The Worm Turned

What seems like a lifetime ago, I used to play a lot of pinochle and cribbage with my friends. Inevitably, when one of us would really get on top of the other and our luck was either at its height or its lowest ebb one of us would blurt out “the worm is going to turn.”

When the worm turns and your lucky cards start to run out, it’s one of the worst feelings ever. Here you are at the top of the world, holding good cards and dominating the game and then suddenly you get one shit hand, then another, and your opponent is grinning, and rubbing his hands together like an evil villain (did anyone see Beckham doing this?) and before you know it you’ve been skunked and your opponent is laughing and dancing.

Basically the worm turned yesterday. In the first leg, Arsenal were widely seen as lucky to escape 1-0 and so it should surprise no one that 8 minutes in to the second leg the worm turned, Gibbs slipped, Ji Sun Park luckily chipped over Almunia and Arsenal, just like my card player, hung their heads and knew that the tie was over.

I’m not going to sit here and give you a match recap, because Gunnerblog, who was actually there has done it better than I ever could. I’m not going to rip the team, because I really still don’t know what to think. And I’m certainly not going to rip the manager, I’m not anywhere near the level of football knowledge that Arsene Wenger possesses and have enough humility to know better than to question his choices this season.

I will, however, disagree with the people who say we need to go out and wholesale buy a bunch of players, people like Adebayor.  I disagree with them because it wasn’t Djourou or Gibbs or Song who cost Arsenal that game yesterday — they played their hearts out. Just look at Djourou tracking all the way back on that last Ronaldo goal: Cesc had given up on that play. Look at who stupidly fouled Ronaldo for the free kick that gave them the second goal, that was van Persie.  Arguably, Arsenal’s top two players were at fault for two goals, so for me, when we talk about bringing in “top class” players I wonder who we think we’re going to replace?

Song? No. He was top class yesterday.

Gibbs? You can go straight to hell. That 19 year old showed more class and talent over those two legs than any player I’ve ever seen in an Arsenal shirt. I bet the boss plays him against Chelsea on Sunday.

Nasri? Walcott? Toure? Djourou? Almunia? I mean come on… this is a very talented team! Can you imagine what we’ll look like next year when we play with Walcott, Nasri, and Arshavin swarming up front, Cesc and Song providing the spine, and Sagna, Toure, Djourou, and Clichy at the back?

No, rather than blow this team apart, Arsene’s big goal now has to be keeping this team together. Arsenal are never going to spend £65m on a Frank Ribery, they just don’t have the money. No one really does, Man U have mountains of debt, Chelsea owe their owner nearly a billion dollars, and worst of all Liverpool are facing a financial crisis when the banks call in their loans at the end of this season. There are only so many sheiks to go around and bail these teams out and the odds are pretty good that at least one of the top four clubs would be allowed to go bankrupt if they all went down simultaneously.

No, Wenger needs to keep the core of this team together, if he cuts some folks free (and I think he will) he’ll need to replace them with top talent at a good price. I have complete faith in Wenger’s ability to do so: he bought Arshavin and he bought Eduardo both at cut rate prices.

The point is that the core of this team is solid, the backups are solid, and with a few exceptions we have a deep team that was absolutely decimated by injury this season. It’s unrealistic to say that Arsenal needed more depth at Center back; how many world class defenders are going to be happy sitting on the bench waiting for their opportunity to get a game through dead man’s boots?

Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough about this. I’m going to be doing my annual recap of the top performers this year and there will be plenty of opportunity for us all to argue and yell at each other and say “you’re not a real Arsenal supporter!” in those posts.

For now, what I want to say is simply that I do believe in the core of this team, despite what the pundits have to say, despite what Adebayor thinks, and despite what some supporters think. It’s been a very good season, I think a lot of players have grown immeasurably and I think that we will continue to see these players mature. Trophies aren’t our birthright but I really do feel like they are forthcoming, just hang in there and enjoy the football along the way.

All my troubles seemed so far away…

In the land of the blind, the one one eyed man is king

All season long it seems like all of us have been looking back while Arsene Wenger, the iconoclast, refused to look into the past and instead steadily gazed into the future. In our obsession with the past, Wenger recons we got this season wrong and once again I find myself realizing that the teacher may have been right all along.

