"Behold, there come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. And there shall arise after them seven years of famine; and all the plenty shall be forgotten in the land of Egypt; and the famine shall consume the land." Genesis 41:29-30.
Arsenal Under Arsene Wenger
97/98-04/05: Three Premier League Titles, Four FA Cups (including two Doubles and an undefeated league season).
05/06-present: Famine, starvation, rivers of blood, Mikael Silvestre, locusts, death of firstborn children, etc.
Indeed, the plenty is long forgotten. Let's take a quick season recap, shall we?
18 September 2010: After a gritty, but by no means dominant performance, Arsenal lead 1-0 from a crazy Cesc Fabregas goal. But then Rosicky spurns a chance to make it 2-0 by blasting his penalty into outer space. And in the dying seconds of injury time, a Clichy/Koscielny mix-up allows Darren Bent to equalize and prevent Arsenal from moving top of the league.
7 November 2010: Free kick to Newcastle. Fabianski comes for it, flaps wildly. Andy Carroll heads into an empty net. Newcastle line for the game: two attempts, one goal. Arsenal lose.
20 November 2010: Two excellent first-half goals by Arsenal see them lead their bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur at home. However, after the break, Tottenham score three times, including a penalty awarded when our captain foolishly raises his arm in the area to block a free kick. Spurs beat Arsenal in the league at home for the first time in, well, a really long time. Again, this loss prevents Arsenal from moving to the top of the table.
29 December 2010: After coming off the high of beating Chelsea 3-1 in the league, Arsenal respond well to an early setback against Wigan by taking the lead, 2-1. They even enjoy the benefit of a man-advantage after N’Zogbia is rightfully sent off for headbutting Wilshere. However, in the 80th minute of the game, Sebastian Squillaci heads the ball into his own net when trying to clear. The draw prevents Arsenal from going level on points with United at the top of the table. Sensing a theme here...
5 February 2011: Theo Walcott scores in the first minute of the game against Newcastle, and Arsenal romp to a 4-0 lead by halftime. But in the second half, Newcastle are awarded two penalties (one just, the other terribly unfair), and this sparks them to a 4-4 comeback, which culminates in an 87th minute wonderstrike by Tiote. Arsenal are the first team to go 4-0 up in a league game and not win it.
27 February 2011: Arsenal and Birmingham City are deadlocked at 1-1 in the Carling Cup Final. As the second half goes on and extra time beckons, it’s clear that Arsenal are in the ascendancy and that Birmingham are tiring. But in the 89th minute of regulation, an insane mix-up between Koscielny and Kenny Chesney allows Obefami Martins to tap in and win the cup for Birmingham.
8 March 2011: Arsenal go to the Camp Nou with a 2-1 lead from the first leg of their Champions League matchup against Barcelona. Barcelona are in fine form, but Arsenal defend extremely well until an uncharacteristic error by Fabregas gifts a chance to Messi right before halftime, and he takes it very well. However, Arsenal equalize from a fortunate own goal by Busquets in the second half. Soon after, though, Robin van Persie is ludicrously sent off with a second yellow for “timewasting” when he kicks a ball a split second after the referee’s whistle (in a loud, crowded stadium). Barca take advantage of the extra man and quickly score two more. Arsenal still have a chance to go through, but Bendtner fluffs his lines in front of goal. Arsenal go out of the Champions League, losing 4-3 on aggregate.
12 March 2011: Arsenal dominate possession and chances at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarterfinal against Manchester United. Fergie puts out a team with seven defenders, though, and Arsenal can’t make the breakthrough. Fabio and Rooney, on the other hand, make the most of their chances. Arsenal go out of the FA Cup, losing 2-0.
17 April 2011: After several lackluster draws, Arsenal have one last chance to put pressure on United at the top of the table. After dominating possession and chances all game (and benefiting from unfortunate injuries to key Liverpool players), they are still unable to make a breakthrough... until Fabregas wins a penalty in the 7th minute of stoppage time and van Persie coolly slots it home. The revitalized title challenge lasts exactly two minutes, however, as Arsenal surrender a free kick on the edge of the area, and then Eboue gives away an insanely sloppy (and rather dubious) penalty when Lucas dives under his body. Kuyt scores in the 102nd minute of regulation (!) with literally the last kick of the game, thus ending any Arsenal hope of winning the league.
Has there ever been a season quite like this? I know that Arsenal in spring has become a freak show that everyone else can enjoy over the past few seasons. But we are reaching new lows here, people. This entire season has been one gut punch after another. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, the football gods take a familiar, painful plotline, and give it just enough of a twist to make it hurt all over again. For instance, today’s match was reminiscent of the Champions League match against Liverpool from several years ago. That one really hurt - in fact, it might be the most crushing soccer loss I've experienced. But I thought I was over it. Well, this one reopened that wound and then twisted the knife for good measure. As another example, the 4-4 against Newcastle reminded me of the 4-4 against Spurs from three years ago (and to a lesser extent, the 4-4 against Liverpool, which was more bittersweet). But at least the goals were more back and forth in that one. This season, we rolled over and let in four straight without any resistance. (And at least we didn’t LOSE that 4-4 to Spurs... this year, they came back and beat us. I’m telling you, new lows.)
As Juan succinctly put it, “the kind of bad luck that happens to United over the course of twenty years gets consolidated into a season for us.” Why is that? My personal theory is that Arsene Wenger made a deal with Satan for the Invincibles. That team had too much swagger NOT to be aided by dark, supernatural forces. If only Arsene had known that this was how the devil would collect his due: six years without a trophy and some of the most freakish, gutting losses that any team has ever experienced... consolidated into the span of a few seasons (or even just one).
What more has to happen for this terrible saga to come to an end? What new levels of losing (to quote the irritating but often on-point Bill Simmons) will the football gods find for Arsenal in the remainder of this awful season? Right now, I’m envisioning a 5-4 loss to Tottenham midweek, in which we go up 4 nil and then manage to lose. William Gallas will score the winning goal. And then maybe Manchester United clinching the title (is that mathematically possible? Seems like it...) with a 5-0 beatdown at the Emirates, thus exacting revenge for 2002. Patrice Evra and Nani will score at least one each. Rooney will pick up the ball in his own penalty area, run the length of the field, nutmegging Fabregas, sidestepping Nasri, twirling beyond Djourou, and then lobbing Chesney with an inch-perfect chip. It will be the greatest goal ever scored in the Premier League, and people will talk about it for a century.
Frankly, if that’s what it takes to make this voodoo madness stop, then I can deal with it. But according to the Biblical prophecy (see above), we have at least one more season to go. For next year, I'm predicting a fourth place finish behind, wait for it... Spurs. After that, maybe there will be a return to normalcy. No more clumsy or freakish errors that come at the most inopportune moments. No more horrible refereeing decisions that go against us at crucial times (yes, yes, I know they're supposed to even out over the course of the season, but ask any Arsenal or Chelsea fan if they feel that the universe hasn't quite made up for some of the calls/no-calls of the past few years). And if Arsene is still around (and I pray that he is because for all his flaws, he's a fascinating, intelligent person and an amazing manager), I firmly believe I will see him lift another trophy with Arsenal. He and Captain Jack Wilshere.
In the meantime, Juan and I will be watching Boca Juniors and the Seattle Sounders. Because you just can't fight that Biblical ish. And because it’s easier when you just don’t give a damn.