So then, this is what heartache feels like. This is what it means to have the figurative broken heart. I have decided I don’t like this feeling, at all. And I want it to go away.
Needlessto say, many hard-core Arsenal fans like myself are in agony at this moment in time. The team that we love so desperately appears to be dead. Some of you, in your angst, may be contemplating pulling a Romeo by drinking the poison, having found your lover Juliet dead. We’ve all heard the romantic tragedy a million times over, but at the risk of sounding cliche (and making the odd choice to equate the Arsenal’s season to Shakespeare), I fear many are experiencing the grief of having found the one you love having expired. The sad irony is that Juliet only appeared to be dead, and the story would have had an entirely different (i.e., happier) finale had Romeo maybe demonstrated a bit of patience and allowed his cooler head to prevail. Arsenal fans would be wise to do the same. The team we love only appears to be dead, and it’s not yet time to rush to a hasty conclusion at our peril.
On Sunday, January 22, 2012, Manchester United arrived at Emirates Stadium with a clear advantage. Wait, on second thought, the Red Devils had a great many advantages, physical and psychological. In the eyes of the world, the fact that Manchester United would win seemed to many to be a realistic foregone conclusion. The numbers don’t lie, and the numbers “8” and “2” are all that are needed to make a valid case in support of Man. U.
For those of you who enjoy the mental torture, let’s relive the past, shall we? In August of 2011, the last time our beloeved Gunners and arch-enemy Red Devils met, the result was nothing short of a debacle in the truest sense of the word. The Gunners were handily thrashed 8-2 by the Red Devils, and no matter how open-minded you were in your final analysis, there was just no way to objectively explain how Arsene Wenger’s club could have had that bad of a day. The Gunners weren’t just dominated. They were bloodied, and beaten. They were left for dead.
Flash forward to the present. I must reluctantly admit I counted myself amongst the rare few Arsenal fans that believed, in our heart of hearts, the Gunners could actually beat the Red Devils. Sure, I knew that I would be the recipient of a fair amount of criticism for being so utterly optimistic, despite the facts working against my illogical reasoning. I try to be as factual and scientific in my reasoning, separating the purity of mathematical statistics from the fluctuations of petty emotions…But this time, I allowed myself to indulge in flights of fantasy. The nose-dive back to reality has been anything but pleasant.
Granted, Manchester United should have had at least a couple of significant things working against their uber-club in the much-hyped rematch. At the time of the 8-2 massacre, the Red Devils had the home turf advantage, so it makes perfect sense that the trouncing took place at Old Trafford. I had hoped playing at the Emirates would, at a bare minimum, leave them a bit off-balance. It may not have been a level playing field, per se, but home field advantage still has to be factored into the equation.
In other recent articles, I realize I discussed the element of “revenge” as being a motivational factor working in the favor of the Arsenal squad. There are several motivations that drive a player to maximize his own intrinsic potential and enable both him and the team to overcome the odds, no matter how over-whelming, but I sincerely believed the desire for revenge would compel the Gunners to silence the critics and shut up the nay-sayers. Again, I was wrong. The desire for good, old-fashioned revenge may have been present, but it simply wasn’t enough.
I agree with the opinions of many Arsenal fans. The team does seem to be in decline. Arsene Wenger’s experiment to build a winning team upon the backs of talented youths has so far proven to be a miserable failure. Then again, maybe we the fans aren’t looking at the Big Picture. Maybe Arsene, in his omniscience, views the world from a point of cosmic superiority that we can only imagine. Maybe we’re still playing chess, with our selfish expectation of immediate gratification. Arsene seems to be playing chess. He seems to be investing in the future (hopefully not-too-distant) whereas like a bunch of dopes, we’re wanting the wins now, tomorrow be damned. Or maybe he’s just plain wrong.
Nevertheless, there is yet cause for celebration. A wise man once said that you need to enjoy the little things in life, the fact that Manchester United only won by a single point should mean something. Man. U. did not dominate the game as they probably expected to, and Arsenal managed to do far more than just survive. Arsenal was beaten, but barely. I’d call that progress.
Think of it this way: You drag yourself back to the apartment after a long night of pounding shots of Scotch, and your appearance betrays the fact that you were in quite the bar-room brawl. The little wife unceremoniously informs you that you look like crap, and you proudly say, “If you think I look bad, you should see the other guy.” My analogy is this: Arsenal got both beaten and bloodied, but we managed to do more than our fair share of damage to the Manchester squad.
The game took a severe toll on Manchester United, a team so undeniably and unabashedly desperate to keep pace with their cross-town rivals Manchester City. Manchester United may as yet be superior on paper, but the game play yesterday hardly substantiated this fact. The game was remarkably evenly balanced, and after the restart, it was Arsenal that came charging out, eating up the pitch and playing like a team possessed. Whatever it was that the much-maligned Arsene said during the break must have worked, infusing the team with passion and determination, an infusion of life. For the Arsenal followers that have been declaring the club DOA, it was actually a pleasant surprise.
On another happy note, several Red Devils sustained injuries. Oh, I know I shouldn’t take pleasure in the misery of others, but there was at least one player out there whose injury I can actually appreciate. The score notwithstanding, Arsenal fans shouldn’t ignore the potentially debilitating injury suffered by the incomparable wunderkind Wayne Rooney thanks to a much-ballyhooed Song. Those who debated Song’s intrinsic quality and potential have to at least admit that he earned his paycheck. On Sunday, he was an asset worthy of praise.
In conclusion, I think we would all agree that our initial response to Sunday’s game was devastating. But there are little aspects of the game in which we should draw some solace, even joy.
We can all hope and pray that Arsene knows what he is doing. The guy’s been around for a long time now, and I for one am willing to trust his judgment, to give him the benefit of the doubt. But Arsene is on borrowed time now. Many perceive that his best days are behind him, that his team is in consistent decline, and that, out of desperation, he is compelled to live off the vestiges of his once superhuman reputation for excellence.
From what I have been reading in the past twenty-four hours or so, there is still at least a slim chance (emphasis on the word “slim”) that Arsenal will survive to make it into the top four. Teams like Manchester City and Manchester United still speak quite highly of Arsenal, as if they know something that Arsenal’s own fans refuse to observe.
Okay, so maybe “heartbreak” was too strong a word. I’m disappointed that the Arsenal couldn’t pull off a win against Manchester United, but you have to admit, it was still a heck of a game.
Our team may be in a state of decline, but we’re not dead yet.