HOW TO WIN A TITLE WITH A TEAM OF CROCKS by KM
EVERY single team in the EPL this season has had shocking results. In fact, there is no longer such a thing as a shocking result. Maybe when Pep comes to City, he will win every game. But until then, the EPL will remain a league of equals. Watching Arsenal play Stoke the other day, this fact couldn’t have been more glaring. We were very nervous. Our passes were tentative, we were unsure of ourselves, nobody had a clue how to go forward and create – and we basically came to Stoke to play for a point.
Many said, ‘That is not how a big team should play’, but how many big teams are left in this league of equals? Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool are big only by reputation these days. It wasn’t always like this because these five teams have won more and competed for more since the beginning of the EPL. But when you have Manchester City being thrashed 4-1 by Stoke City, Arsenal losing 4-0 to Southampton and such ‘shocking results’, it is hard to argue that there is a team currently head and shoulders above the rest in the EPL.
It is against this backdrop that our league position suddenly begins to look good. In other words, the best of an okay bunch will win the EPL. Arsene Wenger understands this and he now sets up his team with this at the back of his mind. He understands that he cannot win the league blowing away all his opponents and always playing with style. Not when he has Sanchez, Cazorla, Coquelin, Wilshere, Rosicky, Welbeck and now Ozil out injured. In some games, he plays simply to nick a point, like in this Stoke game. I have never seen Arsene this pragmatic before and this approach may just gift us our first EPL trophy in ten years. What an irony. We basically came to Stoke to play for a point. Our players were under strict instructions not to attack and lose the ball. We were so scared of being hit on the counter that we refused to play. It was hard to watch and I must have cursed at my television set a thousand times. So we set up to kill ninety minutes and maintain a 0-0 draw. That was enough to send us back to the top of the table and for Arsene, that is a pretty good result.
So we might have to get used to witnessing strategic crap like this one, however annoying, comforted by the knowledge that the end justifies the means. Wasn’t that how Chelsea won the league in the second half of last season? There used to be a time when I would look at our team sheet and try to predict how we will do in a season. Back then, I would look at our first team squad and see players like Sanchez, Ozil, Cech, Koscielny, Coquelin, Monreal, Cazorla, Giroud and Walcott and I would smile. And then I would think of names who aren’t even there like Wilshere, Ramsey, Ospina, Gibbs, Welbeck and Rosicky and my smile would get even wider.
That was just a few months ago. All of that has changed now. It is cruel how life just teases you with mouth-watering possibilities only to turn situations on its head. No matter who we buy, the reality is that our best players are never going to stay fit all at the same time. They won’t. And if we understand the implication of this fact, then we will realise that the football we are playing now is really the best we can do at the moment. It sucks but it is true. You think buying two strikers in the transfer window will make a difference? No it won’t. Not if Aubameyang or whomever comes in and picks up a long term injury after playing two or three games. That is the problem. We may never get to see our best eleven play more than seven games on the trot in one season. Koscielny read my mind on this one because that was exactly what I was thinking about during that Stoke game.
If we do end up winning the league, it won’t be according to plan. We will basically bumble through it in the totally ironic and comical way in which film characters like Johnny English and Inspector Clouseau end up solving crime cases. I am not sure how satisfying such a victory will feel, but I will take it. Why? Because a win is a win I guess and we are always going to have an injury ravaged squad anyway. We can only dream of what will be when everyone is fit. Games like our 3-0 victory over Manchester United and our 2-0 win over Bayern Munich, both at the Emirates, remain dreams of what can be in an ideal world. But at Arsenal, nothing stays ideal.
If it is results we are after – I believe every Gunner out there wants that EPL trophy – then Wenger is surely doing a marvelous job keeping this crocked team top of the league. I am seriously rooting for him because I don’t know how he does it.
Lagos – Nigeria