Kyle Naughton's latest party trick: Human hula hoop.
Today went almost as well as Arsenal could have hoped, with only one point gained by either of Arsenal's rivals for that third place spot. The table still looks good for Arsenal - one game left, and three points next Sunday will clinch third. Arsenal play West Brom, Newcastle play Everton, and Fulham come up to the wrong side of North London; if Arsenal draw, they can be overtaken for third by one of them, and if Arsenal lose, they don't deserve to be in the Champions League anyway.
I think after yesterday, we were all pretty angry, and rightfully so - qualification is right there in front of Arsenal, and they flat out refuse to grab it for some reason. It'd be like walking down the sidewalk, seeing a $50 bill lying there, and saying "ehhhh, no thanks" and walking on by as if you'd seen nothing.
I do need to say again, though, that I don't think missing the Champions League is as big a deal as people make it out to be. I know all the arguments - loss of revenue, trouble attracting great players, Liverpool, revoking membership in the Big Club Club - but I refuse to believe that Champions League qualification is the sine qua non of professional soccer.
Arsenal are rightly considered a "big club" - they have money, they get good players, they have a nice stadium, they have all the trappings. They will always be an attractive destination, no matter what. Closer to home, the Arizona Wildcats men's basketball team is a somewhat instructive example. They had a legendary coach who transformed them from a small-time team into one of the best teams in basketball in the 80's - they made the NCAA tournament 25 years in a row.
Lute left, and the predictable happened - 2009 was the last season of Arizona's tournament streak, as the last of Lute's recruits worked through the system. They missed the tournament in 2010, made it again in 2011, but this year they not only missed the tournament, they flamed out of the NIT, the Europa League of college basketball tournaments, in the first round. The NIT! C'mon!
Anyway, the reason for telling you all about college basketball on an Arsenal blog is this: Arizona, if you go by recent results, is no longer a "powerhouse" or a "big club" or whatever stupid meaningless descriptor you want to use. But, this year, Arizona put together what is considered to be one of the best recruiting classes in all of college basketball. Even without the NCAA Tournament streak (an effective guarantee of postseason play as there was) as a prize, Arizona was able to attract top-shelf talent, and will always be able to because of their reputation.
Arsenal are in the same boat. If they miss the CL next year, it's not the end of anything - it's not a nightmare, it's not a disaster, it's not even a major disappointment, considering how Arsenal have played for large stretches of this season. It's also not a problem for me as an Arsenal fan - I am a fan of Arsenal, not of the Champions League. If Arsenal are in it, that's wonderful - but if they aren't, that's also wonderful. I will still live and die with Saturdays (and Thursdays, and Tuesdays, and whenever else Sky decides they want to have games) and I will still get up after a 4.30AM kickoff and be nervous about looking at the result.
When I look at all the "big" teams that are currently having actual, serious problems (Hi Villans!), I can't really think that Arsenal missing the Champions League is that big of a deal. I know people are tired of hearing about how well-run Arsenal are, but I'm going to say it again - Arsenal are the most stable club outside Manchester United, and while they can't compete with Manchester City or Chelsea's resources, I can easily see a scenario where in a couple years Arsenal and Manchester United have changed places.
United can't spend any money any more, and they're starting to enter somewhat of a decline phase. You can't really see it yet because they're declining to be the best team in England from being one of the best teams in the universe a couple years ago, but United are not the all-conquering power they were in the last couple decades, and Arsenal could easily step up onto their porch and knock them off their fucking perch.
All is not lost. Things are still good. As of this morning, things are completely and totally in Arsenal's control - three points on Sunday and all the words I just wrote are moot. Go get 'em, boys.