21 February 2009 was a beautiful day. As we filed into the stadium, the seats and pitch were dappled in bright winter sunlight. It could have been a trick of the sun, or of the mind, but that pitch was greener than any I had ever seen. It was as if each cell of each blade of grass was drinking in the sun and pouring out green light in return.
The weather matched our collective optimism. Arsenal were a ship in irons, no wind to push our sails, and had faltered to two consecutive 0-0 draws. In those draws Arsenal looked ponderous in midfield with Song and Denilson tacking Arsenal back and forth but never seeming to gain ground. But on the day we we all jubilant from the fact that Arsene Wenger had finally broken down and purchased a forward, a player who would come on, score the goals we needed, and push Arsenal back into the Champions League places, where Aston Villa sat in our stead.
That player was Andrei Arshavin and he did come on that day, but he didn’t save us and he only excited in brief moments. It was such a boring match that half way through the second half, I noticed the two guys in front of me were sleeping. It ended 0-0 and the Sunderland fans danced.
The next game ended 0-0 as well. Four consecutive matches ended 0-0 and by the end of that run, Arsenal were 6 points behind Aston Villa in 5th place and just 2 points above Everton in 6th.
That was the last time Arsenal went three or more matches without scoring. Until Tuesday.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that like 2009, Arsenal fans were excited at the prospect of facing Southampton again. This time with superstar Alexis Sanchez in the team the Gunners had a chance to right the wrongs of the 4-0 loss handed out when Arsenal were at their lowest ebb of the season.
And just like that sunny February day in 2009, the match ended 0-0, and our tiny savior didn’t save us.
Just a few weeks ago Arsenal were League leaders and to paraphrase Eduardo Galeano “well-informed sources in London were announcing the imminent fall of Leicester and Manchester City, it was only a matter of hours.” Galeano was talking about well informed sources in Miami and the fall of Castro. As we know now, Cuba remained under Castro’s rule until his death in… wait, he’s still alive? Damn, by the Law of Metaphors we now know that Leicester City will never fall.
Leicester and Manchester City didn’t fade away but Arsenal did; the Gunners have earned just nine points from the last seven matches. Leicester have earned twelve points from their last seven and Man City fifteen points from their last seven (they are undefeated). And while no one was watching Tottenham even overtook Arsenal.
Sitting in 4th place the title race isn’t over for Arsenal, mathematically. And on a positive note, Arsenal did create 21 shots, including 5 “Big Chances”, against a staunch Southampton defense and their ally Lee Mason. That was Arsenal’s best performance since… since they took 26 shots and had 5 big chances in the 5-2 win over Leicester back in September. On another positive note Leicester have to play Man City and Arsenal next and Man City have to play Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool in their next three fixtures. So, the next three games could see Arsenal climb back to the top.
But in the negative camp, the 0-0 draw against Southampton means that the title race is out of Arsenal’s hands. Even if Arsenal win every remaining game, including the match against Leicester, Leicester still have to drop points for Arsenal to win the League.
I don’t know why I haven’t seen this mentioned but Tuesday was Groundhog Day. Literally, the Groundhog Day. Maybe it’s been beaten to death, “Groundhog Day” used to be a fan favorite as a metaphor for Arsenal finishing 4th every season. But on the day that was both literally and metaphorically Groundhog Day, the day in which a rodent was pulled from a stump and the day in which Arsenal slipped to 4th place, silence.
As depressing as it seems at the moment with Arsenal slipping to their inevitable 4th place and with the dreaded Tottenham above Arsenal in 3rd (and playing some pretty great football), in the film, Phil offers this line from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s sonnet Work Without Hope:
And Winter slumbering in the open air,
Wears on his smiling face a dream of Spring!
That is the most evocative line from the poem and an oddly beautiful moment in the film. But the point of that poem is meaningful here for us Arsenal fans at one of our lowest moments. Work Without Hope was written in February (1825) in contemplation of the impending spring. It ends with this final couplet…
Work without Hope draws nectar in a sieve,
And hope without an object cannot live.
The Arsenal are the work, and we are the hope. That’s how this relationship works, I guess. It’s going to take me a while to make sense of that. Until then, like Phil, I think I’ll just have a straight shot of whiskey.