27 February 2015

Let's all laugh at Spurs and Scousers and—oh. Um...

So we were terrible on Wednesday. Despite getting one of the best-available draws in years, we botched it, delivering one of our worst performances in memory. However, we can always count on Tottenham to help us put things in perspective, to remind us that we could always have things just a bit worse. For us, it seems that there is always a light at the end of the tunnel: we're not Tottenham. For was woefully as we played on Wednesday, we can still wake up knowing that we're not rooting for a cock on a ball, or in the case of Liverpool, some random waterfowl choking on seaweed. Yes, we lost in atrocious fashion at home, but reports of our death are greatly exaggerated. There is after all still the second leg to be played. At the wrong end of London, and even further north to Liverpool, their European misadventures have come to an untimely end, with each club dumped from the Europa League. Let's all laugh, indeed.

LOLdado...
As for the Monaco debacle, let's admit that we had more than our fair share of chances which we either squandered or were flabbergasted to see get denied in the weirdest of ways. Kondogbia's goal was just as unlucky as Walcott's block of Welbeck's shot, and that changed the game (in ways that we exacerbated in our own ways). What's more, we do still have the second leg to play, and we've shown a remarkable ability to almost achieve the impossible against more intimidating clubs. It ain't over 'til it's over, and it's far from over.

Sadly, however, let's put our hands over our hearts and observe a moment of silence our our misbegotten brethren at White Hart Lane and Anfield, as each of them has been ousted from the Europa League. Fiorentina won 2-0 on Wednesday to oust Tottenham, and Beşiktaş (remember them?) overcame Liverpool through penalties. We may have made a meal of our first leg, but we can still cling to a glimmer of hope that we can conjure some of the ol' second-leg magic to resurrect our Champions League dreams. Tottenham and Liverpool, however, will have to trudge back morosely from Italy and Turkey, knowing that they'd each squandered a chance at winning a bit of silverware, even if it shines a bit less than those we're still vying for. There's nothing wrong with a bit of schadenfreude,especially when it comes to close on the heels of our own setback.

Then again, two of our chief rivals can now focus almost exclusively on the Prem. Both Tottenham and Liverpool, who might have otherwise had to face unpleasant trips to Russian pitches in March or beyond, are now spared the expense, wear and tear, and distraction. For Tottenham, they now have only the League Cup final against Chelsea to worry about; Liverpool, like us, are still alive and kicking in the FA Cup and will host Blackburn. In each case, the removal of the Europa League fixtures, while gleeful to us in the short term, may very well complicate things in the longer term. They're now spared the bother of at two more fixtures, if not more, in a competition that neither might have been all that excited for in the first place. Each club sent out a fair number of squad players, indicating a certain willingness to let the chips fall where they may against sides for whom this competition seems to inspire much more motivation.

At our end, the gloom and doom that pervades the atmosphere seems to portend our own departure, but that's a bit premature. We've made a habit of botching the first leg in almost-comical fashion only to rebound just as heroically. If a side that sported Jenkinson in the starting XI and threw on Gervinho in the second half can best Bayern 0-2 at Allianz Arena, then surely a side that includes Özil and Alexis can find a way to beat Monaco 0-3 at the Stade Louis. The question that arises, though, is "is this what we want?" After all, considering how tight the race for third and fourth in the Prem currently is, can we sustain two more fixtures (in which we might very well get pummeled by Barcelona, Real Madrid, or PSG, among others)?

With Tottenham and Liverpool essentially free to focus on fourth place in the Prem, the better part of valour for us might be to let the Champions League go by the wayside. We already face an almost insurmountable challenge in that second leg, and the effort we might have to commit to overcoming that might undermine our efforts against West Ham and Newcastle, whom we face either side of that second leg. Dropping points against either of them might cripple us more than being dumped from the Champions League.

There are some who would claim that this is precisely what Arsenal needs: to miss out on Champions League qualification. This setback, they claim, would prove such a shock to the manager and the board that they would be forced to act decisively to strengthen the squad in ways we've never seen, whether it be the shock-signings of players we've only dreamed of or the sacking of a manager who's brought to this club such exquisite achievements and has it poised on the brink of tantalizing success.

Bollocks.

While I do believe in the idea that a short-term setback can inspire longer term achievements, the idea that we might have to fall to fifth in the Prem in order to prompt some kind of monumental overhaul of our club leaves me completely gobsmacked. I'm not saying that Arsène deserves to stay at the helm in deference to what he achieved a decade or more ago; that reeks of emperors wearing no clothes.

Instead, let's remember that on Wednesday, it was the players on the pitch who let us down, not the manager, and that each time we've seen those players founder on the shoals, they've risen, phoenix-like, from the ashes of their own reported demises. So Giroud, Welbeck, Walcott, and Alexis missed chances. Özil was worse than invisible. Good. Each of them, as well as the squad and manager, will likely respond with the same kind of defiance and determination we've seen after almost every other setback. That may not be enough to see us through to the Champions League quarterfinal, but I'm willing to bet that it's more than enough to see us finish fourth or higher in the Prem.

If such a finish doesn't satisfy you, well, go find a club that's willing to spend so much on players that it makes drunken sailors embarrassed.