturally feels terrible. We're a long way from caviar. Heck, we might be a long way from sausage at the moment. Were it not for the brilliance that is Alexis, who knows what kind of imitation meat-product we'd be turning to? Despite the negative results, we've not played poorly. Against Man U, we dominated for long stretches. Were it not for a tragicomic sequence in which Wilshere was injured on a harsh tackle and Fellaini seemed to get away with a shove on Gibbs that sent him flying into Szczesny, injuring the keeper and allowing Valencia a shot that would skiv off of Gibbs and into goal, we might have come away with a draw, if not a win. Still, it was the kind of goal we've come to expect, such is our fatalistic mood at the moment. Of course, folly was followed by fear as Rooney scored on a counter reminiscent of Chelsea's second or of Swansea's, when we were so busy chasing an equaliser that we were caught with eight or nine men too far up the pitch, and we got hit hard on the counter. Each of us probably threw his or her hands up in the air and wondered about throwing in the towel.

Don't.

As one shred of hope to cling to, look no further than that 95th minute goal. For one, it's our ninth stoppage-time goal of the season. It did nothing to change the outcome of this particular match, but it suggests that we can find goals in other ways, in ways reminiscent of our more-memorable days under Arsène. Time and time again against Man U, we built up slowly and intricately only to fire over or directly at de Gea. Perhaps we were trying to re-break his finger. We spurned chances as we chased another pornogol di wilshere. Our only goal came as Giroud—Olivier Giroud, of all people—ran in behind Man U's defense to collect Arteta's pass and fire past de Gea from outside the box. Whereas Alexis and Ox and Welbeck scintillated without scoring, it was perhaps the second-slowest man on the pitch who chased down a through-ball and finally finished.

Despite how depressing this result feels, I'm feeling defiant. Rather than seeing this loss as an irreversible setback, I see it as a galvanising moment, one that lays bare our follies and forces us to confront them, leading to a steeling of nerves and a sharpening of desire. If you want your silverware served on a silver platter, sod off and support Chelsea or Citeh. I prefer to earn my accolades rather than having them rented. It's bound to be by turns frustrating and depressing and infuriating, but if you want soul-deadening certainties, well, I could talk at you until I'm blue in the face, any shade, without changing your mind.

As for Arsenal, we do still have 26 matches to set things right, and, unlike Man U, we have a midweek Champions League match to prepare for. I'm sure that Wayne and Marouane and Robin and all the rest will gather 'round the transistor-radio, mugs of cocoa in hand, to listen in on the commentary as we lock horns with Dortmund on Wednesday. As for Dortmund, well, we're coming off of two losses in a row. Will we fold faster than Superman on laundry-day, or will we come out like rabid dogs? I rather fancy the latter...