Right, I’m going to outline my position before I start, simply because I know I am in the 1% of Gooners who think this and it’s only fair to warn you. I do NOT think we are out of the title race. Not by a long way. So if you’ve come here expecting a load of moaning and bitching about how crap Arsenal are and how we’ve blown it, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Some might even say it was a good point, given their home record and the fact that we went in to that game with no RVP, Gallas, or Vermaelen and never really got going on what was an awful pitch. Some. Not all. Obviously.
Sure, it was a mighty blow to our title hopes, I’m not denying this. I will, however, ask you this one single question – would you have taken the position we find ourselves in now back in November? What about after Chelsea beat us for the second time in the league this season? (I know that’s two questions.) By this time next week we could be back within two points, and don’t forget that after Man U and Chelsea play each other (where someone is guaranteed to drop at least two points), Man U still have to play City and Chelsea still have to go to Liverpool. Plus there’s the Spuds in there and while we could normally expect them to roll over to deny Arsenal the title, they want that fourth place.
What yesterday did prove is that goal difference isn’t even an option any more for us and that’s fine. We just have to do it on points.
It also showed us that the truce which had taken place between Arsenal fans was built on very shaky ground. One draw and all out war exploded between fans who were, let’s face it, OTT to say the least, and those who still believed it was possible. I’m not a fantasist, though at times it might seem it. I concede that it is now less likely for us to win the title than it was before we went to Birmingham, but I will not concede that it is impossible. In fact, it is very possible.
Dented but far, far, far from dead, no matter what the media are screaming at you today. Disappointed, yes, of course. Devastated? Get a grip of yourself. Be devastated if you want when you know for a fact that we can’t win the league. I’ll have no argument with you then.
I don’t know what tactics Birmingham were practicing all week, there couldn’t have been time for many in between the hours upon hours they must have put in to their diving skills. A more disgraceful display I have not seen in a long time, and both Song and Clichy suffered from two early yellow cards for nothing. Then when Birmingham actually do commit yellow card challenges, what happens? Nothing, Webb shows just what a complete twat he is. How many scissor tackles did they put in? How many tackles did they put in, hard, high fouls, where they just got a talking to? Song and Clichy, booked for their first offence, and they weren’t even offences when you compared then to what Birmingham got away with.
Four things cost us this game – Almunia, Webb, Song out of position, and the pitch.
There is simply no excuse for Almunia. He got a full hand to the ball yet managed to palm it up and in to the goal. Again. There is a saying around goalkeeping circles that if you can get anything of your hand to it then you should save it, Now that might not be possible, a rifled shot to which a keeper can only get tips for example, but when a keeper can get HIS WHOLE PALM on the ball, the very last place that ball should be going is in the back of the net.
Am I being harsh on Almunia? I don’t think so. He has put in some average performances lately, but I am starting to believe that he only looked ‘good’ because he had been so ‘bad’ all season before. One penalty save does not redeem an entire season I am afraid.
Next up Webb. What planet is this guy on? This is supposed to be the best referee England has to offer. Seriously? This was his third Arsenal match of the season, the others being when we faced Liverpool, both home and away. Now, if I remember correctly, Liverpool kicked us quite a lot, plus they got away with a hell of a lot of diving. Sound familiar? In those three matches, he has given us exactly the same number of yellows as the opposition. Yesterday, he somehow managed to give Birmingham more free kicks than us. How can that be right?
Thirdly, it cannot be emphasised how much we missed Song in the middle of the park. His presence and ability to break up play was sadly missed, and while my stream, wasn’t the best, I don’t remember Denilson doing much to make up for the loss of Song in the middle. I am willing to stand corrected on that point though.
Should we have taken the risk of Sol and Silvestre? I don’t think that was even an option given that Silvestre was not even on the bench and we had no cover for centre-half, our only defensive options being Eboue or Traore. A right and left back. Only one recognised centre-half in the entire squad.
Wenger was complaining about the pitch post-match and while it was really bad (can’t there be some sort of legislation to cover this?) we never got going. The pitch was probably part of the reason, but Birmingham defended well and showed why they have only lost two matches at home all season. They also broke up play at every opportunity by flinging themselves to the ground or hacking down an Arsenal player.
He also hit out at both the press and Birmingham’s tackles. Well, perhaps it was not Birmingham’s tackles as much as it was seeing yet another player injured after a knee-high tackle which became the tipping point after another season in which Arsenal players have been under-protected and over-targeted. When asked how Cesc was, the Frenchman actually swore. About bloody time.
