Michael Bertin writes regularly about soccer for Deadspin.
The two best pieces of advice I ever got both came from the father of one of my best friends back in hight school. First, no matter how fucked up you get the night before, never miss class; second always under-promise and over-deliver. It's not quite Teen Wolf quality stuff, but the guy married money and never worked a day in his life, so how he had any insight into how the world really worked I haven't a clue. Still, I sailed through college (a couple of times) just by showing up and since then have worked to keep the bar low so that I rarely disappoint. It hasn't made me a billionaire or anything, but I've also never suffered the threat of physical violence for lying about my capabilities. So that's maybe a push.
It's also what has made Arsenal's shitty form of late so strangely liberating. Entering yesterday's match-up at Stamford Bridge, the Gunners were 1-3-1 in their last five league matches and failed even to score in the last two. Some bad off-season player-personnel decisions, a couple of key injuries, and a mentally unstable captain apparently are all it takes for the wheels to come completely off. On the upside, I was so emotionally disinterested that when Johan Djourou knocked in an own goal to put Chelsea up 1-0 at the 30 minute mark, it didn't really bother me. I had already mentally penciled in another Arsenal loss, so there was no possible downside to the outcome. Diminished expectations rule.
Then in a five minute span Robin Van Pirsie scored twice—and, yes, that first one was a complete gift as no part of his body (or shadow) was even close to being onside—as Arsenal went up 2-1 and went from maybe stealing a point to walking out with all three. And it fucked everything because now a win is possible and I'm no longer blissfully detached. How people with a heart condition watch the last 10 minutes of a soccer match is beyond me. If we really want to control health costs in America, all we have to do is figure out how to make old people really care about soccer.
Anyway, Arsenal held on and looked surprisingly competent doing it. If I were an optimist, I'd think the club had a stellar November. They beat United and Chelsea and qualified for the knock out stages of the Champions League. Of course that's conveniently forgetting the bad losses to Stoke, Villa, and Citeh. The truth is Arsenal caught a break by playing Chelsea. Lesser teams that come out to beat up Arsenal, find that, with the exception of Samir Nasri, they are kind of a bunch of pussies. Teams that come out to play futból find themselves with some work to do. And Phil Scolari, to his credit, came out to play football. It led to a scintillating first 45, but it also eventually led to the two Arsenal scores.
The other truth is that the win doesn't legitimately put Arsenal back in the title race. If Liverpool win today, the Gunners are again 10 points back and already have two more losses than they did all of last season. And there's a good reason they won't challenge for the title: they are not that good, at least not relative to the title contenders of the recent past. Sometimes explanations really are that obvious.
Arsenal used to run out Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Now it's Adebayor and Robin Van Persie. Quality players, but not in the same league. Come on, Niklas Bendtner was Arsenal's late tactical sub Sunday. When your third best striker looks like a lesbian, you're not winning the Prem. I'm no metaphysician, but I'm pretty sure that's an immutable law of the universe. Now, I just have to convince myself that I really believe all of this so that I can have my lowered expectations back.