It’s been 19 years since Arsenal have won a Premier League title. Of course, you don’t need me telling you that. Every Arsenal fan has been thinking about it and adding to the tally every year since May, 2004. It evokes difficult emotions to explain to those outside the footballing world.
As Colin Firth emotes in Fever Pitch:
“Do you know what you wanted eighteen years ago? Or ten? Or five?”
“I’d doubt if you wanted anything for that long. And if you had, and if you’d spent three months thinking that finally, FINALLY, you were gonna get it and just when you think it’s there it’s taken away from you… I mean I don’t care what it is, a car, a job, an Oscar, the baby… then you’d understand how I was feeling tonight”
Well, tack an extra year onto that drought, please, Colin.
The quote feels all too poignant at the moment. It’s a strange thing that sports fans do to themselves year after year. After all, there is little in life that a person spends nineteen years being in the race to achieve, wanting, only to fall short, get hurt, and look forward to doing all over again four months later.
As my own girlfriend reminds me — with an intent of total kindness, I assure you — perhaps, this is what you welcome into your life when you put this much emotional energy into an outcome you have zero control over.
And as much as I remind her that that is foolish, impossible to conceive at this point, and leaves out the thrill of being a part of something much bigger than our individual selves, it’s impossible to forget we are passengers strapped into this Arsenal rollercoaster (ignoring that fans play a small but mighty role, of course).
Much like the situation that Firth’s character Paul Ashworth found himself in when making his painful defense of the football fanatics’ emotional turmoil, Arsenal fans are currently deep in that same state. That exact state. In ’89, when Ashworth rants, the title feels lost but, as we know, the team would make history and capture a title. In the present day, Arsenal are in the race for a title that is still mathematically plausible, but it’s hard not to feel like the odds are now stacked against us.
Like a sprinter that believes their best chance is to create separation from the pack so that when they slow down there is insurmountable separation, Arsenal’s pace has slowed and they feel a robotic Manchester City coming up behind them down the homestretch.
To chuck in another sports movie analogy, this fight between us and Manchester City feels like a heavyweight title bout. A twelve round slugfest between Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. A surprise contender stepping up to face the reigning champion.
No one knows the outcome of this season’s title race, but at the very least, Arsenal fans must want to see their team take this fight the distance, contend to the last day, stay in the mix until the very end. Perhaps that’s what has made these last three matches even more difficult to take.
To have this team put together a complete season of near-flawless play and simply come up short in their matches against Manchester City, and a little short at the Etihad — that’s not bottling. There is honor, ambition, experience, drama, respect, a metaphorical victory in having this young squad take the Goliath that is City the distance. It’s a display of guts and stamina and quality that this team possesses.
The feeling of that potentially being removed at the hands of West Ham and last-place Southampton is a heartbreaking shot. The idea that perhaps Arsenal slipped early and won’t take this title fight to game week 37 or 38 feels, in its own way, unfulfilling.
To some, that doesn’t matter. Seasons are decided in black and white fashion — win the title, success; lose the title, not a success. I simply challenge fans to look deeper.
There will be an abundance of time and posts and opinions in the post-mortem of this season, especially if this season doesn’t go Arseanl’s way. In those moments, everyone will feel a deeper satisfaction in pushing this to the very end. Perhaps most importantly, the players, themselves, will take more confidence from this season by forcing City to compete outright to the very end.
This goes beyond Wednesday’s result, although Wednesday will invariably be Arsenal’s most important match of the season. The result will alter the importance of the remaining games, it stands as the epitome of a six-pointer, but seeing Arsenal compete in that match and then finish in winning style the rest of the way — regardless of the City result — feels important for this squad.
Even in the face of challenge, being surpassed — if it happens — being beaten, don’t stop the fight. Taking a title fight, at this stage in the team’s young growth, matters.
Go the distance.
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