Arsenal: No Shame In Scrapping Our Way Through Bad Form To The Title

I always say you can judge a winning team on the reactions of their bench and if ours are anything to go by, we're going to be just fine...
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I always say you can judge a winning team on the reactions of their bench and if ours are anything to go by, we're going to be just fine...

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Arsenal: From First Team To Subs Bench, We're Ready To Win Silverware

The long-running and excellent Cottagers fanzine ‘There’s Only One F in Fulham’ print their entire league fixtures with a small comment next to the match in question. For example they wrote on their away fixture against Everton last month: “We get the usual result”.

For Arsenal away they posted - with tongue firmly in cheek I presume - “It’s about time for another away win’. Because after their record at Goodison, stretching back over 50 years where they have played 28 games, lost 23 and never won a single match, their record at Arsenal is almost as bad – although in our case the lineage stretches back to 1913.

And so it was on Saturday. Where the pre-match Ska at a packed Piebury Corner was far more entertaining than the first half.

Beating a relegation threatened but seemingly competent side with a 21 year old who impressed at centre half is never going to win you the league. However, failing to beat such a team – as has happened in North London over the last two seasons – is a sure sign that you aren’t going to win the league.

Arsenal laboured in a dull first half, enlivened only by Mesut Ozil just failing to add the finishing touch to an early move. That the move was prompted by an impish Jack Wilshere still on a high from his sterling performance at Villa Park last Monday was encouraging. Less encouraging was the slow tempo the rest of the half took the form of, resulting in half time being a small mercy rather than a disappointment.

Clearly Arsene had words during the break. Sidwell who worked as hard as any spoiling midfielder has against us all season was for once off the pace as we worked an uplifting passing move which ended in Carzorla’s first goal of the game.

What I thought was instructive about that period of play was when a half chance spurned seconds earlier saw our substitutes (who were warming up near the North Bank) holding their heads in their hands when the chance was missed. For me that says that team spirit is good. And if team spirit is good, then good things can happen – even on the slowest and most unpromising of days. Such as Saturday.

I’ve always tried to avoid those stories you hear about a mate of a mate who heard that x & y nearly came to blows in training – no-one really knows, and the people that do rarely tell. (I use the same premise with transfers but that’s a different story entirely).

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So to find an effective gauge of team morale I tend to have a look at the subs bench when a team scores, or, even more revealingly, when it narrowly misses. All successful team’s benches will rise as a man in a joyful celebration of a goal – or act in unison at a desperately frustrating missed chance. The teams that don’t invariably fail to win trophies.

Thankfully Arsenal’s bench is full of an espirt de corps that is as encouraging as it is heartening. These lads want to win something. For themselves. Their club. And, you’d like to think somewhere deep down, in a small way for us, the fans. I hope so anyway.

After a barren run of nine years, for the first time since 2008 – well, up to the dreadful watershed of Birmingham City away in Feb 2008 – we look like we have a team of players who are threatening to win something.

It appears we have players promising enough to have shown sufficient reserves of fortitude, resilience and determination during times when the going is not good (Cardiff home), when the going is downright difficult (Newcastle away), challenging (Liverpool home), or stodgy (Fulham on Saturday) - to still eke out defensive excellence and the requisite amount of goals, allowing us to pick up a succession of maximum points that enable us to still be in the race for a trophy with only four months of the season to go.

Of course there are huge challenges to come, daunting ones I’d rather not think about just yet.

So let’s not be overly critical of the team at the moment, as some were after the game, let’s just enjoy the league table for another weekend - and give thanks to three points won after a poor first half showing.

At the moment it doesn’t matter what Chelsea and Manchester City do. Let’s just forget about their squads packed with talented players who are mostly on a good run of form, there’s plenty of time to discuss them soon.

Rene Meulensteen said afterwards: "At the top and the bottom of the Premier League, it is going to be the most exciting season ever”.

As ‘There’s Only One F in Fulham’ might say: ‘It’s about time isn’t it’.

Follow Layth on Twitter, @laythy29

Apart from being a regular contributor to Sabotage, Layth has written for When Saturday Comes, World Soccer Magazine, Four-Four-Two, The Gooner, The London Evening Standard, The Sunday People, In Bed With Maradona, The Football Pink and The Inside Left.