“There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries…”
It is common in football, as in all sports, for the culmination of so much effort and sacrifice to ultimately be rendered fruitless by individual or collective failure at a crucial moment. Like a harvest that had promised rich sustenance but resulted in famine. All the toil and hope expended on its behalf has been in vain and the affected party can do little but summon the strength to repeat the process once again in the pursuit of the desired result. On the majestically privileged turf of Barcelona’s Camp Nou, as had been the case a week earlier upon the less heralded Wembley foliage, Arsenal’s players and staff were forced to stare deep into the dreaded, cold eyes of failure. A season that just a couple of weeks before had seemed vibrant and bristling with joy, now lay crumpled and mortally wounded at the hands of a cruel fate and a familiar Catalan tormentor.
“On such a full sea are we now afloat,
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose the ventures before us.”
But all is not yet lost. As Shakespeare reminds us, our decisions and actions when faced with desperate adversity will ultimately be our salvation, or our ruin. The foe to the North have been slowed, if not yet halted, and the Holy Grail of domestic glory is still within grasp. Perhaps then, with their once broad gaze narrowed to a pinhole-sized laser focussed solely upon the Premier League, Arsene Wenger’s charges now stand at the threshold of their ‘tidal moment’. It would be easy, though not acceptable, for Fabregas et al to succumb to frustration and exasperation, having laid so much at the altar of false gods. If such thoughts do prevail amongst this group, then wreckage awaits. But if not, then now is the moment which will ultimately define years of work and steady, methodical progress.
Already the questions are being asked of the Gunners’ temperament and of their aptitude. ‘Have they bottled it again?’, ‘Does Wenger need to change his philosophy?’. It seems with Arsenal, unlike most teams, the prevailing queries tend to revolve around their mentality as opposed to the ability. Oft-heralded as one of the premier footballing sides in the league, is it simply a case of mental fragility and an inability to respond positively to set-backs, or are they a team which flatters to deceive in the quality stakes? In my opinion, evidence seems to support the general consensus of a lack of ‘bottle’ (to use the technical term).
A much-maligned defence is often put forward, by those who favour the latter explanation, as a glaring weakness. Yet Messrs. Koscielny, Clichy and their colleagues at the back currently rank (at time of writing) as the third best defence in the league statistically, this largely minus the talents of Thomas Vermaelen. While the young ‘keeper Wojciech Sczesny certainly looks to be the future, his injury allowing for the return of the experience (and let’s face it, ‘balls’) of Jens Lehmann may yet benefit Arsenal in the run-in for the title. Even if the German doesn’t get to start, the competition he provides for Manuel Almunia should strengthen the Gunners’ title push. Should this move have the desired effect then that misunderstood back-line could see itself further boosted over the next few weeks.
So with a sturdy rear-guard upon which to rely, surely the vaunted Arsenal attacking flair and ingenuity can be entrusted to win the necessary games to see them crowned champions? Well, this is where Wenger’s earlier decisions may potentially backfire. Cesc Fabregas aggravated an existing injury attempting to extinguish the European ambitions of his former club, although Robin van Persie’s newfound Lazarus like talents for rejuvenation appear to be holding up. This could perhaps negate another criticism of Wenger, his refusal to fling copious amounts of legal tender in the direction of a club in possession of a top class striker. A manager’s decisions usually end up defining him, and it is at least admirable to see the Frenchman stick resolutely to his own philosophy under extreme examination.
So if we are thus to assume a high potential for quality performances over the final run of league games, success will surely depend on the current mental state of this Arsenal team. A glowing chance then, to finally disprove the doubters. A chance to shake off the burden of self-pity and stride forward, determined not be denied; or at least not to surrender before the battle is lost. They stand upon the threshold, time will tell whether it will be fortune for the Gunners or another season bound in shallows and miseries.