This season has been no different to most recent seasons in that everybody has expected Arsenal to finally crumble and slip out of the top four. Arsene Wenger has received an incredible amount of pressure from media and fans alike to finally get his chequebook out, while he has been berated and laughed at for his claims that his side have mental strength.
It’s fairly understandable though – last season they managed to find one spectacular way of imploding after another. Drawing 4-4 having been 4-0 up at half time. Drawing 3-3 to Tottenham having been 3-1 up. Losing 3-2 to Tottenham AT HOME having been 2-0 up at half time.
Those were some quite embarrassing times for the Gunners. The players seemed to lack passion, some of them seemed to want to be elsewhere at times. The pride was gone.
Fast forward a few months, Arsenal still in the middle of a “crisis”. Boy, we’ve had a few of those. And we came to the crucial match against Udinese to qualify for the Champions League proper. £25 million on a knife edge. Players dropping like flies, leaving a threadbare squad desperately in need of reinforcements – or so the media would have you believe.
Don’t get me wrong; the victory only papered over the cracks, and Arsenal do still need to strengthen in defence and midfield – perhaps even adding a striker too, although it’s not yet a necessity. But suggestions that Arsene Wenger’s side are in crisis? Way off the mark. And those who said he’s ‘lost it’ – don’t get me started.
The last few years have been testing times for Arsenal. Players disillusioned with the direction the club was heading in, or simply wooed by supposedly better opportunities, meant they’ve had to rebuild constantly. Bad luck’s played a part too – you’d be hard pressed to find a team who have suffered as many bad refereeing decisions as Arsenal recently.
But our luck seems to be turning. Udinese hit the post twice at crucial times, and last season you would have expected them to both nestle in the back of the net. Then Wojciech Szczesny came up with a brilliant penalty save.
Perhaps you do indeed make your own luck. Or at least make up for the bad luck with persistence, effort and application, as well as quality. That’s what happened with Szczesny’s save. A year ago, we would have seen Manuel Almunia most likely stand rooted to the spot as Di Natale smashed it home, and Arsenal would have most likely crashed out after their nerves had gone.
But Szczesny came up trumps at a vital time – that’s what a world class goalkeeper does. He makes saves which are turning points in the game. So, to all those who wrote off Szczesny and continued to push Arsene for a new goalkeeper (looking at you, Robbie Savage) that was a big two fingers.
The team fought back from that dodgy decision as just that – a team. Everybody pulled their weight and we came out on top. It was a great show of that mental strength Wenger always bangs on about, a real backs to the wall victory.
Wenger made all the right calls against Udinese, and his signings of Gervinho and Jenkinson especially seem to have been masterstrokes. He has been talking them up, as well as Ryo Miyaichi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as quality signings, which was just written off as “AW spin” as some say. But he’s been proven correct on Gervinho and Jenkinson – perhaps soon Chamberlain and Miyaichi will vindicate him further.
In Arsene we rust? Certainly not. The trust is well deserved, and is still there.
By 15 Year Old Gooner (Sam) – Arsenal fan – @15yearoldgooner