Good Feet For A Big Man enjoys the abstract side of writing about football. We like the philosophies and ideas associated with it and speculating on the likely and desired paths that the game may take in the future. There are some emotional footballing days, however, when such an approach must be forgotten.
I have spent long and hard hours trying to solve Arsenal’s problems this season (perhaps wasted attempts, as I am guessing Monsieur Wenger is not a subscriber to the Big Man!) but nothing – not even giving away a four goal lead – had prepared me for the end of the Sunday’s game against Liverpool.
No-one has ever described being a football fan as easy. For every moment of joy there is always the equal and opposite moment just round the corner when it makes you wonder whether all the emotional effort expended is actually worth it.
Dirk Kuyt’s well-taken penalty was one of those excruciating experiences that leaves you feeling like you have just swallowed a rock. The same sensation felt when you have just dropped your mother’s prized china, allowed your dog to savage the neighbour’s guinea pig or accidentally forwarded a super-cheeky private email with your friend to your ex-girlfriend and flatmate.
I have now had a few days to take stock. Sunday evening I was not a particularly pleasant person to be around but some perspective can now be taken. The end of Sunday’s game would have been painful under any circumstances but was particularly galling because it signalled the end of realistic hopes of winning anything this year. It was a year that promised so much – it was only two months ago that the team had a full squad fighting on four fronts, had a cup final to look forward to and were looking like they were about to hit full stride – and that made the effect of the penalty all the more devastating.
In the fullness of time, it is of course such moments of despair that allow the good times to be appreciated fully.
The most important example of this for me was Nayim’s wonder/lucky strike in the Cup Winner’s Cup final for Real Zaragoza. It left me in tears but it did also transform the way I thought about football from a hobby to something that really mattered and Arsenal from my Dad’s club to mine.
In relation to Sunday, that kind of understanding is still some way off.
More immediately, it is clear that this team has not really moved forward this year. As mentioned, a lot was promised (and perhaps more realistically this year than others) but when the stakes were raised and the pressure ratcheted up a string of disappointing results has left a frustratingly similar situation to the previous few seasons.
Arsenal remain a team very susceptible to the counter-attack, possibly because the style demands players to be so high on the field, but in my opinion it is strangely the attack that faltered when the games started to mean more. One goal against Birmingham in the Carling Cup final, no shots against Barcelona in the Champions League second leg (excluding the one Robin van Persie was sent off for…), no goals against United in the FA Cup quarter-final, a string of 0-0 draws at home in the league. It is all very well to have a ‘however many you score, we will score more’ policy but unfortunately in the final stages when goals have been needed the offensive players have stuttered.
I think this is down to a combination of factors: a lack of leadership perhaps (a view I have never really agreed with but the sheer weight of people saying it now gives it at least some credence) meaning there is noone driving the team forward when it is needed; a fragile mentality; fewer players willing to push forward, instead trying to secure the defence (there have also been a number of clean sheets recently); and negative supporter pressure having detrimental effects on how the team have attacked (along the same lines as this excellent argument in the Arsenal Arsenal blog).
It is not especially the fact that no trophies will be won this year that irritates. The winning of silverware in itself is not that important to me. The knock-on effect of not doing so though is that there are always numerous games towards the end of the season that I will find inherently frustrating, which will produce moments like on Sunday and lead me to question my belief and write articles like this one.
Come August, however, the excitement will always be back.