Bitter Sweet Symphony

Straining and blinking, the view facing my bleary eyes was certainly a pleasant one. The sun-soaked pastures of Blackpools Bloomfield Road greeted me inside my adopted local pub here in Quito. The time was 7:30 am, and although the gloop of alcohol stained saliva in my mouth was more stale than bitter, one hour of sleep instigated that feeling which parodied the almost ethereal scene coming from the tele. Watching amongst a shrouded mist of disappointment and regret, whilst trying to stifle any lingering feelings of hope, Sunday´s eventful encounter didn’t cease to create a constant barrage of contrasting emotions. So much so that ´The Verve´s´ oxymoronic 90´s hit would not have been inappropriate had it incessantly blurted out from the tannoy during the game. All in red and white or yellow and maroon would have got the message.

After 6 weeks and 4 separate concessions of potential silverware, the joy was back. The panache, pace, glamour and beauty of this team had returned and all those watching were treated to a mouthwatering display of attacking fluency in the first half and, at the heart of the revival was our equally revitalized captain. Apparently fit again and ready for the fight, albeit a tad too late, Cesc Fabregas pulled the strings at the heart of an impressive display. The heartbeat of the team, and aptly covered by Wilshere and Diaby, Cesc played delicious pass after delicious pass. His performance was a throwback to the days before he was constantly befallen by either injury or overly aggressive opponents and, as a little known enigma, always had the time and space to dictate a football match. It was a specter of nostalgia that as much as it delighted, served up a massively half-empty glass of something utterly revolting, like Jif for example- (indeed either the lemon juice or toxic cleaning product). I say this because, when either injured or underperforming this season, whilst frustrating us beyond belief and hampering yet another season, Cesc´s inevitable move to Barcelona this summer seemed that bit more manageable. Alas, Jack Wilshere had arrived and all was going to be OK. Then, in a moment, Sunday´s display of pure magnificence from El Capitan destroyed any attempts to self-console or act like everything will be alright. Lost in an utterly confusing emotional paradox, I established that in fact everything will not be alright as Cesc nonchalantly flicked the ball onto Theo for the final goal. How utterly demoralizing.

It was a goal of pure beauty, putting an end to a nervy second half and helping to claim a much needed 3 points. Very lovely indeed, but needed for what exactly? To momentarily placate us after weeks of torture? To dissuade the growing group of ´AMGs´? Or worse of all, to edge away from the galloping hooves of a rabid third placed team from West London and cement 2nd place? For those 3 points surely cannot be another stab at the title. As much as I hate being the pessimistic voice of reason, it’s an unavoidable role to assume. We can hope, we can talk, as Lehmann and Jack have done at length, but surely the chance has gone. The reality of this was widely accepted last week after a drab display against Blackburn and I´m afraid all that cannot be forgotten after one promising display. Yes this was very nice. Yes I would love to forever watch Eboue bang in left-footed pile drivers against relegation candidates, but the reality of it is the title has gone, will further slip out of our grasp in the following weeks and thus render this picturesque offensive display utterly futile. And I will tell you as to why.

Whilst Van Persie roamed about, scratching his bum and waiting for the perfect moment to score a goal, there unraveled a perfect display of haphazardness in our own penalty area. The delight that came from seeing the return of Jens ´Invincible´ Lehmann in goal and the ousting of that Spanish clown quickly evaporated. Firstly Laurent Koscielny could have, and should have, conceded two penalties after equally unnecessary tackles, though fortunately both appeals were incorrectly waved away by Lee Mason. Then Lehmann replicated his misdemeanor in Paris in the build up to Blackpool´s inevitable goal. Had he been sent off, arguably his deserved fate, I dread to think of the game´s outcome with no replacement ´keeper on the bench. Continued displays of defensive negligence continue to hamper our side and although Mason sided with us here, Blackpool scored the goal that everyone knew was coming. This in turn lead to a tense 20 minutes in which no one would have been shocked had the scores been tied, but which thankfully saw only one further goal, Van Persie´ late tap-in. The almost predictable bout of sloppiness in and round our own defensive third has become such a regular occurrence in our performances that it almost nullifies the enjoyment taken out of such attacking flair. With this still being inherent in our team, it is needless to say the title will continue to evade our clutches.

The aforementioned Abou Diaby was a further cause of conflicting emotions. His performance allowed another trip down memory lane in the way in which it replicated that midfield dominance of Patrick Vieira. Similar in stature and possessing a comparable languid style, the pair have consistently been associated but rarely likened. Yet the joy I got from at last watching Diaby live up to his potential and combine strength and skill with energy and desire was nonetheless tinted with a dull sense of ´what could have been´. Had the Frenchman shown this sort of willingness and infectious desire more often this season, perhaps we would be going into these last 7 games fully in control of our own destiny. Instead injuries and consistent drab performances have seen him dropped into the box of deadwood lying about London Colney. Hopefully on the back of this performance, and a promising final few weeks of the season, he can regain his place amongst the team’s core. For I´m sad to say, that may be one of the very few things to smile about come May 22nd.


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