After consolidating third place on Saturday, Arsenal now look forward to the short journey to their London neighbours at Loftus Road. On current form, the game cannot come quickly enough.
There is some concern however, with no update forthcoming on Laurent Koscielny’s injury. If the Frenchman has to be sidelined, Johan Djourou is the most likely candidate to fill his somewhat large boots. The Swiss defender put in a decent performance against Aston Villa, but he was not severly tested; Emile Heskey and Gabriel Agbonlahor are hardly in the same class as Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero.
We are blazing a trail though, and this team believes every game is winnable. The clean sheet against Villa would have added to the confidence in defense. So Laurent may not be missed yet, not for QPR at least.
Due to our horrendous start to the season, we’ve had to constantly deal with dire predictions from the media, football pundits, rival supporters and a few of our own fans. The possibility of relegation was mooted, the manager was said to be outdated in his methods and his philosophy, the medical staff were no better than average vets and the players just not good enough for this level. Even as late as 25th February, we had only managed to graduate from being a complete shambles to a one-man team.
While all this unwanted hyperbole was disruptive, I think it also helped the players focus on the task at hand. Each game had to be contested, each point was to be fought for, nothing was guaranteed. Even when we won games, we’d started so far back in the table that Champions League qualification seemed always to be tantalisingly away from our grasp.
All this has changed dramatically in the last month.
We are now firmly in third place, looking down at the joke club from up the Seven Sisters Road. Roman’s golden oldies are a further five behind them. It seems highly probable now that Arsenal will once again compete in Europe’s elite competition next season.
And what has emerged from these last six games is not only the accumulation of points. It’s also the rediscovering of our fluid passing game. It’s also the never-beaten attitude shown in the storming comeback against the enemy. It’s also the resilience and character displayed at Everton.
It’s the re-emergence of the Arsenal we know and love.
For although we did go on unbeaten for a period between October and December, our football wasn’t always spectacular then. We got the job done and worked hard as a team, but we didn’t go into every game expecting to win.
Now we do. Now there’s the pressure of being favorites to win football matches again. The weight of expectation.
It showed a little against Aston Villa on Saturday. Not so much from the players as from the fans. Watching the game on television, the atmosphere seemed to dampen considerably after the second goal. A large section of the crowd seemed to fall silent, awaiting inspiration from an external source to find their voices again. We expected to thrash the visitors; in the end, even a comfortable 3-0 win did not seem to satisfy us fully.
And it was not only the fans in the stands. There was disappointment on Twitter as well, some
supporters feeling we should have taken Villa to the cleaners and run up a bigger score. The world is a small place now, smaller than it’s ever been, and our opinions are constantly being communicated to the players through social media.
I write this because I feel strongly that our reactions have a bigger impact on players that we might think.
It did affect the players on Saturday, the tempo dropped and errors started creeping in. On another day, and against better opposition, we may have paid the price for switching off and conceded a goal or two. It only takes one moment of magic from an opposition player (Crouch’s goal against City), or a refereeing blunder (Suarez penalty) or an unfortunate slip (Mertesacker’s injury against Sunderland) to let the opposition in.
As supporters, we have to ensure this heightened expectation is not transferred on to the players. They’ve done well to get us to third and we, the fans, have done well by egging them on to this point.
With 8 games left, let’s be mindful of this. Let’s show the same commitment to the team that we demand of the players. Let’s cheer them on for the full 90 minutes and beyond. Because our support to them is as important at 2-0 up as it is as 1-0 down.