Football players, like the rest of us, get older. So there comes a time when…
Just over a month ago I attacked Arsene Wenger’s strategy of hanging onto his transfer pot. That rant came after the 4-0 drubbing at the hands (well, feet) of AC Milan and the FA Cup defeat against Sunderland. A week later, Arsenal played Spurs at the Emirates – at the start of the match Arsenal were 10 points behind their North London rivals, and level on points and goal difference with Chelski. At the time people were saying that Arsenal could never catch Spurs and it was a battle for 4th place… a battle which also included Newcastle and, at a stretch, Liverpool.
I didn’t see the match live – we were out for the day – but my plan was to record it and watch it back at home. That plan was slightly scuppered when one of the moron DJs on Crapital Radio announced that Arsenal had gone 4-2 up, but that wasn’t the worst thing to hear. Back at home I started watching, not knowing the order of goals or the final score. After 33 minutes Spurs were 0-2 up. At that point it must have looked as dismal as it could get… trailing at home to your perennial underachieving rivals and the prospect of being 13 points behind them (a massive gulf to make up).
In 5 billion years time when the Sun begins the final stages of its life there’ll be no memory of the exact moment when the turning point occurred, but it probably will be remembered for a couple of seasons. It was as if some football version of Cupid suddenly fired 11 arrows into the backsides of the Arsenal team. Sagna scored, van Persie equalised, and not long after half-time a rejuvenated Rosicky put Arsenal ahead. A couple of quick goals from Walcott sealed the win, completing 5 goals in just 27 minutes of playing time. That closed the gap to 7 points and was the 3rd in a run of Premier League victories now totalling 7 on the trot after today’s 3-0 win over Aston Villa. In 4 weeks Arsenal have gone from 10 points behind Spurs to 3 points ahead with a superior goal difference.
After beating Liverpool in the next Premier League match, Arsenal took on AC Milan for the second leg of the Champions League tie. Few believed that Arsenal could turn the result around, but clearly the players did, and mission impossible was looking possible with a 3-0 lead at half-time. Although the score stayed that way, an enormous amount of pride was restored.
There are now 8 league matches left for Arsenal, Spurs and Chelski, and 9 for Newcastle, so nothing is decided yet. Arsenal have some tricky games ahead – Man City and Chelski will be visiting the Emirates, and there’s potential banana skins at the away visits to West Brom and Stoke. But Arsenal have put themselves in a position where 3rd place is now in their own hands. Chelski and Liverpool, who have spent vast quantities of money for little return, can look at Arsenal’s position with envy. Mr Wenger still has his transfer pot, and there’s a lot of talk about Summer signings… but he’s proved that he doesn’t have to rush into purchases. Meanwhile I have to eat my own words, but on this occasion I’m happy to.