I am a patient boy
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait
My time is water down a drain
Moving, moving, moving
Please don’t leave me to remain
In the waiting room
I don’t want the news
(I cannot use it)
I don’t want the news
(I won’t live by it)
Sitting outside of town
Everybody’s always down
(Tell me why)
Because they can’t get up
(Ahhh… Come on and get up)
(Come on and get up)
But I won’t sit idly by
I’m planning a big surprise
I’m gonna fight
For what I want to be
And I won’t make the same mistakes
(Because I know)
Because I know how much time that wastes
Function is the key
Inside the waiting room
I was sitting here at my laptop in January and Arsenal were top of the table. Nearly everything I had predicted had come true and I was filled with a giddy sense of anticipation. I felt as though my number had just been called at the DMV and I approached the window, ticket in hand, ready to renew my “stats guy smug git” license.
While I was waiting, Arsenal had lost 4-0 to Southampton on Boxing Day. Not only lost but the Gunners were bullied by Ronald Koeman’s men. Wanyama seemed to be issuing a January transfer plea to Arsenal “you need me in midfield, I’ll bully others for you the way I am doing now” was what he seemed to say every time he took the ball away from an Arsenal player.
After the match, Wenger blamed the officials but also admitted that his team were too easily outmuscled by the Southampton midfield.
We lost too many challenges and that explains why we lost the game. But that’s one aspect, so well done to them. The second aspect is that on the first three goals we were really unlucky with the decision of the referee. The first goal was offside, the second goal was a foul and the third goal was a goal kick, so if you’re a bit below par and on top of that you have the first three goals against you in the decision-making then it’s even more difficult.
But Arsenal bounced back after Boxing Day. They beat Bournemouth and Newcastle, while Leicester lost to Liverpool and that sent Arsenal to the top of the table with 42 points and Arsenal had a fairly comfortable +16 goal difference. Their closest rivals were Leicester on 40 points but with a +12 goal difference and Man City on 39 points with a +18 goal difference.
Arsenal were still top of the table on January 13th despite a 3-3 draw with Liverpool in which Arsenal dropped three points thanks to a last gasp strike by Joe Allen. The next three games were Stoke, Chelsea, and Southampton; three chances for revenge against three teams who have bullied us for years. We had been waiting all season for this moment.
The Summer kicked off our season of waiting. The Petr Cech deal was one which progressed quickly but after that Wenger started making strange pronouncements about his squad being more than complete. Few believed that Wenger was being serious. Surely he saw that Arsenal needed a striker and probably some midfielders to cover for Coquelin? He couldn’t possibly be serious about banking on the fitness of Welbeck, Walcott, Wilshere, Flamini, and Arteta? The window closed, Welbeck was revealed to be unfit, Wilshere suffered an injury, and soon after Arteta went down as well. He did bank on their fitness, he was being serious.
Once the transfer window closed, Arsenal fans piled into one of two rooms: the majority of fans went into a room where they waited for one of Coquelin, Cazorla, or Alexis to pick up an injury while the minority went into the room to wait for the 5000:1 odds that Wenger’s plan would prove to be the right path.
The fans that predicted injury were right. Before the transfer window had even closed, Jack Wilshere suffered a hairline fracture during training: he would wait until April 24th 2016 to play his first game for Arsenal this season. Meanwhile, almost the moment that the transfer window was closing Arsenal revealed that Danny Welbeck needed knee surgery. His recovery was three months faster than Wilshere, Arsenal only had to wait until February 14th to get him back.
Welbeck scored on his return, a last minute header that sealed a 2-1 win against Leicester.
The folks waiting for the injury bug to hit only had to wait a few more months after Welbeck. I doubt anyone predicted all three of Arsenal’s main players would go down at the same time but that’s what happened: Cazorla, Coquelin, and Alexis all went out injured at the same time.
Coquelin had his number called first. He injured himself in the 2-1 loss to West Brom on November 29th. And then like some kind of reverse Santa Claus, some jerk who comes into your house just before Christmas and steals all your favorite toys, Arsenal lost Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez to injury.
Injury to Alexis Sanchez was inevitable: between his club commitments, the World Cup, and the Copa America, he has played virtually non-stop for three years. Cazorla was a bit unlucky, and Coquelin as well, but Arsenal didn’t buy a central midfielder last summer and instead banked on Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky, Arteta, and Flamini to provide cover.
Everyone worried about Coquelin’s injury but it was actually the loss of Cazorla which hurt the team more. Coquelin is a free-roaming center back, a sweeper in midfield; Cazorla carried the ball forward for Arsenal, he provided deft ball control in midfield, he was a third creative outlet for Arsenal’s attack, he took the burden off Özil and Alexis in terms of creativity and control in possession. Cazorla was injured the week after Coquelin and Arsenal’s much vaunted “depth” looked thinner than the excuses that are trotted out each year as to why Arsenal can’t buy players they need.
But then a funny thing happened and Arsenal beat Sunderland, Olympiacos, Villa, and Man City. There was that aforementioned blip against Southampton but two more wins (plus a 3-1 victory over Sunderland in the FA Cup) and the draw to Liverpool saw Arsenal at the top of the table. There I was in the 5000:1 room, holding my ticket and thinking that our number had been called.
When I got to the window the teller told me I had punched the wrong button. That my number wasn’t up. That I needed to go collect the ticket from the other waiting room, have a seat, and wait until the season was over before I would have any chance of being called.
Everyone was waiting for Leicester to fall away but they beat Tottenham 1-0, Liverpool 2-0, and Man City 3-1 all while Arsenal drew 0-0 to Stoke, lost 1-0 to Chelsea, and drew 0-0 to Southampton. It was the 7th of February and Arsenal had gone from being League leaders by 2 points to third place, 5 points behind Leicester.
Arsenal beat Leicester in the very next match and closed the gap to 2 points and then promptly lost any chance of winning the League with back-to-back losses to Man U and Swansea.
The waiting was over. Leicester had taken the title from Arsenal by beating three top teams in the span of two weeks and then holding on as Arsenal, not Leicester as all the pundits predicted, were the ones who collapsed under the pressure of a title challenge.
And now we head into the last day of the season and we are waiting. We are waiting to see if Arsenal can get lucky and take second place away from Tottenham. And in the larger picture, we find ourselves waiting another nine months on Welbeck. We are waiting for Jack Wilshere to fulfill his promise. We wait to see if Wenger will finally buy a physical presence in midfield who can pass the ball. We wait for a striker. We wait on Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and to see who i going to be sold this summer. We wait for the Euros and yet another Copa America and to see what happens to the tired bodies of Özil and Alexis.
We wait to see if Arsenal will make the same mistakes, because we know how much time that takes.