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Comparing Arsenal to a Final Destination movie
A few weeks ago the incomparable Michael Cox asked one question about Arsenal in Guardian’s pages: “So what exactly are Arsenal good at?” To put it mildly, that was the best question anybody had asked about Arsenal over the last three to four years.
Watching Theo Walcott score Arsenal’s fifth and his second against Tottenham on Sunday, I saw a few images: Thierry Henry sidefooting to give Arsenal a 5-3 lead against Middlesborough at Highbury in 2004; Robin van Persie scooting past a fallen John Terry, teasing Petr Cech before slotting the ball into an empty net at Stamford Bridge late last year; and Cesc Fabregas scoring with the help of heavy deflections past Jussi Jaaskelainen at The Reebok in 2008.
All these goals have a common theme. They helped Arsenal to complete memorable comebacks. But Arsenal’s problem has been this: Their mental strength is being essayed in fits and starts, while their mental fragility is like a Final Destination movie. One thing leads to another and before you know it, they are down and well out.
The problem with opprobrium is that something like Sunday could well happen again. The problem with being delirious is that something like last Sunday has been a bit like London buses for Arsenal. They may well play the next 10-15 games without displaying the same level of clinical finishing, tenacity in midfield and mental strength after going behind.
But Arsenal, even after having a truly torrid start to the league, still find themselves in fourth spot. While this may explain the overall wretchedness of the league, a measure of credit should go to the north Londoners for being able to hang on the coattails of the fourth spot.
Lots of times, teams talk about having the momentum to push on come the end of the season. Maybe momentum is an overrated word. Take last Sunday for example, Tottenham had the momentum, but Arsenal ended up winning. Cardiff had the momentum going into the penalty shoot-outs, but Liverpool ended up winning. While there could be talk of momentum shifts and pendulum swings, I would like to focus on another word: “Eustress”. The stress that is pleasant or curative.
It has been said before that the team that handles the pressure well amongst Newcastle, Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea will finish in fourth spot. Why can’t the team that enjoys the pressure most finish in fourth spot? The team that is able to extract maximum pleasure whilst playing a competitive football game for 90 minutes over the next 13 or so gameweeks could very well end up in that all important fourth spot. And looking at it as an outsider looking in, all four clubs involved in the race have something or the other going for them.
For Arsenal, it’s to keep Arsene Wenger’s proud record alive. This could well be a new beginning for Liverpool. Andre Villas-Boas will gain more friends than foes if he steers Chelsea to that spot. And Sports Direct Arena won’t be the only thing that will have changed in St. James Boulevard if Newcastle somehow sneaks through.
In a way, this battle seems to be more inspired than the battle for top spot. Maybe because both the Manchester clubs are respresenting androids while the clubs immediately below them are anything but.
Posted by Arsenal fan Swaroop Swaminathan
Follow Swaroop on Twitter @persiesque