NO SOONER are we sure that our Premier League dance is done, than fate goes and gives Gooners reason to believe.
The pundits allude to the Arsenal’s substantially less taxing run-in (on paper!) than the top two sides, as reason to suspect that we might still have a say in the title race. Such talk is all the more frustrating because, if I seriously believed us capable of stringing together the sort of consistent run necessary to avoid dropping another point between now and May 9th, we might well be in for a nail-biting finish.
However, despite getting the job done against Sunderland on Saturday, the fact that we couldn’t breathe easy until after an injury time penalty, was yet further evidence of our failure to kill off weaker opposition. Not all of our 11 remaining opponents are likely to be nearly so accommodating.
Eboue’s performances might be as unpredictable as the weather, blowing equally hot and cold. But Samir Nasri’s crowd-pleasing trickery gives cause for encouragement that the French midfielder might yet fill the boots of Robert Pires and young Aaron Ramsey continues to impress.
No matter what transpires on the domestic front, up until Wednesday’s trip to Portugal, I’d always retained a glimmer of hope of seeing Arsene stick two fingers up, at all his ‘style over substance’ detractors, when it all comes good for the Gunners in the Champions League.
Arsene’s selective eyesight remains a source of amusement, but I couldn’t believe he was still harping on about the “incompetent, or criminal” official in his Friday press conference.
To my mind the issue was not so much the taking of a quick free-kick (I don’t recall AW raising so much as an eyebrow, when we’ve profited in similar circumstances!), but the fact that the Gunners were so completely switched off, for Porto to be able to put one over on us quite so easily.
Perhaps le Prof would do better to be focusing on our own incompetence. Although far more infuriating to me, was the utterly unacceptable nonchalance, evident in the Gunners body language during the closing stages. While it’s true that we should have more than enough ability in the tank, to turn things around in the return leg, you really don’t want to be relying on this. And yet with more than 10 minutes left, I sensed a damage limitation, air of resignation, as if we’d settled for having to overhaul a one goal deficit in the second leg.
Quite frankly I can’t imagine the likes of Rooney, or Lampard resigning themselves to a defeat in this fashion, in what could prove to be a season defining encounter. On the evidence of our irresolute efforts in Opporto, with a couple of exceptions, ultimately I was left wondering whether this Arsenal side possesses that ‘never say die’ backbone, with a sufficient plenitude of mettle to turn a team of nearly men into genuine winners?
In the heat of his post-match disillusionment immediately after the final whistle last Wednesday, our captain strayed from his manager’s “spirit and belief” mantra, in his mixed zone interviews.
I for one appreciated Cesc’s candor, as he commented on the schoolboy errors and the fact that too many of his team-mates’ heads dropped after the second goal.
If we fail to dispose of Porto, it could be argued that this was our just deserts, after a first-leg performance in which the majority patently failed to fulfil Arsene’s assurances concerning their preparedness to sweat blood for the cause. And the magnitude of our defeat will only become apparent, when a decidedly uninspiring Porto are demolished in the quarterfinals.
I’m badly in need of a faith-restoring Arsenal display, to remind me that on our day, we’re capable of giving anyone a run for their money. If only to maintain that flickering flame of hope of a Bernabeu big finish in May.
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