01 March 2016

Leicester wobbles yet again; Arsenal will seize this season by the scruff against Swansea...

For the third time in as many outings, Leicester, the erstwhile runaway favorites to win the Prem, have flirted with entering the kind of death-spiral that we've long-predicted. We beat them. Again. They won in the waning seconds at home against Norwich. On Tuesday, again at home, they fought hard to come away with one point against West Brom. Their lead over us now stands at just six points, pending the result of our Wednesday scrum against Swansea. I hope you'll indulge as I look just a bit past the fixture itself and to the larger issues at stake. I think we all know what those issues are.

For one, we have a fight on our hands, and that's a far cry better than how things stood on Sunday. Leicester's draw reopens a door that felt slammed firmly shut. That's not to say we'll waltz against our Welsh visitors; they are, after all mired in the relegation battle, sitting just three points clear. We still face a must-win scenario, and the Swans have fought hard in their last few fixtures, Put simply, if we can't seize all three on Wednesday, then little if nothing that I type from this point forward will matter one iota. If we do win, the race is on—with a Wengerian vengeance.

Since the setback at Old Trafford, opponents have been sharpening their knives and smelling blood in the water. That loss, they insist, will be Wenger's Waterloo, the one that finally tips the scales of vengeance against a man many have come to loathe and demonize as if he's the devil incarnate, despite the fact that Mike Dean was in clear sight at the same time as Wenger on Sunday. Strange as it may seem, there are many who pine and lust after Wenger's ouster, believing rather blithely that we'll defy the laws of gravity as proven by the likes of Man U if not by lesser lights like Liverpool and the Lilywhites. In other words, it's more than a bit difficult to replace a legendary manager whatever his flaws, even with a massive influx of spending. Whether we bring a proven commodity like Joachim Löw or Carlos Ancelloti, or whether we pluck someone up from obscurity, it's difficult to ignore the cautionary tales cast by our rivals.

Arsène does deserve better than this. When he embarked on the modernisation of Arsenal, none among us could have foreseen the impact of Mansour or Abramovich. The fact that Arsène has kept us in the top four might feel on its face like a craven capitulation, but it stands as an unvarnished achievement against the backfrop of how those clubs have overtaken us—in some ways by poaching the very players we might have counted on to lead the charge against those self-same clubs.

If just two or three of those players had shown more grit, more determination, more self-respect; if just one or two of those players had been more fighter than front-runner; it would be Arsenal defending a Prem title or two and eyeing up a double. One lesson that those above us at the moment are teaching is that it's not necessarily spending that leads to winning—it's determination. Leicester and Tottenham (despite their post-Bale spending spree) have gotten to where they are at the moment by believing that they can get there.

By contrast, though, we at our end are guilty of nearly constant carping, griping, and whingeing over how unlucky we are, how doomed we are, how besaddled we are by bottlers. At some level, the knock-on effect of that mindset does carry over onto the pitch. I'll hardly suggest that any of our lads read this or any other blog, but the pessimism among us does infiltrate. We talk about a winner's mentality, and we blame the squad for not having one—and we might have a point. Then again, the venom and poison that so many spew surely infects some among that squad.

Ask yourself what you would really like to see: Arsenal win the Prem, or Tottenham. Would you really actually prefer to see them win the Prem if that's what it takes to finally rid yourselves of the apparent bane and burden that Arsène has been? Think that through, long and hard. Then, for good measure, think it through again. You say that ousting Arsène is necessary, as if it will inaugurate a renaissance. Ask yourself: what manager is available—and what players would agree to join a club that might well be entering a Mancunian slump?

By contrast, imagine what happens if Arsenal does achieve the improbable but not impossible: what if Arsenal wins the Prem? Arsène has one year left on his contract, it's true, but could he not envision (and perhaps even deserve) a better book-end to his tenure than to win a double? If we can pull that off, we're no longer a selling club fading into the twilight. We'd reestablish ourselves as one of the preeminent clubs in England and then some. Rather than scrounging around for a replacement manager or for players who see as us the next rung on their personal ladders, we could pick and choose among the best. The current generation of players seems short of leaders willing to take a squad by the scruff and lead it to the promised land. Having already arrived there under Arsène would make it much easier to attract the best of the current crop.

Despite our recent missteps, I still firmly believe that we stand on the threshold of something memorable, something that could ring down the ages.

Sorry to give such short shrift to Swansea. Wednesday does, after all, loom large. Something tells me that our squad will make what I've typed here matter more than an iota or two.