By Jonathan Blaustein
I’m writing this on Monday, because Arsenal play Bayern Munich tomorrow. What’s that you say? Wouldn’t it make sense to wait until AFTER the match to share my opinions?
Once upon a time?
Once upon a time, that would have been true.
But not in March of 2017.
I turned 43 this Saturday, and was reminded of my birthday, in 2013. I was at a dinner party in London, a few blocks away from the Emirates, and discussed the Andre Villas Boas comments about Arsenal being in a death spiral.
We all know what happened next.
Arsenal went on a typical winning run to end the season, and pipped Tottenham for the 4th place trophy, by one point. Villas Boas was fired, and has since been sucked into a vortex of his own, as he’s currently managing in China.
There was no death spiral that year, clearly, but are we in one now?
It’s certainly starting to feel that way. It’s amazing to me that we’re in the same season that Ozil hit that hat trick against Ludogorets. I actually suggested that he and Sanchez were top 10 players in the world, at the time, and most people agreed with me.
Arsenal were right behind Chelsea in the league, hadn’t lost in the EPL since August, and I really thought this might be the year things were different.
Always, I couched my optimism in an “I’ll believe it when I see it” exoskeleton, but inside my heart of hearts, I knew the Arsenal squad was the best I’d seen yet. So many of the players have won major trophies, and there seemed little deadwood.
But now it’s March, I’m a year older, and it’s all gone to shit. And when I say shit, I don’t mean the kind you take where you sit down, you’re done before you started, and when you wipe your butt, there’s nothing on the paper.
I mean the kind of shit that kept my 4 year old on the toilet for 20 minutes, crying, on my birthday, before she gave up because it was too big to come out. (She dropped that deuce at her grandparents that night, so I can’t speak to its ultimate size.)
Alexis has either walked out of training and fought with his teammates, or not, depending on whom you believe. But for sure he’s hidden under a jacket on global television, because he wanted one more goal to pad his stats, and his agent has planted more stories about him wanting out than I’ve eaten burritos in my lifetime. (And I’ve eaten a lot of burritos.)
Ozil, despite his assist brilliance last year and cool goals this Fall, has seemingly proven that he’s just too physically, (and perhaps mentally,) frail for the English Premier League. Lest you have any doubts, our own Tim Todd and Jose Fucking Mourinho agree on that point, which must make Tim feel like lighting his head on fire and then waiting 7 seconds before he dunks it in the nearest toilet.
Aaron Ramsey proved he couldn’t stay healthy. Theo Walcott proved he couldn’t stay healthy either, nor could he be consistent. Jack Wilshere proved he cared more about England than Arsenal. Nacho Monreal proved he’s probably too slow to play fullback much longer. And Peter Cech, the only signing in Summer 2015, proved he can’t save penalties.
Worst of all, Arsenal Football Club proved they simply can’t beat the teams you need to beat to win a major competition.
I’m no mystic, but I’d be very surprised if Arsene survived this latest brush with ignominy. We’ve all seen those miraculous runs, where the Gunners look like world-beaters, grab 4th place on the last day, and leave everyone relishing the positive momentum.
Arsene can get his team up for 11 games at a time. That’s been proven. But the league campaign is 38 games, and by now, he’s also given ample evidence that he no longer has what it takes to win over that length of time.
I think he even knows it.
That’s what makes it sad.
We’ll never know what would have happened had he stepped down after the 2nd FA Cup win. It would definitely have made for a better story. And who knows, maybe he’ll go on to Barcelona this summer and win the Champions League just next year? (I’m not predicting this, btw.)
That would give him a Hollywood ending as well.
But just last week, while lecturing my students, I contrasted the Hollywood ethos with other countries’ cinematic values. We talked about the end of “Hero,” when Jet Li gives up his life for the Empire, which would NEVER have happened in a comparable American film.
So what about England?
It’s a damp, gray place filled with funny, drunk people, right? A bunch of isolationist head-butters who’re afraid of getting scammed by foreigners, yes?
If I understand things correctly, they’re appropriately cynical, and we’re just a country full of naive optimists. If so, there is no way Arsene’s English fairy tale has a happy ending, at this point. I’m sorry to say.
I’ll publicly recant, if necessary, but I think AVB was prophetic four years ago. I think Arsene’s players, or enough of them anyway, have given up on ever winning big trophies under his leadership. I think they’re frustrated to be so thoroughly outclassed by the other Top 6 sides, and I think they’re thinking about summer vacation.
So fingers crossed for tomorrow, everyone, but I’m not holding my breath.