Considering this season was, until the end of January, so enjoyable and exciting we have had an awful lot of spirit-crushing defeats to contend with.
Losing to Tottenham 5-1 and United 4-0, combined with the last minute draw at Birmingham and all that that game brought has been tough to take. But last night’s defeat at Anfield will live long in my memory for being one of the most disappointing and gut-wrenching games I have seen in years.
I spent the whole of yesterday trying to convince myself that it wouldn’t matter if we lost. It didn’t work. Once Abou Diaby had blasted us in front early on, after some scintillating football which reminded me of the Arsenal of the unbeaten season, I was believing again. Admittedly, I did lose the faith somewhat after we (sorry, Philippe Senderos, for he alone was to blame) conceded the equaliser – especially as the team then seemed to collapse, losing their confidence completely after a single moment of poor defending. But then Theo Walcott sprinted past the Liverpool midfield and defence as if they were trying to run in treacle, and squared for Adebayor to score with 7 minutes to go and I was utterly convinced we’d done it.
So when, seconds later, the referee gave Liverpool a soft penalty and Gerrard scored it I could, for a few minutes, do absolutely nothing. I was absolutely paralysed. Stunned motionless. I simply sat and watched in disbelief as our chance of a trophy this season vanished.
I suppose that’s football – it gets your hopes up, and then knocks you down. For a while, I shall hate football. It does this to me every season and, as I’ve said before, I fall for it every time.
Inevitably, the next day brings endless discussions about what went wrong and why we didn’t win. There is no doubt that, in this particular fixture, the referees cost us the tie. We should have had a penalty in the 1st leg and their penalty was dubious. There is no doubt that Senderos was awful last night. There is no doubt that our squad is too small and inexperienced to challenge for the Premier League and the Champions League in the same season. There is no doubt that we’ve had a lot of bad luck with injuries this season, with RVP being out for most of it, Rosicky missing for weeks, Sagna missing at a crucial time and of course Eduardo. It might even be argued that Gallas is not an inspiring captain when the chips are down. But, all in all, given the resources available to us, given the current climate of big money benefactors, given all the odds against us, having lost the best player in the world during the summer that this season has, overall, been a tremendous success for Arsenal in my opinion.
At the end of last season we looked like a side that might struggle to get into the Champions League. Now we can look at the fact that we have one of the best midfielders in the world, two world class full backs, a superb defensive midfielder in Flamini and one of the world’s most promising players in Theo Walcott. Oh, and not forgetting the best manager in the world.
So, just for once, and despite my usual negative attitude and despite last night’s sickening end to the game, I shall end on a positive note and say that I think that, if we can keep these young players together, there is a lot of hope. I just wish that it was the present that was bright – not just the future.