After the agonizing past few weeks of having to believe in the seemingly lost league title due to the sort of surmountable 6 point gap, I felt an emotion on Saturday which I can best describe as a mixture of disappointment and relief. Disappointment at throwing away all that we had gained in the first 6 months of the season – yet another Carling Cup run, an FA cup quarter final place and a 5 point lead at the top of the league. Relief, because I could finally convince and be at peace with myself that the title had slipped away, that it was gone. So that there would be no more tense, nail-biting moments in the league, and I could concentrate all my energies on the Champions league!
And then Man Utd drew against Boro, and they’ve ruined my chances of watching the game at Old Trafford in a steady state of mind. What it also did was that it made the result against Liverpool even more frustrating. Four points behind and we could have had a sniff at the title, surely. Considering all the results at the weekend, its quite clear that Chelsea were the clear winners this week, closing the gap on United to a mere 3 points and not having to worry about us possibly being one point behind. In fact, not just this week, but Chelski increasingly look capable of snatching the title right at the death. Three points separate them from the top at the moment, which could come down to 1 or nil if we manage to get something out of our game against ManU, and then they play United at home which really could turn out to be the title clincher. This obviously is assuming that Avram Grant’s side would win the remainder of their games against the so called lesser opponents.
As for Wenger’s men, this really has been a mother of all downslides. For me, it didn’t start at Birmingham. It really did begin at Old Trafford. I think that result really took away a lot of the confidence and belief the lads had built up during their early season run. Yes, a lot of our first-teamers were rested or injured, but so were United’s. Losing 4-0 to your main title rivals isn’t a good thing no matter what the circumstances, and it did have its effects. Since, we’ve won only two matches, which is quite shocking. What is even more shocking, although pleasantly, is the fact that one was at the San Siro, and the other at the Reebok, after being two goals and a man in arrears!
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to use those two great victories to good effect in the games which followed. The victory at Milan was followed by two draws and a defeat at Stamford Bridge, and the euphoria of the win against Bolton has been dampened by the two losses against Liverpool. What really stands out as being the main difference between the top two and us are; a) experience in the squad, and b) depth in the squad.
The first one can be left out, because the club and the manager have taken a conscious decision of blooding these talented youngsters, and anyway, experience is only gained by minutes on the pitch. But the worrying aspect is Wenger’s refusal to spend in the market to strengthen our squad. Our first choice eleven is one that could match any team in the world, but the second string doesn’t really make for inspiring reading. Excluding the ‘keeper, we have Hoyte, Senderos, Djourou, Traore, Walcott, Denilson, Diaby, Bendtner, and Eduardo. What’s noticeable is that there isn’t a natural left winger, or even one that’s capable of playing in that position regularly. Another thing that can be seen is that Eduardo, at the age of 24, is the oldest amongst the lot. The youngsters are fine, and they do provide us with a whole lot of entertainment and joy, but they’re just not ready to compete in the league week after week. Also, none of them are at their peak, physically, it’s easier for them to get drained of their form and energy if they play each game during the course of the season. This seems to have happened to Cesc.
At the start of the season I didn’t think we would win, but I thought we would mount a serious challenge for the league, and we’ve done that. Disappointment is natural, but one can only take the positives out of the league run. We can pride ourselves in having two of the best fullbacks and the best creative midfielder in our side, as well as a forward who’s scored over 20 goals in the season. What’s best is that all of them are still developing. The only thing missing is that little bit of experience, a few calm heads in the dressing room, who have won leagues and cups in the past and know what its all about.
All in all, its been a great run, although it would probably result in only a 3rd place finish. Unless….