I’m not making this up and it’s not the usual cocksure bravado that you get from the average sports fan but if I’m completely honest, I’m not nervous about Sunday.
Yes, Arsenal are facing the form team of the Premier League, with the form player, playing at the highest level of his career. A player who has just this year unleashed a Ronaldo-esque toe-punch from set pieces. A toe-punch that is, I might add, getting him goals from dead ball situations. Dead ball situations that Mark Clattenburg will gladly award any time anyone gets anywhere near Gareth Bale and he falls over like he loves to do.
And we all know that Gareth Bale is the darling of the Lickspittles on Fleet Street because he’s a player who admits that he dives and who (like Rooney before him) gets a pass in the press. I’m not exactly sure why he gets a pass, maybe he needs to dive for Wales against England, in a World Cup match or something before he will get the royal treatment. But the marked difference between the way that the Daily Mail basically hung Eduardo in effigy and have instead made excuses for Bale’s diving is, well… marked.
And still I’m not worried about Sunday.
I even know that it’s a big game, probably the biggest of the season. How could I not know that Tottenham are above Arsenal in the table and that this one game could go a long way toward solidifying them as finishing above Arsenal for the first time since 1995? And how could I have missed the fact that this game could very well determine what type of European football Arsenal play next year? I couldn’t and I didn’t.
I also know that Arsenal have an error prone defense. One which is setting ignominious records for allowing slapstick goals. I know that Arsenal’s captain, and chief of the defense, is not in his best form, that the team’s most experienced right back is out injured and in his stead Arsenal will start a very raw Carl Jenkinson, and that the team has a new left back who has never experienced a North London Derby. Both fullbacks will be tested by the aforementioned Bale, who will be making every effort to get the ball on his left foot and fire in wicked shots that will test Arsenal’s shaky keeper.
This should be the kind of game that I’m very worried about, but I’m not.
My quiescence comes not from a sense of bravado about the fact that we have beaten Tottenham 5-2 in two consecutive matches, that Arsenal have the better head to head record over the entire career of Arsene Wenger, and that they have a long history as the little bottlers who couldn’t. I was in London last year when Spurs were overturned from a 2-0 lead. I sat on the train my last night in London last year and watched as a Spurs supporter openly wept because Tottenham had just lost 3-1 to Man U and he knew that the bottling of their season had begun. That fact should have leave me feeling confident but it’s not the reason why I feel the way I do.
No, this Spurs team look like a strong team who will give Arsenal a real challenge. And Arsenal are starting to look like the team who tend to disappear from matches. Arsenal are a team who can go into a big game and not even bother to show up until the opposition have already won. Arsenal can stumble through the first half like a blind drunk and wait until the second half to even bother start playing, time and again.
And yes, this is the biggest game that Arsenal will face for the rest of the season. If every season is a story, then this game is the climax. From Sunday at about 10am local time, the season will start to be resolved. There will be more matches and naturally there will be some more drama but nothing will compare to this game and the events which unfold in this game will almost certainly determine the path that Arsenal take for the next few months, if not even longer.
Missing out on Champions League football would set in front of this Arsenal board and Arsene Wenger a choice: double-down on the policy which has gotten the team to where we are now or change directions and rebuild.
And yet, I’m not worried.
I’m not worried because I’m anchored by the history of the Arsenal. I’m anchored by the 13 league titles. The 16 consecutive years of Champions League football. The Invincibles. The players who have come and gone and the players who are enshrined outside of the Emirates. Players like Henry, Adams, and Dennis Bergkamp who now have a granite reminder outside our gleaming new stadium that form is temporary but class is permanent.
It’s that class that Arsenal exudes in everything we do that is the difference and what gives us, as a club, a leg up over Tottenham. It’s not the back to back 5-2 wins over them, it’s the fact that we didn’t need to make a DVD to celebrate those wins. It’s the fact that we have millions of fans from all over the globe. Fans like me who are going to Munich to support the Arsenal come what may.
And maybe I’m “frying chickens in the barnyard” crazy but come what may on Sunday, I will always be an Arsenal supporter. And that means I will always be one better than Spurs.