By Jonathan Blaustein
Ah, the race for fourth.
Are we there yet?
As of this writing, we’re behind Chelsea by 8 points, and within 1 point of 2nd place in the league. Arsenal withered as the weather wallowed, unfortunately, giving up 8 points between the Everton, Man City and Bournemouth matches.
The pessimist says we’re done. Finished. Kaput.
No league title, and even thinking about winning the Champions league is embarrassing.
The injuries turned up at exactly the moment everyone predicted, and now there’s so little hope, even for ’17-’18. (When Mourinho and Guardiola will, along with the Chinese, buy up ALL THE PLAYERS.)
Right now, I’m teetering on the edge of abandoning my typical sense of optimism. (There are good arguments to be made for the end of hope, I’m afraid.) Now that I’m writing regularly, I see my job as looking at the season, one chunk at a time. This time, I had the pleasure of watching three of the Holiday games in quick succession, looking for patterns.
The short version of a more boring, longer story is that I was away in Mexico for a week or so, and missed the Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and Preston North End games. My DVR was trusty, though, so I watched the matches in a marathon evening/morning session when I got home, and came away impressed by the team’s gumption.
Olivier Giroud has really proven himself to be a tough, strong dude, mentally and physically. He is, officially, more than just a gorgeous face. Wenger’s always said that OG rises to the occasion, and given the run of games we’re discussing, Holy Shit, you couldn’t be more clutch. (Or more stylish. THE SCORPION!)
Gabriel has been a surprisingly capable backup right back, but an awful central defender. We can all see that the Gunners leak goals every time he’s back there. The guy just doesn’t have it, which means a new 3rd choice CB must emerge quickly.
When Mustafi and Koscielny play together, as they did on Saturday in the odd thumping of Swansea, the entire team is noticeably more settled. The clean sheets almost always happen when these two are starting.
Thankfully, they’re back. (For now.)
I had to do a full media blackout for that week in Mexico, and it was a nice to briefly get away from the noise. It helped me shake out the mental cobwebs, and see things from a fresh perspective.
Here’s the straight truth: it is possible that Arsenal will win the EPL, but horribly unlikely. They’re not in terrible position, but the teams behind Chelsea are all there blocking the path as well. At this point, even though we all love Wenger, would anyone really bet on him overhauling Conte, Klopp and Pochettino, while simultaneously holding off Mourinho and Guardiola?
Nobody makes that bet, with 2017 Arsene. He’s a solid choice for sticking in the top 4, but beyond that, I’d keep my money in my pocket.
But he could, perhaps, engineer a stunner over Bayern, or win another FA Cup. What if he does either of those things, and also re-signs Ozil and Sanchez, while staying in the top 4? Would you have patience for one last Arsene-Wenger–3-year-contract special?
Or he is down to “win a major trophy or I want you gone” with a vast chunk of the fanbase? Is it now, or will it soon be, all or nothing? (Like it was when he won the FA Cup in 2014?)
Certainly, if Arsenal run the table until Chelsea on February 4th, and then win at Stamford Bridge, I’ll be willing to reconsider thinking positively again.
What about you? At this point, what would you consider a successful season? What would indicate positive momentum, beyond winning the EPL or CL?