Welcome to a brand new month on TremendArse. Here’s hoping March will be more successful for Arsenal than February was, and January, December and November for that matter, because if we want to ‘defy all odds’ and win the Premier League, as Arsene Wenger said today, it has to be.
Speaking at his pre-Swansea press conference, the boss stood firm is his belief his side are still very much in the title race despite a run of just seven wins from their last 16 Premier League games since the end of October, which has left the Gunners five points adrift of league leaders Leicester City, and sickeningly, three behind a grossly over-rated Tottenham. He said:
What we want to do is defy all the odds that are against us at the moment. The best way to do it is to fight together for that. We have come out of a bad week so we want to have a good week now. It’s as simple as that and that’s why you love competition. A bad week is not permanent, it’s what you make of it and how you respond. That’s the beauty of sport. Things change quickly one way or the other. That’s beautiful as well. We are professional and we want to focus on how we respond to the defeat. It can happen. We lost 3-2 at Manchester United, we are not happy with the result but if you analyse the game we had two lapses of focus that we paid for. That made the game difficult for us after. We gave a lot against Barcelona and the disappointing outcome certainly had an impact on our belief against Manchester United, but we want to focus on the positives and recover from it. We want to give our best from now until the end of the season.
That defeat against a severely-weakened Manchester United team on Sunday has inevitably led to an outpouring of anger, criticism and ridicule alike, but Arsene seemed unmoved today, suggesting his longevity as Arsenal manager means he’s seen and heard it all before. Funnily enough, that’s what a lot of fans and pundits would throw straight back at him.
Anyway, adding that he wants fans to get behind the team between now and the season’s end, he also stressed that the contest for the crown is still a very close one, saying:
I’m never surprised by the criticism that comes – that’s part of the media today. Part of the opinion is always a bit excessive and emotional, but we have to deal with that and I don’t complain about it. Yes, that’s what we want to do [and use criticism as motivation]. We want to transform the negatives into positives around us and create even more solidarity. Let’s not go overboard, we do not play to be relegated. We are playing to fight for the title. That’s why we have to put criticism in the right place. After 20 years I’m used to it. We have built this club, and it has been built before me, with values. What we try to do is respect these values and when we are disappointed we need to show these values and clarity to fight together. What you want from your fans is to fight together until the last game of the season. What we have learnt from the league is that it is very tight, that everybody can drop points, and the teams – and the fans – who can show togetherness and solidarity until the end, might come out of it in a positive way. That’s what we want, to fight together until the last game of the season and not give up when you have a bad game or a bad result. That’s what fans and players and teams and clubs are about.
As always, Arsene fronted up and said all the right things; the title’s far from lost, the team and fans need to remain united, criticism can be emotional and excessive. The problem is we’ve been here so often these last 12 years or so, fans are sick and tired of words and just want the wins that secure silverware.
I’m not one of those fans. Yet. We may be on a level financial footing to our rivals now, or at least more level, but it’s only been a season or two that that’s been the case. In that time we’ve won back-to-back FA Cups and signed some of world’s best players in Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Petr Cech. I see improvement and reasons to be confident of future success even if it feels like we’ve been enduring Groundhog campaigns for years now.
‘Project Youth’ failed to deliver trophies in the time we were financially handicapped and perhaps some bad habits set it. The winning mentality of our 2004 squad was lessened in direct correlation with our average age, but that’s now reversing and has been for a few years.
For me it’s not 12 years without a title, it’s about three. All of which is to say whilst even the most staunch supporters of Arsene over the years are beginning to contemplate a change in manager, I’m not there just yet. I think the boss has earned a year or two more to build the team he wants rather than one he has to fashion on a relative shoe-string and that he knows will sooner or later be broken up by enforced player sales.
I know I’m in an ever-diminishing minority among our fanbase but for now at least, I’m backing our manager to ‘defy the odds’ and make us champions again before his time runs out, whether that’s this term or in the next couple.
As for Leicester’s rise and Spurs’ challenge being evidence of why we’ll ‘never win the league again under Arsene, I think that view is bordering on ridiculous. Those clubs are enjoying freak seasons as far as I’m concerned and I have little doubt they won’t finish in the top four next season, even if one of them go on to win it this year.
Whatever your view though, surely we need to see how the rest of the season plays out before we solidify our stance.
Back on Wednesday.