Well tonight can prove to be many things but the one we want is redemption.
Redemption for a calamitous ending to the Carling Cup final and redemption after a lazy showing in the initial tie against east Londoners Leyton Orient. Those two performances summed up where Arsenal’s attempt at the title and FA Cup could be scuppered – the underestimating of lesser opponents (sorry Birmingham City fans but realistically they are) and the failure to bring the attitude and intensity that Wenger’s team bring to more illustrious opponents.
Ok, this is simplistic but there is something in it. Arsenal’s biggest struggles this season have come when they were faced with opponents they should really be beating with relative ease – West Brom, Newcastle (twice), Birmingham, Leeds (at home), Ipswich, Leyton Orient.
You look at these fixtures and you think they should not pose too great a problem for such a talented squad as Arsenal’s but the reality was these opponents put in industrious performances and exposed mistakes ruthlessly.
You feel that these mistakes will forever cripple Arsenal in their quest for greatness unless they can find a way to eradicate them. You can’t be too harsh because this is a young team and they are showing the typical sign of youth and inexperience – inconsistency. You may point out that most of the squad have been around for years and have plenty experience but Sunday was many players’ first time in a cup final.
We must not worry to greatly however, as Arsene Wenger’s side have shown good resilience this season by coming back and performing after disappointing results, which shows that they can recover mentally from a shock.
The only problem is that shocks up until now have not come as big or important, or the manner, as the one on Sunday. It will be interesting to see how they go about the game at The Emirates tonight, where it will be essential to put away lower league opponents ruthlessly and comprehensively.
It is this ruthless streak that has been missing on the occasions that slip-ups have occurred this season and a good result – coupled with the positive result at Stamford Bridge last night – should go some way to healing the hurt of last weekend.
It may all seem doom and gloom but there are positive points to be taken from these disappointing results – in the last two seasons it would have been worse. Arsenal’s failure to push on in the latter stages of competitions, when the pressure is at its highest, has been a popularly highlighted shortcoming and in the past couple of years it would be difficult to argue.
This year has been a little different though, as our own inconsistencies have been matched by others and Wenger’s side have their best chance in a while to push on and win the league.
‘Don’t Panic!’ is a famous phrase and it is wise advice now. This team have recovered before, it will recover again and these ‘blips’ are becoming more and more sparse as the months have passed. This is a sign of growing maturity and mental strength but this must be the last this season if dreams are to come true.
Injuries to key players could prove pivotal but a winning squad is one that can show their qualities when faced with adversity and how can you learn if you never make mistakes? This youthful squad has a great chance to show that they have learnt from the pain of cup final tragedy and prove to us that they are going to come good in the end. Keep the faith.
Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.
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