Arsenal started the season off by looking back to the famous win at Anfield in 1989. A win that so permeates Arsenal’s collective psyche that books have been written about the journey toward that one, glorious night. The club were gearing up for this year’s trip to 1989 as far back as last year by giving away copies of Nick Hornby’s book along with a bottle opener that played audio from the famous final moments of that game. Then, this season Arsenal ponied up and created a special away shirt in commemoration of that win, a special supporters pack with video of the game, a tie in product line, and then proceeded to nearly give them all away for free in a half-off effort that would assure people would be wearing the famous yellow and blue for years to come. It makes sense to look back at that game, I still get chills when I watch the final moments of that improbable 2-0 win that secured the title. Thomas, charging through the midfield indeed.

And during the summer as players jumped ship, we fans still refused to look into the future. Wringing our hands about the departure of Flamini and Gilberto and steadfastly holding out that players from the past, like Stephen Appiah, were the only way to right the listing ship. To paraphrase Wenger from yesterday’s press conference, if after the disastrous first 5 Premiership games of the season he’d have said that Alex Song would become a world class holding midfielder and that Arsenal would be on the cusp of another Champions League final berth “You would have called an ambulance.” Our belief was low because we were looking at the past, at players like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and teams like the invincibles, or even just at the season prior, while Arsene Wenger belief was seemingly irrationally high because he was looking forward, at the potential of players like Alex Song and Carlos Vela.

And even now, all the sports writers in the world are looking into Arsenal’s past in order to try to decipher what will happen today. Why not? After all, it’s comforting to look at Arsene Wenger’s record in Europe or his record against Man U and try to see a pattern there that will tell the story of today. Too bad no one told Arsene Wenger, he holds out that he’s never even watched a tape of their Champions League final loss at Barcelona.

In the midst of this orgy of nostalgia a funny thing happened to this Arsenal team; they started believing the stuff that Wenger is selling. They stopped looking at the past and they started believing in themselves, in the supporters, and in Wenger’s future. If you’ll permit me a bit of nostalgia about the season, once the belief took hold they have since gone on an improbable 21 match unbeaten streak, they won on penalties against Roma… at Roma… by hitting every penalty after an injured Eduardo missed the first, they overcame an horrific injury to Eduardo and an injury plagued season, and just 6 days ago they held on for an incredible 1-0 defeat against Man U despite missing half of their first team stars and relying on 19 year olds and written-off goalkeepers  for heroics.

Did Wenger see all that happening? Not specifically, but I think he believed in the team enough that he thought something like that might happen. Even that is pretty incredible if you think about it and makes me look at the way I criticized the team and the way I look at the future of this team in a whole new light.

You’ve heard me say how no matter what happens today I’m proud to be an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal have nothing to lose today: Man U are the defending champions, they have the 1-0 lead, they outplayed Arsenal on Wednesday last week, they spend irrationally big (supposedly offering £63m for Frank Ribery) and their prawn sandwich brigade have irrationally high expectations of their club. Win or lose, I just want to see a full blooded performance from Arsenal and I have no doubt that they will play their hearts out.

After all, they are not looking back, they’re all looking forward.

I’m home sick today, and my daughter is sick too so I’ll be watching Arsenal from the comfort of my couch and in High Definition on ESPN2. I could probably live blog but I doubt I’ll do it, just because I don’t want to spend my time chatting here and would rather just enjoy the game.

I encourage all of you to do the same: get a beer, get on the strip, and enjoy the day. What do you have to lose?

Correction re: Arsenal Supporter's Trust

My regular reader knows that I readily admit when I’m wrong. So, without further ado I will just say that yesterday I was wrong when I lumped the Arsenal Supporter’s Trust (AST) in with the Kroenke come lately’s. As it turns out, I was thinking of a particular interview with Nigel Phillips and Tim Payton in which they actually ask measured questions of Kroenke, rather than my memory of the interview, which was simply wrong.

I really should have known better as the AST is a loyal organization that only ever has Arsenal’s best at heart and always speaks in very measured tones.

Unlike this blogger.

So, my apologies to them and I enourage my reader to check out their organization in the link above.