Arsenal fans seem as furious about this defeat as any other in this topsy-turvy season. Once again, the players are being branded as no-hopers and the manager as clueless. It’s almost as if one result has caused a seven-game winning streak to evaporate.
The fact is that if you allow your performance level to drop, any team in this division can beat you. Our performance on Saturday was not up to scratch – when we had the ball, we didn’t do enough with it, and when we didn’t have the ball we made simple defensive errors, with the normally reliable Thomas Vermaelen particularly culpable.
It’s a bad result, but we were going to lose eventually. The uproar and vitriol I’ve witnessed in the aftermath of this game suggests that, as with the long unbeaten run prior to Christmas, the winning streak has created a disproportionate degree of expectation considering the limitations of this team. A few months ago we were praying for fourth; now we’re furious that Spurs have closed in on third.
Just as many were too quick to write us off in the face for the Champions League back in September, so too were we too swiftly heralded as the Premier League’s ‘third-place elect’. The road until the end of the season is long and winding, and there will be several more bumps between now and May. Good: I for one find it exciting. And, remembering the disaster that was last summer, am very glad just to be in the mix.
I’ve been fairly consistent in saying that we’d finish fourth this year. Looking at the respective fixture lists of ourselves, Tottenham and Chelsea, I see no reason to revise my prediction. As I’ve said several times, considering the problems we’ve faced this season – many of which have been self-inflicted, I’ll admit – that would resemble some achievement. As much as I’m enjoying laughing at Liverpool, it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to imagine that it could very easily have been us.
Of course, we should give it everything we have to finish third. It’s still very much in our hands, and if we want to do it we need to avoid the complacency we displayed in the game at Loftus Road. Some of the players seemed a little like they had begun to believe their own hype, whilst Robin van Persie is finally starting to look a little jaded – one can’t help but feel that earlier in the season he would have buried the one-on-one chance presented to him by Alex Song’s fine through-ball. I was also a little bemused by the selection of Aaron Ramsey wide on the left – it was a ploy that had limited success at Everton, and seemed to backfire in a game where the attacking onus was with Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has not started any of our last three games – a run I hope will end soon.
So it was a poor performance, and a poor result. But it’s not the end of the world – nor, crucially, the end of our season. Before the game I spoke of eight cup finals. We lost the first won, but win the next against Man City and it will soon be forgotten. Arsenal have plenty to play for, and I’m afraid slip-ups along the way are inevitable. Don’t be fooled by unbeaten runs: this team are not the Invincibles. They are, however, earning a reputation for being fairly unkillable: as soon as they’re written off, they find a way of coming back from the brink. It’s a trait I can’t help but admire.