Why This Match Is NOT An “Acid Test”

By on August 28, 2009

Arsene Wenger and crowd

Everywhere I turn I seem to hear pundits talking about the trip to United as some sort of an “acid test” for the Arsenal’s title credentials. The trick, as a supporter, is to not let pundit hyperbole skew your view of the importance of the match. They would have Arsenal supporters throwing themselves off buildings in despair should Arsenal not secure a result at Old Trafford this weekend. This match will tell us nothing more than who was better on the day. But, even more importantly, it is not some kind of measuring stick of Arsenal’s chances to win the title because titles are generally NOT won or lost against the rest of the Big 4.

Only 18 of a possible 114 points are available in matches against other Big 4 clubs and Arsenal have never truly struggled against their nearest table rivals in recent years having lost only one of six matches against the other Big 4 both last year and in 2006/07. Good results in the other Big 4 matches, while useful for the confidence boost they give the side and the supporters, are not necessary to secure the trophy come May. Last season, United won 1, drew 2, and lost 3 against the other Big 4 sides and still won the league. What they did last year is the same thing the Arsenal must do to win the league this season… beat the teams they are supposed to.

Alex SongDue to the lazy nature of football pundits, we continue to hear that Arsenal are quick starters who can’t play in the cold, especially up north, and also wilt at the end of the season. Anyone who watched us last season could hardly say, “Arsenal always get off to a great start.” We also began a 21-match unbeaten run in the league last November, just as the cold was moving in, and it didn’t end until the Spring had long since come. So this Arsenal side that “can’t play in the cold,” was unbeaten in cold weather in the league last year. The line about us not being able to get points in tough away matches like Bolton and Blackburn is just lazy punditry because it may have been true 3 or 4 years ago but no more. Last year, Arsenal won 4-nil at Blackburn, 3-1 at Bolton after going down a goal early, 4-1 at Wigan, 3-1 at Newcastle, and even earned a draw at bogey side, Boro.

What this shows is an increasing maturity on the part of the players. Last season, despite the disappointment at the end result, has shown that these players faced down some of their biggest criticisms and overcame them. They learned how to grind out results in the cold and to go North and not just win but win well. As for the “wilting” criticism, Arsenal did blow the league in 2007/08 despite being 5 points clear late in February following Eduardo’s horrific injury. But last season, they remained unbeaten in the league from 30 November all the way to 10 May. That hardly seems like wilting especially considering that the streak was broken by Chelsea following the hugely disappointing performance in the Champions League Semifinal, from which Arsenal bounced back and earned a draw at Old Trafford the following weekend.

Thomas Vermaelen

This team is far more resilient than most people and even most pundits think they are despite the evidence being right in front of their eyes. You, and Arsene,  may rightly say that a win in a match like this instills confidence and belief in the side. That is true, to an extent, but Arsenal have lost so-called “big” matches early on in the season and come back to win the league before. That is called character and team spirit.

Besides, there is never a need when it comes to Arsenal-United to imbue the match with ridiculous connotations or expectations because we are almost always guaranteed an enthralling match. Just remember, win or lose, Arsenal can win the title without beating United at Old Trafford because the title is won on myriad cold days in December and January away to places like Blackburn and Bolton and Wigan, where we won 4-nil, 3-1 and 4-1 last year, respectively. Supporters, like the players, should never get too carried away over any one result, good or bad. The league will not be lost on Saturday, just like it will not be won either.