Arsenal: An Immediate Thought Following the 1-1 Draw with Manchester City
As Gertrude Stein might have said were she alive today: a point is a point is a point is a point.
Of course, that point takes on a heightened significance when considered that it was gained in a match against the reigning Premier League champions at their fortress-like home ground—a home ground that is such an influential factor that it saw them drop just two points on their way to the title last season.
After all the back-patting and after all the sighs of relief, amidst the proclamations that this result confirms (if it ever needed confirming) that the red side of London is a legitimate contender for the Premier League title this season, it is important to retain perspective: the test against City was a tough one. The record that the Citizens have at the Etihad shows this.
To come away with a point is an excellent and demonstrably enviable result.
But the way that the Gunners played, particularly in the first half, brought with it an eerie and unsettling sense of deja vu.
So often in the past, so infuriatingly often, Arsenal have dominated (or at least shown themselves to be, on the day, more than competitive) matches against high-quality opposition. It is almost unheard of for our North Londoners to be thoroughly outclassed: against all odds and when faced with all obstacles, the inevitable and immutable class of our team—more specifically, I would argue, of our manager—shines through, and we deliver performances of great flair, control and promise against some of the biggest and most lauded teams in the world.
We have fallen down on such occasions in two areas: firstly, the Gunners have somewhat lacked a killer instinct in front of goal. For all the half-chances produced—and against a team of City’s quality, half-chances are the best you can expect—not enough are seized and converted.
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Secondly, there is an abstract quality that Arsenal have lacked, which is indefinable but which Arsene Wenger admirably attempts to encapsulate in his use of the word “desire.”
The absence of these qualities was painfully present in the equivalent of this contest last year, on December 18.
That match was played with a similar passion and fervour as that which took place over the weekend—albeit taking place nearly three months from this point last season.
That game was also one that ebbed and flowed. Arsenal’s push on that occasion came towards the end of the match, when a desperate collective surge forward saw two Thomas Vermaelen thunderbolts narrowly miss blowing a hole in the corner of Joe Hart’s net, with City having dominated the early stages.
In the 2011 match, City took the lead in the 53rd minute through a David Silva tap-in following a burst from Mario Balotelli, and while Arsenal’s comeback was as inevitable as Angels at a Robbie Williams concert, the lack of a killer instinct and a real, ever-present "desire," meant that for all the promise and vigour that Arsenal showed in getting forward, they lacked those two qualities which are absolutely necessary in order to take points from a team like City: clinical precision while shooting, and an unwavering self-belief and craving for success and vindication.
What was most unsettlingly wonderful about Arsenal’s performance on Sunday was that this game panned out in much the same way as last season's, and our flaws were of a similar nature to those we showed last season: Gervinho and Podolski were somewhat profligate in front of goal and despite crafting out some excellent chances, the Gunners’ propensity to panic and over-think things in front of goal meant that an infuriating number of chances—however difficult they may have been—fell by the wayside.
Where Arsenal rose triumphantly this morning was in their "desire." They were in the driver’s seat for a good period of the match, and they knew they were in the driver’s seat; City took the lead against the run of play somewhat, and again, Arsenal knew that they had conceded the lead against the run of play.
But they didn’t keel over. They didn’t panic. They didn’t pour forward aimlessly and relentlessly. They acclimatised to the tactical change that Mancini sprung immediately after the half-time break, and adjusted accordingly. They kept their heads level, and they waited, and the reason that they waited was because they had "desire."
This is not to say the lads didn’t have passion—because they did. I imagine that the Arsenal team was incredibly frustrated, almost to bursting, after going behind to City.
But rather than allow their emotions to dictate their performance, the Gunners remained composed: they directed their passion and fury into concentration, and that kind of mental maturity stems from the inherent and collective desire that permeates this squad.
Sunday’s match provided an arena in which emotions more often than not boil over: our inherently competitive players were faced with an immense challenge; they responded with calm, control and composure, and gained an advantage in the first half, which was seized from them somewhat unfairly by a goal just before half-time.
In the second half, Arsenal had to deal with a number of conflicting emotions: there would have been the players’ inevitable frustrations with one another following Lescott’s goal; there would have been the knowledge that they were playing Man City at Man City; there would have been the implications of the result of the match, the desperation to come away with a result, the impact of the crowd, the scope, the words of the manager, the individual relationships between the individual members of the team, all mingling and mixing and coursing around the minds of the players while they were in the dressing-room, while they were taking up their positions in the second half, and the thing is, the wonderful thing that really puts a smile on my face is that deal with these things they did.
Our wonderful, courageous men did. They gathered up their emotions and insecurities and rather than use them as direct sources of motivation they harnessed their mentalities; they constructed a marvellous, rock-like resolve that spoke volumes about the maturity of the squad: “We are not doing this again”, they seemed to say, to everybody—to Arsene Wenger, to Manchester City, to Alex Ferguson, to Robin van Persie, to us, the fans, who sometimes are put through so much that even we lose hope.
We are not doing this again. We are not going to lose out to an unfortunate goal from a set-piece. We are not going to give away three points. We will concentrate. We will fight. We will keep our heads.
And they did.
I’m sorry to end this on a cliche. I always strive not to. But Arsenal’s performance today made me think of a wonderful poem by Rudyard Kipling which I think is stupendously apt at this moment in time.
IF you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:Alex Livesey/Getty Images
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
' Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
if neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And—which is more—you'll be a Man, my son!
I am not sure how many read this far, but I hope it’s a good number, because I want to ask you a question.
Has our Arsenal—our wonderful, beautiful Arsenal, which we love come Hell or high water—finally turned the page?
Have we left those crippling shortcomings of mind behind us?
Has our team—our son—has it become a man?
I think so. I truly do.
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