Everton 1-0 Arsenal
Typical really. Rather than blogging right after one of our recent high points – the first away win at our neighbours in nine years, or the Platt-like last-minute winner against Utd – I’ve picked up my pen after our second league defeat of the season. A genius move. Rough with the smooth and all that.
To say I’d had a premonition about this would be a tall story: to be fair, my default position before most games is ‘potential banana skin: treat with ultimate caution’. But in hindsight it had all the ingredients for a slip-up, and slip up we did.
I suppose the worst thing you can say is that had you parachuted in from another realm, you wouldn’t necessarily have known which side was top. Which given there are 16 places between us is telling.
Everton played with – to quote Ian King in Football365 – “a shot of Vitamin Dyche” and we, while not quite lacklustre, lacked a bit of lustre. Ben White and Thomas Partey’s passing was off-whack, and most of our players seemed to be wearing sand-wedges rather than boots. The amount of ballooned shots was almost comical. When we aren’t on our game, doubling up on our wide men (as Newcastle did) is very effective.
It is a bit disconcerting, because – credit to Everton aside – our levels have rarely dropped this low, not this season. Leeds away is the nearest we came to that performance, and this time we didn’t have it in us to get close to nicking a win.
A dose of smelling salts too, for Arsenal, I hope. The second half of this season was always going to be harder than the first. Partly because people have sat up and noticed us, which makes us even bigger scalps than normal. Partly also because the pressure is only going to ramp up from here. You felt ill with worry yesterday? It’s only just begun and for all the admirable sang-froid this team has shown to date, most of them won’t have experienced this before.
It’s going to be fun, but it’s going to be very hard.
As an aside, I never forget how lucky I am to have started following Arsenal when I did, from the George Graham years through to early Wenger years. It’s easy to forget that most people under 25 have no recollection of us being in a position like this. They are willing it along (my 17-year old is convinced if we beat City we will go on and do it – I’m trying to inject some realism but maybe that makes me a killjoy), but they have very little to compare it to.
By that age I’d seen us win the league three times, and come close a few more times than that.
If you’ve not experienced this before, you will soon learn what it feels like to edge through spring like this. It could go either way. It might send you to heaven, but it might break your soul.
Strap in for the ride.