There was nothing of the controlled, counterattack football of a Chelsea, which can make countering football seem dominant; but instead we witnessed a type of frantic, hold-on-to-your seats school-yard defense that prevailed in Man United’s annoying win over Arsenal earlier in the season: hanging on for dear life to a lucky first goal that came early the match, in this case around the minute mark. Lucky not in the sense that Rosicky’s goal was not brilliant, because surely it was, but lucky in the sense that Arsenal did not come close to scoring for the rest of the game.
Indeed, the feeling you got from the rest of the Arsenal match was that of being on a roller coaster with the controls broken. I am not sure which game the NBC/SN commentators are watching sometimes when I hear assessments of Arsenal games, but they seem to spin much gold out of plain mediocrity. I get the same feeling when I hear them describe the play of my favorite player, Mesut Özil, who I think has not been the same player for weeks now.
The reality of Arsenal’s quality is that no one, not even the loopy NBC commentators, includes them among the three clubs (Chelsea, Man City, Liverpool) seriously contending for the title, despite Arsenal having lead the league for ninety days and being currently tied for second in points. Yes, even the team currently in fourth (Man City) is considered a more legitimate contender.
The problem today — the problem with Özil — is that they seem to be lacking in what we summarily refer to as heart. Fearlessness. They are tentative and hesitant. They seemed focused on avoiding the mistake, the error. In itself not a bad thing, but when it takes on a life of its own, it becomes a debilitating aversion to failure, which, of course, will also avoid success. This aversion, I fear, betrays a team that is mediocre. Living on borrowed time.
Would you rather be lucky or good, is the perennial question. The answer, of course, is that you have to be both, unless you are extraordinary. Luck that runs out is that which is tied to the very ordinary.