By Jonathan Blaustein
When I was a freshman in college, I took a year of Russian. It was 1992, and the Soviet Union had crashed a few years prior. Learning Russian seemed like a good idea, as I figured there’d be big need of Russian speakers in a more globalized future.
Though I have a facility with languages, I must admit, Russian kicked my ass. Even though I tried, (for a while at least,) all I remember from those two semesters is one phrase that I like to break out at parties: Я говорю на русском плохо. (I speak Russian badly.)
The real problem, if I’m being honest, is that I drank heavily that year, which affected my studies. As a freshman at Duke, I got black-out drunk 6 or 7 nights a week.
Sounds like I was an alcoholic, I know, but back then, everyone I knew did the same thing. We were all double-fisting party cups of Schaefer and Natural Light, every night, until the year was over.
It was awful.
The worst part, though, was the drunk-dialing. We could order pizzas, 24 hours a day, without having to pay in cash. The Duke meal plan covered outside vendors, so there were too many 3am breakfast pizza pig-outs, and too little studying.
Even worse than calling the pizza place, in the lexicon of drunk dialing, is calling an ex-girlfriend. Or someone you had a crush on in High School. The slimy feeling of shame the next day was palpable, like spewing exhaust from an old factory.
We all learned that lesson at some point, right?
When you’re wasted, step away from the telephone. Back up.
Nothing good will come.
That lesson is right up there with: don’t write about Arsenal the day after a crushing defeat.
Don’t do it.
Don’t do it.
And… here we go.
Since my last article, we’ve seen the shocking comeback against Burnley, (again,) the futuristic, hope-inducing smashing of Southampton, the awful capitulation against Watford, and then yesterday’s all-too-predictable no-show at Chelsea.
Such a strange sample from a long season, but one that feels perfectly authentic to the 2017 AFC that Arsene Wenger has given us.
The Burnley game was about as perfect an encapsulation of latter-day Arsenal as one could conjure. After the Mustafi goal, all that was necessary was a slow cruise towards 1–0, with a chance for an easy 2–0 win once Burnley started pressing for an equalizer.
But since when has Arsenal ever made anything easy? Xhaka’s red card was so typical of this team. Self-inflicted damage. Just writing it, I know you must be thinking, “Tell me something I don’t know,” but I’m not one of the expert Tims. (I’m just some dude who probably knows less about football than you do.)
The horror of the high-drama finish, with two penalties, and Arsene chucked to the stadium tunnel, was obscured by the miraculous end.
Panenka penalties have a way of erasing preceding miseries from our memory banks. We all focused on the win, rather than the troubling signs of Wenger, and his chosen DM, both losing their cool at extremely inopportune moments.
The victory, combined with the Southampton smashing, lulled me into a false sense of security. I know there were think-pieces about Xhaka, and Wenger, but still, because we beat Burnley, most fans started to believe it would be OK.
The Southampton game affected me as much as any this season. Winning is fun, but it was clear the team that ran out that Saturday would not be re-constituted again soon, mostly because it had a whiff of 2020 about it.
Watching a team filled with speedy, quick, physical, athletic players buzzing about, while still maintaining a high level of technique, was intoxicating. It was almost Klopp-level stuff, fielding a squad of sprinters.
When it was done, I had the pangs of optimism return, seeing a vision that Arsene was hoping to reveal in the near future, even though he couldn’t trust it quite yet. It was a future, alas, that is unlikely to come again.
Because then came Watford.
Nobody likes reading dismal blogging, or desperate wishing, but I did say in my last column that only a clean sweep of games, through Chelsea, would re-ignite a title challenge in earnest.
No such luck.
After Saturday’s embarrassment, it feels fruitless to critique the Watford game, but that’s kind of what I do here. After Tuesday, everyone’s hating on Aaron Ramsey again, and I’m no exception, but my reasons are a little different. Watford proved beyond doubt that Ramsey refuses to play proper defense.
We know this.
But the part that really made me crazy was the few minutes in-between the first and second goals. Any sane person knows what to do then: Take a breath. Knock some safe passes around. Hold possession until the endorphins wear off those Watford assholes.
Whatever you do, keep a hold of the ball.
But not Aaron Ramsey.
Instead, he decided to start pinging extremely low-percentage long balls, all of which missed their target. It was five minutes of pinball before they scored again.
That lack of judgment and intelligence is enough to make me give up on a player. (I know, me and everyone else in the world.) But I think, right then, I might given up on more than the former-Welsh-Jesus.
As for the Chelsea loss, I don’t think anyone can say anything more honest or damning than the performance. Sadly, it was enough to push me into the Wenger Out camp. I’ve gone from optimist to realist in the span of a few Arsenal-y months.
I get it now, that feeling that so many bloggers have tried to quantify the last few years. It’s like “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” only times 10.
This is only my 6th season of obsessive Arsenal watching, but I’ve been fooled enough times.
Arsene Wenger doesn’t believe in properly preparing a tight, well-organized defense, and in 2017, it’s impossible to win major trophies without one. Everyone knows he doesn’t care about defense, but that philosophy is no-longer relevant.
He’s also incapable of the kind of obsessive, detail-oriented perfection that real winning requires. I think it’s impossible, at this point, that he’ll suddenly acquire those personality traits. He’s fatally flawed, and not that it matters, but I’m finally ready for someone new.