27 December 2015

Freddie "the legend" Ljungberg predicts a battering of Bournemouth...

Shrug off, if you can, the loss to Southampton. While we've missed a chance to go top of the table, there are no trophies associated with being there on 26 December. The three points dropped may matter more in the long run, although we're still two points better off than we were at this point a year ago. Man City are three points off their pace of last season (something we may have played a small role in...), so there's some solace in that. However, there's no hiding the fact that we suffered a hiding on Saturday, and we do have to turn things around with a quickness. Thankfully, no less a legend that Freddie Ljungberg has some words of wisdom for us as we host Bournemouth on Monday evening...

Speaking after a similarly disappointing loss, 0-3 at home to Inter Milan, Ljungberg had this to say:
It's important, when you experience some doubts, to stick together and show what you're made of....If things are happy all the time, you don't get to know your real teammates. That's what makes the team gel, and maybe [winning 1-5 in the second leg ] wouldn't have happened without losing 3-0 to Inter. We always play our best football when our backs are against the wall. We definitely have a special spirit, great faith in each other. Turning it around is a great thing.
Okay, so that was in 2003, and Southampton circa 2015 are hardly the same vintage, but the wisdom still echoes down through the ages. While there are some who will rue our apparent inability to grab the brass ring yet again, I think it makes more sense to see Saturday's loss as the kind of wake-up call that reminds us of who our real teammates—and real fans—are. Some among us might have actually relished the result at St. Mary's, believing however secretly that it would hasten the end of Arsène's apparently benighted tenure and somehow inaugurate a Renaissance of the kind they've enjoyed over at Old Trafford since 2013 or at Anfield since 1989.

Yes, it does seem as if this squad of ours needs to take it on the chin every now and then, but that's hardly unusual. Just a week ago, we hosted the undisputed putative pre-anointed champions and handled them quite well; it's a shame that we squandered the momentum just a few days a later, but chalk that up to an emotional letdown rather than to any deeper-seated issues in the squad. Southampton looked more energetic, and Jonathan Moss looked a bit more apathetic. 'Twixt the two, it seemed as if our lads had spent too much time reading headlines and predictions regarding our apparently imminent coronation or Southampton's relegation.

We do have a history—however misbegotten—of following infamous defeats with somewhat more-famous fightbacks, and I'm not just referring to the next fixture or two. Heck, the last time we lost at St. Mary's, we went on a run of 12 wins and a draw from the next fourteen. I don't like the idea that a massive loss is apparently necessary to inspire such a run of form, but I'll take it.

As for Bournemouth, they've been almost as hard-hit as we at Arsenal have been, but they may come in with some extra motivation. Whether their starting keeper is Artur Boruc or Adam Federici, each has an ax to grind. Boruc, the one-time Southampton keeper, can think back to November 2013, when he tried to dribble Giroud, who dispossessed him and scored. Federici, the one-time Reading keeper, need think back to April 2015 when a heart-breaking gaffe undermined an otherwise-stalwart performance against us in the FA Cup semifinal.

Bournemouth have been one of the Prem's hottest clubs of late, taking 12 points from their last six matches (including wins over Man U and Chelsea, even if the quality of those wins remains under active review...). We can't underestimate them, not in a season in which Leicester reign and Watford match Man U. If we can't see pop these Cherries, we might have a crisis of sorts. Until then, listen to Ljungberg: "we always play our best when our backs are against the wall."