Thursday, November 4, 2010

(I finally saw) Arsenal 1-0 West Ham

At the beginning of the season, I was excited because one of the free-to-air channels was promising to broadcast live Arsenal matches. It turned out it was a Thursday afternoon replay of the previous weekend's Premier League match. Due to the vagaries of work and commuting, I never really got into the habit of switching on at 4:30pm every Thursday to watch the Arsenal play.

Long story short, I managed to catch the last twenty minutes of the Arsenal vs West Ham match this afternoon. And it's quite nice watching the Arsenal on a big screen. In Australia, coverage of the Arsenal can be sketchy. For most matches, I've a choice of either a sterile sports lounge at the local pokies, a stilted internet stream, or sleeping in and catching the highlights on youTube a few days later. And for most matches, I choose to sleep in.

I didn't think we played that badly in those last 20 minutes. I agree with most gooners that: Song's getting ahead of himself, and that he shouldn't indulge in passes that he doesn't have the talent to pull off; Arshavin's a bit lazy, but has a certain something that the majority of our squad doesn't; Theo is a lovely boy who's pretty close to being a good player; Nasri and Fabregas complement each other in the centre of the park; and that a midfield combo of Nasri, Fabregas and Wilshere would be exceptional in about three years' time.

It was one of those games we tend to win when we're on form: West Ham park the bus; Arsenal creative plenty of chances but lack the chutzpah to capitalise; West Ham get tired towards the end of the match; Arsenal sneak a late, late goal through weight in numbers. When we're on a winning streak and we have belief, we tend to play to the whistle and we can sneak late, game-breaking goals. When we're on a poor run, we fade out a bit, and we don't get those goals that convert draws into wins.

It's been like that for a few years now. Liking the proverbial band of travelling supporters, we only sing when we're winning.

I remember thinking it back in the Flamin-Cesc-Hleb days. We had a team then that was on the cusp of a title, but it was a team run on the fumes of momentum. When we thought we were good, Flamini's legs would be pumping like a little gallic Energiser bunny, Cesc would be stringing passes, Hleb would be not shooting, and Adebayor would be scoring the sublime. It looked like we actually could win the league. However, when Eduardo's leg was shattered, and we drew at Birmingham, everything crumbled. We lost confidence, we lost momentum, we lost our way, and we lost the title.

The depressing thing is that we haven't learnt anything in the intervening years.

At present, we have a side which could theoretically challenge for the league. In terms of talent, we're comparable with Chelsea and Man Utd. In terms of experience, we've got a clutch of players with 4-5 years of senior football and who should be hitting their straps now. Okay, we won't because we're tactically naive and defensively stupid, but man-for-man, we're up there with the top two clubs.

But what about in terms of heart? Determination? Stubbornness? A league win sometimes requires 10 stubborn men to run hard into the 90th minute, refusing to concede the inevitability of a 0-0 scoreline. A league title would require 11 stupidly stubborn men to be prepared to do it for 38 matches in a year. I can see Chelsea doing it, and I can see Man Utd doing it, but I can't see the Arsenal doing it. When we've got momentum, I can see us scraping for a match. When we're in the doldrums, I can't.

It'll be interesting to see how we front up against Newcastle on Sunday. After losing to Shaktar, our momentum's been deflated somewhat. Champions League top spot is back in contention. It's the kind of scenario which lends itself to a shock 1-2 loss against a newly-promoted side. I hope the Arsenal prove me wrong, and put in a great performance. I'd love it, just love it if they put on a complete performance.

I might even be bothered to watch the match on Thursday afternoon.

1 comment:

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