It was the 23rd February, the day Squillaci was the sole scorer against Stoke at the Emirates, and the day I’d finally decided to buy the 10/11 home shirt. Previously it would have cost me a week’s food, but with the usual price slashing as the season progresses, I thought I’d treat myself and only go hungry for half that time.
And with good reason: we’d just come back to beat Barca at home, we’d earned a home replay in the FA Cup tie with the Orient, and – in just four days’ time – we’d be playing Birmingham at Wembley. I had a ticket for that. I couldn’t afford both Barca and the Cup Final, so I took a punt on being in the crowd when Cesc lifted the first trophy in six years, and decided that I’d cement my good mood with a worthy purchase.
The first time I wore the shirt was at Wembley. No doubt it’s pure chance that in the two months since our season, like the Fly Emirates lettering printed upon that very shirt, has steadily peeled apart. It’s pure chance I’ve gone to a fellow Gooner mate’s house to watch matches (away at Barca, away at Old Trafford in the FA Cup, and yesterday’s Bolton defeat included) and we’ve not won one of them.
Was it pure chance that a rare defensive mix-up cost us the League Cup? Maybe. Pure chance that RVP was sent off harshly at the Camp Nou? Probably. It’s pure chance that every time the club seems to put on a screening of an away game, we lose or draw. So then it’s pure chance that at half time of the Newcastle vs Arsenal screening, the announcement was “well we never seem to win these screening games, but that must be the case today”.
Yes, but it wasn’t chance that we then collapsed despairingly in the second half.
Chance has a lot to answer for over the last two months. But it can’t be blamed for ruining our season. Chance always occurs in football. That’s part of why we adore the game. And, more, we love our teams for their positive reaction to the trials and tribulations. Their strength and their resilience. Their looking of Chance square in the eyes, and saying:
“Screw you Chance, we’re going to keep battling. You might have blighted us today, but you’ve not got the measure of us.”
The thing is it’s not Chance that can be blamed for the fact that two months down the line we’re looking worriedly behind us in the Premier League rather than snapping at United’s dangling ankles. The kind of shaky defending and error-prone Arsenal we’ve seen of late can not be put down to it, and I’m sure Arsene, with his years of experience and history of winning trophies knows that. Arsenal look deflated by the season’s bad luck, and scared to death every time something goes wrong. That’s saddening to watch, but it’s not reason for a lynch mob.
I’m not a top-level coach, and nor am I a sports psychologist. But as a fan I’ve seen the collapses first hand. And it seems that while the players are no doubt being told that there’s a difference between freakish mistakes and continuous errors, nobody in the squad can show them otherwise. And without that, the latter occur more frequently.A freakish mistake can happen to any player, no matter how long they’ve played in any sport. They happen far less because with experience comes the knowhow of minimising the chance of Chance occurring. Unsurprisingly, such skills are learnt from the more experienced, but we don’t have those players.
People spoke about Lehmann bringing experience to the dressing room, but any great side needs that on the pitch. For example, it’s no coincidence to me that despite a shaky show at Blackpool, we walked away with the points. I’m sure that during that game Lehmann was barking orders, orders to aid in minimising risk and maximising gains on the way to victory. And in such actions you’re negating Chance and the whole cycle of:
Chance -> Freakish Error -> Confidence drop -> Continuous errors
Now the reason I’m writing this is because there’s a lot of (ugly) anger about right now from Arsenal fans, who want answers and/or change at the club. We’re all disappointed at how the season’s turned out from such a promising position in February. Chance has played its part in the ways I’ve mentioned and from them on in the team seems to have allowed doubt to do the rest. But the season’s not over and, in the absence of those more experience campaigners our support is key.
I don’t mean the support offered like that of the bloke in the North Bank who told Cesc to “Fuck Off” during the home tie with Blackburn. Or the support of the ‘fan’ who laid hands on a Sunderland man (who had his two sons and daughter with him) yelling “This is fucking Arsenal, this is our patch”. The team needs the support of those of us who know the team, the manager and the club is hurting, that the confidence is low, and that we’ll support them anyway. Support them until perhaps others players make the team stronger, or the players we have become stronger themselves.
And then, support them all the more. No matter what Chance can throw at us.