It was interesting in the immediate aftermath of the Man City game that pundits and media seemed demonstrably rattled by the way Arsenal had outplayed the best side in Europe. After years of being summarily dismissed by the better teams in the Premier League Arsenal had been robbed of a deserved victory by what we might euphemistically call “questionable” officiating. Some of us tentatively suggested it was the biggest sign yet that Arteta’s “process” might actually be a genuine route back towards the top table of English football. The fans suddenly seemed united in a way we hadn’t seen for some time, and the outrageous dishonesty of Liverpool FC and the EFL (by which I mean Liverpool’s former Chairman) further cemented the view that it’s Arsenal against everyone else again. At last!
A lot of that optimism was dented badly by the no-show at Nottingham Forest. It was a shocking and unacceptable display and, longer term, will have no doubt sealed the fate of a number of the players in Arteta’s current squad. What followed at Anfield, however, was a Lazarus-like recovery and a redemption for the likes of Rob Holding and Sambi Lokonga. The XI Liverpool fielded, and the strength of their bench, gave all the evidence we needed to see their duplicity a week earlier, and it maybe galvanised the Arsenal players to perform with such defiance. The last time I remember a 0-0 being celebrated so much by Arsenal supporters was Real Madrid at home in 2006.
All of which brings me to this past weekend and the North London Derby that didn’t happen. Starting Friday morning it was apparent Arsenal were in trouble in terms of player availability, albeit not necessarily COVID related. However, a quick look at the ridiculous Premier League rules for this season (and it’s important to make the distinction between the Premier League rules and those for the League Cup which were circumvented by Liverpool) that Arsenal were well within their rights to request a postponement.
I understand this was the 20th Premier League match to be postponed due to lack of players this season. The first club to take advantage of it was Tottenham, claiming a COVID outbreak for which they refused to publicise the names/number or players, and which just happened to coincide with their new Manager wanting some time on the training pitch. Arsenal played Leeds the week before Christmas in a match that, had Leeds been held to the same standard as Tottenham, would never have been played. Not Arsenal’s fault, but I mention it as some “journalists” (and I use the term loosely) cited it as an unfairness this weekend. On 28th December Arsenal’s home match with Wolves was cancelled due to the opponents struggling for players. Last week Leicester got a match called off largely because of players being at the AFCON tournament. And again, on Friday morning, Leicester v Burnley was called-off. Nobody in the media batted an eyelid. And then came Arsenal…
The faux outrage this weekend from the media, Spurs themselves, and other clubs’ fans has been maniacal and comical all at once. Micah Richards and Alan Smith (who almost sounded like an Arsenal Man for a change) pricked the balloon delightfully on Sky yesterday by pointing out the facts. Gary Neville pretending his objections were on behalf of “the fans” were beyond laughable. This is a man employed by a TV company that made Bournemouth fans travel to Middlesbrough for a 1230pm kick-off in the week before Christmas and now he’s worried about us?! A man of such conscience will not, I’m sure, be appearing on any coverage of the Qatar World Cup later this year.
The only conclusion to draw from the stick meted out to Arsenal by all and sundry is that Arsenal are back. Instead of being laughed at, even at times sympathised with, for the state we were in, it seems Arsenal have people worried again. They’re worried that something is happening at our club and we might be about the gatecrash the Premier League hegemony once more.
It’s good to be hated again. It’s good to be formed up as a club with the cannons directed outwards once more. We are The Arsenal, and we’re back.