“How is Fabregas? I don’t know. We will have to assess him tomorrow. But it was a bad tackle, one more.
“He got tackled at the knee, kicked just under the knee. We tried to take him off but he said he was all right.
“Am I suggesting there were a lot of bad tackles? Leave me alone with that, for f***’s sake.
“You are always looking for controversy, you do not need me to tell you what happened on the pitch. I can give you my opinion about our game but you always create this controversy.”
And he’s right. The press are always looking for controversy, ironically, Wenger has given it to them by asking to be left alone. But why do they not focus on what is doing actual physical harm to players?
Queue up the ‘Wenger Whinger’ stories. How come it isn’t whinging when Sir Alex does it? And does it more it should be added.
Wenger also mentioned that Birmingham’s goal was offside, and it was. While Benitez did not touch the ball, his presence pulled a defender away from Philips to give him the space to pass it back to Almunia so he could palm another one in. How the hell you cannot be offside when you are a yard away and moving towards the ball I will never understand.
The introduction of Nasri and Arshavin made an almost instant impact, with Nasri getting the opening goal. It was surprising that Nasri had been left out, but the last time we played at Birmingham Theo had tore them apart before Taylor did what he did. Not yesterday though. While we’re on the subject of Taylor, did you hear the boos Arsene Wenger got when he came out for the first half? The reason? He had dared to say he had not forgiven Taylor for what he did to Eduardo and still felt now as he did then. I dare any Birmingham fan to tell me they wouldn’t still be angry if, two years later, one of their star players had still not recovered properly from a dangerous/reckless tackle by an Arsenal player. You can’t, so don’t even bother showing your hypocritical faces on my comments saying otherwise.
So things are a lot, lot tougher now. We are four behind United and three behind Chelsea, but with their goal difference we might as well say 4.5 and 3.5 respectively.
That one point we got yesterday could be the one point that means we win the league rather than losing it on goal difference. I guess you’ll all be saying ‘yeah, but the two we dropped could cost us it’ and I say you have two options, neither of which is right or wrong at this moment in time. You can see it as a point gained and dare to still dream, or you can see it as two dropped and wallow in your own sense of self-pity. Why believe the one which will make you miserable? You’ll have plenty of time for that IF we don’t win the league. Why would you want to start now and prolong it?
As a team we now also have two choices. We can let the Birmingham match affect us like it did two years ago. We can let the past eight months go to waste and give up. Or we can prove that we’ve grown up, get over it, and focus on the next match. What better match to have up next than Barcelona, for if it was Wolves next would you be confident of us picking ourselves up? If we can’t get ourselves going for Barcelona then we will deserve all we get, which will be nothing.
The maximum points total Arsenal can now achieve is 86, assuming we win everyone of our last six matches. This is doable. Man U can get 90, but let’s face it, this season might be a lot of things, but a 90-pointer is not one of them. Chelsea 89. We need to stop both of them reaching 86, without having any sort of direct influence whatsoever. All is not, however, lost.
As mentioned, Man U and Chelsea meet next week, so somebody is definitely dropping points. If Chelsea lose, they can only get 86, if Man U lose they can only get 87, and if they draw they can only get 87 and 88 respectively.
After that, Man U still have to play Blackburn (a), Man City (a), Spuds (h) Sunderland (a) and Stoke (h). Chelsea have to play Bolton (h), Spuds (a), Stoke (h), Liverpool (a), Wigan (h).
Of course we have to win all our remaining games. Now, today, there is zero room for error. Drop any more points, and even I will say it’s gone.
Yes, even me.
It’s all ifs, buts and maybes at this point. But ‘if Man U can lose one and draw one, and ‘if’ Chelsea can simply draw two, and ‘if’ we can win all ours, we will be Champions.
Man U v Chelsea – draw
Man City v Man U – Man City win
Liverpool v Chelsea – draw
Arsenal – six wins
The only thing we know for certain is that nothing is known for certain. Only a crazy few thought we would be where we are when the season started, and perhaps it is only those crazy few who believe Arsenal can still win the league this season after drawing at Birmingham. So be it.
And if we fail to win the league, is it really a failure? Many will point to getting so close but letting it slip away once more, but would you be surprised? How battered and broken has this team of players been over the season? Operating with half a squad for most of it, we’d have the right to be amazed we’ve got this far, though I accept that many of you will chose not to exercise it.
It’s all about choices today. You can chose to believe and see how far we’ve come, or you can chose to doubt and complain of yet another ‘if only’ season before it’s even finished. One hurts a lot less than the other, so I know what I’m choosing.