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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Arsenal vs. Man United: salt avoided, wound still raw

I can't say I'm usually a particularly emotional football fan. I have often watched in amusement while the die-hards rant and rail at the TV screen when things aren't going their team's way. I reserve a special kind of excitement for the north London derby and European ties with huge deficits to be overturned, but aside from that I'm more of a sulker than a screecher.

However even I'll admit that when I woke up on Tuesday morning and the first thing I saw on my computer screen through my hazy hungover eyes was that a Robin van Persie hattrick had won Manchester United their 20th Premier League title, my stomach plummeted.

It's not that this was particularly surprising: everyone knew that after the title race was won on goal difference last season, whichever of the Manchester clubs won the battle to sign last season's top scorer effectively had the title as theirs to lose. Yet the manner of United's victory still managed to worsen my day.

Many Arsenal fans are seeing Monday's result as a let-off for the club. Had United slipped up against Aston Villa, they would have had a very real chance of sealing the title on Sunday in front of 50,000 Gooners at the Emirates. A year ago the thought of seeing our best player and captain celebrate winning the league at our home ground whilst wearing a United shirt was incomprehensible; as it turned out this was just a few points short of becoming reality.

Whilst Arsenal have been spared the greater indignity, they still have to entertain the newly-crowned champions on Sunday, and know that defeat will deal another serious blow to the club's Champions League aspirations. No one will miss the poignancy of the juxtaposition. In the past year while their ex-captain has taken his career to the next level; Arsenal remain in exactly the same position.

As far as RVP's reception on Sunday goes, I feel the fans have a right to make their opinions heard. I sincerely hope there won't be a repeat of the vulgar abuse that some subjected Emmanuel Adebayor to after his departure, but Arsenal are right to feel betrayed. Even if it is too much for a club to ask that their players stand by the team they have professed their love for, despite said club's inability to offer instant success, it is surely not too much to request that said player not be sold to their arch rivals. All parties had justifications for the move, but to deny fans the right to show their outrage at it is unreasonable.

I don't think even the calmest fan can claim any level of indifference to the outcome on Sunday. It could be the biggest game of the season... again. In fact, this weekend's match is the most I can ever recall wanting Arsenal to win a game.

And that's why after that quick vent, I'm going to put the matter out of my mind. Arsenal need to use the circumstances as a motivation, not a distraction, and European qualification (both this season and long-term) is all that the club should be focussing on right now.

The United game will be extremely difficult, with their confidence and form peaking right about now, and a record points tally in the forefront of their minds. The following three games, though against much lowlier opposition will also require hard graft. Though QPR are all but doomed, Wigan and Newcastle are both even more desperate for points than we are, and will be giving it their all. Any more slip-ups will almost certainly mean Arsenal being leapfrogged by Chelsea and Spurs.

Provided the injured players return to the fold and no more are lost, a top four finish is within reach. Olivier Giroud will miss all but the last of the games through suspension, but this could provide Lukas Podolski with his long-awaited chance to prove his worth as a central striker. The German has earned the 'super-sub' tag in the second half of the season, and has played the full 90 minutes just twice in the league overall. Let's hope he's been saving his energy for the run-in.

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