Football fans often complain of press bias against their club and Arsenal supporters are no different in this regard. Perhaps this bias exists, perhaps it doesn’t, but almost certainly what does exist is a bias toward telling a good story — both the rise and the fall of that story. And with Arsenal in the midst of a run of come from behind wins, plus the remarkable near-comeback against AC Milan, the story is that it’s been a remarkable couple of weeks to be an Arsenal supporter. But hasn’t the whole season, even up until now, really just been a remarkable story?
Arsenal’s start of the season was marred by the ugly departures of Cesc and Nasri. This was quickly followed by the gutting 8-2 loss to United followed by the even more gutting 4-3 loss to Steve Keane’s Blackburn. Before you knew what was going on, Arsenal were off to their worst start in 29 years.
You had to go back to 1994-1995 to find the first instance of Arsenal having a negative goal difference in the first five games of a season. Then you had to go back to 1982-1983 to find an Arsenal side that only managed 4 points from the first five games of the season. And you had to go all the way back to 1963-1964 to find an Arsenal side that had as negative a goal difference as this team had in their first five matches.
Arsenal went into hiding and the press started picking up on other feel-good stories of the season. Newcastle were the first out of the gate with their impressive start to the season getting them up to fourth in the first five games. People started asking “Cabaye who?” presumably because they hadn’t read my column back in June but there were others on the team who impressed such as Demba Ba. It was good copy because the expectations for newly promoted Newcastle were so low.
By Halloween, Harry’s Hotspurs would take over the London press establishment and gushing reviews of Tottenham’s play coupled with Harry’s managerial style started pouring out daily. As Christmas drew near Harry moved Spurs into 3rd place, supplanting Pardew’s French side, dubbed Chateauneuf du Tyne by Phillipe Auclair, and the din over Tottenham turned to a roar.
The whipping boys this winter were both Chelsea and Arsenal. Each team trading lashes whenever they traded positions on the table from fourth to fifth. For Chelsea it was Villas Boas’ imminent canning. For Arsenal, it was the fact that they had zero viable fullbacks due to injury and yet still refused to buy.
So, by the time the transfer window snapped shut, the press reported the doomsday scenario for Arsenal: in 7th place, out of the Champions League, Robin van Persie certain to leave, no one will ever sign for a club out of Europe, Tottenham the best team in London, unrest at board meetings, fans grumbling over ticket prices, and every amateur accountant in the world trying to figure out what Arsenal’s transfer kitty is (that they wouldn’t have spent anyway).
By February, Tottenham were riding the wave of press love and Harry was being strongly linked to the England job. Then Sagna returned for Arsenal. Then Gibbs got healthy (ish) for Arsenal. Still, February was a mixed bag: beating Blackburn 7-1 to start the month, then losing to AC Milan and Sunderland in the two remaining cup competitions, then losing Per Mertesaker to serious injury while shipping Arshavin off to Siberia, and then finishing the month with a flourish by coming from a two-nil deficit against Spurs to win the game five-two.
And now Arsenal are on a high: a four game win streak, four consecutive comeback wins in the League, Tomas Rosicky looking revitalized in midfield (playing the “Arshavin position”), one point off Tottenham for third place, and even Theo Walcott’s playing well again!
It’s been a long, crazy season so far, and I don’t think anyone can honestly predict what will happen over the next ten games. But I do know this much: there are a lot of hungry teams around Arsenal at the moment who will pounce on this team the moment that they sense the handbrake has come out. Arsenal’s last ten games of the season are five home and five away: two of the home games are against top four rivals Chelsea and Man City and two of the away games are against relegation bound teams QPR and Wolves. And of course, there’s still Stoke City to play at the Shittania.
There does seem to be something incalculably different about this team at this moment. Perhaps it’s simply down to the fact that the dressing room is finally unified behind Robin van Persie’s captaincy. Whatever the reasons, long may it last. For if it does, then when the story of this season is finally written I don’t doubt for a minute that it will include the phrases “amazing comeback” and “overhauled Tottenham.”