When I last blogged at the end of March, things were looking rosy in the Arsenal garden. We had won seven league games on the spin to overtake Spurs into third place. Eight matches remained, of which five were eminently winnable “on paper”. The theme of that blog was the need to remain humble to secure third place. Continued hard work on the pitch would see us home and dry.
Sod’s Law meant we lost the very next game away to QPR, partially down to a lack of the pressing that had propelled us into third. We righted that wrong the following week with a barnstorming performance and win at home to title-chasing Manchester City. This was followed by a routine three points at Wolves. All seemed well again.
Since then however, that aforementioned rosy garden has developed a few thorns. And not due to a drop in work-rate, as I had feared. Instead we’ve run low on guile and a slice of luck. These two factors combined are perhaps more worrying than a lack of humility.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious going into the final two games of the season. Our faltering momentum is a concern; all the moreso because our closest challengers are on a high. As we have stalled, Spurs and Newcastle are revving up.
I’m not usually one for hyperbole. Some games are more important than others during the course of the season, but ultimately they are only components of the campaign as a whole. Yet I can’t help but feel the upcoming two matches are critical to the short-term and perhaps even medium-term prospects of the Club as a whole. The repercussions from the next week or so simply cannot be underestimated.
The ideal outcome of finishing third can be assured with two wins. Not only will we end the season on a high note – which we haven’t done in recent years – but we’ll have guaranteed Champions League football next season. This gives us a substantial advantage in trying to attract new players, which in turn helps exhibit our ambition to certain key members of the playing personnel whose contracts are soon to expire. Essentially, the perfect launchpad to shape our squad over the summer.
Some may be dismissive and say we’ve been in similar situations before without ever taking that final step, but things feel different this time round. Perhaps it is the quality of signing we are apparently targeting, or perhaps it is because this side has shown more of that fabled mental strength than previous incarnations. Either way, I’m confident Le Boss can mould the squad into title challengers this summer because he’ll have the freedom to do so...IF we finish third.
A less palatable outcome would be finishing fourth. Normally this is acceptable, but this time complicated by the unholy presence of Chelsea in the Champions League final. Now that they are unlikely to finish in the top-four, their only avenue into next season’s competition is winning the damn thing against Bayern in Munich. As if they needed more motivation. Do we want our fate to rest at the feet of Ashley Cole? No thank you.
If all is right in the world, Chelsea will lose the final and our fourth-place finish will mean a Champions League qualifier in August. Not being guaranteed dining at European football’s top table until late into the transfer window isn’t ideal, but it is workable. Though the law of averages does state that we’ll eventually suffer defeat at the preliminary stage. If that was to happen, the entire season would begin on a downer. Not worth thinking about it, is it?
The ultimate horror of horrors would be dropping out of the Champions League spots for the first time under Arsene Wenger’s reign. It would come as a shock to the system. And it would be imperative that we bounced back into the top-four next season. But naturally, this would be all the more taxing if it adversely impacted on our squad. We’d stand a bigger chance of losing players, whilst attracting signings would be even more difficult. A player who we may have wanted to sign could justifiably ditch us for a team that was to participate in the Champions League.
The above scenarios merely outline what may happen next season based on how this one ends. How they will actually unfold and impact on seasons thereafter is another story altogether.
Think of the two following situations: 1) we finish third and have a real run at the title next year but fall short, yet we gain the confidence that we can legitimately challenge; or 2) we miss out on the Champions League altogether, are unable to reclaim a spot in the top-four next season, and the negative financial and footballistic ramifications see us sink further, a la Liverpool. I know which I prefer.
We aren’t Chelsea or Manchester City. If a problem arises, we can’t throw money at it. Therefore it is vital to make sure no such problems arise in the first place, and we’ve given ourselves a great chance to do just that. Having catapulted ourselves from 17th to third, it would be a crying shame if we didn’t finish the job off.
I’ll come full-circle and end with the title of this blog: “what we achieve in life, echoes in eternity.” It’s a line from the movie Gladiator, and it loosely applies here. The Club’s future prospects are in the hands of those who currently don the hallowed red’n’white.
Here’s another famous quote that resonates with us Gooners: “remember who you are, what you are, and who you represent.” The men charged with navigating the good ship Arsenal through upcoming choppy waters must realise that Rocky Rocastle’s words don’t just refer to those who have gone before, but also to those who will come in the future. The next two games require them to stand up and be counted, for their own good and for the Club’s longer-term wellbeing.
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