All season long it seems like all of us have been looking back while Arsene Wenger, the iconoclast, refused to look into the past and instead steadily gazed into the future. In our obsession with the past, Wenger recons we got this season wrong and once again I find myself realizing that the teacher may have been right all along.
Arsenal started the season off by looking back to the famous win at Anfield in 1989. A win that so permeates Arsenal’s collective psyche that books have been written about the journey toward that one, glorious night. The club were gearing up for this year’s trip to 1989 as far back as last year by giving away copies of Nick Hornby’s book along with a bottle opener that played audio from the famous final moments of that game. Then, this season Arsenal ponied up and created a special away shirt in commemoration of that win, a special supporters pack with video of the game, a tie in product line, and then proceeded to nearly give them all away for free in a half-off effort that would assure people would be wearing the famous yellow and blue for years to come. It makes sense to look back at that game, I still get chills when I watch the final moments of that improbable 2-0 win that secured the title. Thomas, charging through the midfield indeed.
And during the summer as players jumped ship, we fans still refused to look into the future. Wringing our hands about the departure of Flamini and Gilberto and steadfastly holding out that players from the past, like Stephen Appiah, were the only way to right the listing ship. To paraphrase Wenger from yesterday’s press conference, if after the disastrous first 5 Premiership games of the season he’d have said that Alex Song would become a world class holding midfielder and that Arsenal would be on the cusp of another Champions League final berth “You would have called an ambulance.” Our belief was low because we were looking at the past, at players like Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira and teams like the invincibles, or even just at the season prior, while Arsene Wenger belief was seemingly irrationally high because he was looking forward, at the potential of players like Alex Song and Carlos Vela.
And even now, all the sports writers in the world are looking into Arsenal’s past in order to try to decipher what will happen today. Why not? After all, it’s comforting to look at Arsene Wenger’s record in Europe or his record against Man U and try to see a pattern there that will tell the story of today. Too bad no one told Arsene Wenger, he holds out that he’s never even watched a tape of their Champions League final loss at Barcelona.
In the midst of this orgy of nostalgia a funny thing happened to this Arsenal team; they started believing the stuff that Wenger is selling. They stopped looking at the past and they started believing in themselves, in the supporters, and in Wenger’s future. If you’ll permit me a bit of nostalgia about the season, once the belief took hold they have since gone on an improbable 21 match unbeaten streak, they won on penalties against Roma… at Roma… by hitting every penalty after an injured Eduardo missed the first, they overcame an horrific injury to Eduardo and an injury plagued season, and just 6 days ago they held on for an incredible 1-0 defeat against Man U despite missing half of their first team stars and relying on 19 year olds and written-off goalkeepers for heroics.
Did Wenger see all that happening? Not specifically, but I think he believed in the team enough that he thought something like that might happen. Even that is pretty incredible if you think about it and makes me look at the way I criticized the team and the way I look at the future of this team in a whole new light.
You’ve heard me say how no matter what happens today I’m proud to be an Arsenal supporter. Arsenal have nothing to lose today: Man U are the defending champions, they have the 1-0 lead, they outplayed Arsenal on Wednesday last week, they spend irrationally big (supposedly offering £63m for Frank Ribery) and their prawn sandwich brigade have irrationally high expectations of their club. Win or lose, I just want to see a full blooded performance from Arsenal and I have no doubt that they will play their hearts out.
After all, they are not looking back, they’re all looking forward.
I’m home sick today, and my daughter is sick too so I’ll be watching Arsenal from the comfort of my couch and in High Definition on ESPN2. I could probably live blog but I doubt I’ll do it, just because I don’t want to spend my time chatting here and would rather just enjoy the game.
I encourage all of you to do the same: get a beer, get on the strip, and enjoy the day. What do you have to lose?