24 April 2016

Loyalty to the club always; to the squad & manager when it's earned...

To have watched the match against Sunderland was akin to inhabiting a parallel universe, a bizarro-world in which Sunderland were fighting for a top-three finish and Arsenal were staving off relegation. Yes, Arsenal dominated possession, but the lion's share of chances went to the Black Cats. Were it not for Defoe's wastefulness or Čech's class, we would have left the Stadium of Light empty-handed. As it stands, we escaped with a point we scarcely deserved but sorely need. Instead of standing two points clear of Man City, we're now level on points and trailing on goal-difference. With Man U in the FA Cup final, Liverpool in the Europa League semifinal, and Man City in the Champions League semifinal, all bets are off. Fourth in the Prem assures us nothing. To paraphrase the American satirist Mark Twain, rumours or the club's death are greatly exaggerated.

As to the squad and manager, well, rumours abound. It's one thing for Tottenham to finish above
Arsenal; it's happened before and will happen again. After all, the goal is not to simply finish above Tottenham; it's to win the Prem. No, instead, it's quite another to scrape and claw one's way to finish fourth in a season in which Chelsea and Liverpool have been laughable by turns and Man U have been only marginally better. Had you told me in August, that those three would be struggling to qualify for the Europa League I would have pencilled us in to win the Prem. Instead, we are where we've been for most of the last decade—hoping against hope that we can hold to a top-four finish that seems to mean less and less each season. 

Still, for what it's worth, we cling to that top-four berth. If Liverpool win the Europa League, and if Man City win the Champions League but fall out of the top four, it's time to sweat a few bullets. Man U trail us by five but have a game in hand. Should the unthinkable happen—should we finish below Tottenham and out of a Champions League qualifying spot, well, that could (and bloody well should) spell the end of Arsène's tenure as well as that of many in the squad. After all, his saving grace has been that Champions League—and a playoff spot at that. If they can't come together to see off Sunderland (or Palace, or West Ham, or...) to earn that spot, there goes the "steady as she goes" rationale. 

Yes, there are some diamonds in the rough: Özil. Alexis. Monreal. Bellerín, These are essentially the foundation for moving the club forward. If there are other names to add, they might include Wilshere, Iwobi, and Coquelin. Others are expendable either because they don't perform to the level we need, are overpaid, or are past their prime. I'll leave it to you to assign the following to each category: Mertesacker. Flamini. Arteta. Ramsey. Giroud. Walcott. Of course, there are others who inhabit a sort of Limbo from which it's difficult to predict any kind of destiny. 

One whose destiny seems to become increasingly clear, however, is Arsène. Say what you will about his parsimony or his stubborness. Even his recent loosening of the purse-strings comes with an asterisk: Real sold Özil in part to purchase Bale. Barça sold Alexis in part to purchase Suarez. Chelsea sold Čech because they had Courtois. Peek behind that veil, and we're still stuck in the stingy mode we've been in for far too long. It was one thing to usher the club through the financing of a new stadium—that move was pregnant with potential, after all—it's quite another to continue to pretend that we're hamstrung by our own chequebook. Leicester, after all, have essentially won the Prem on a shoestring. Tottenham look set for the best finish in a generation. Man City have laid waste to the "injuries" excuse.

What we're left with then is the remnants of those excuses. We're not finishing behind those who have outspent us. We're finishing behind those who have outplayed us. 

The club will survive this setback. The question though is, who in the squad will?