LAURA WOODS: Defeat to Man City would be heartbreaking but it’s not the end for Arsenal
My whole family are Arsenal, so like most fans there was no choice on the team you supported growing up.
Well, my dad’s side is Newcastle, but my mum’s side is Arsenal. My granddad used to live next door to Highbury, so that’s where that connection comes from – north Londoners. We grew up in a wonderful era to be Arsenal fans.
Players like Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, David Seaman, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg – they’re people I get to work with now, so it is incredible.
To be a football fan in the line of work that I’m in is a privilege in itself, but it’s amazing being an Arsenal fan at work.
It’s the most privileged position to sit in the radio studio the morning after a weekend and be like, ‘God, I’ve got nothing to worry about. This is unbelievable!’
I feel great. I feel so positive. And I think a lot of that is forgotten along the journey. I think if you judge your season by what people are saying on social media, you are in the wrong immediately. You have to judge on the way you feel it yourself. And for me, it’s just been wonderful.
Now, though, the nerves are setting in.
They really started after the West Ham game. There were little cracks in the armour because the most impressive thing this season is the confidence of that young team.
They have the ability to go through teams like a knife through butter, play the most wonderful football and not look like anything was phasing them.
I know I speak for myself, all the Arsenal fans in my family and the people I speak to on social media that it has just been an amazing ride. It’s been amazing. We get criticised a lot this season for being cocky, being this or being that.
But I think that’s a real misunderstanding of what Arsenal fans are experiencing at the moment. Don’t get me wrong, go on social media and you’ll get the worst of all fan bases, right? But if you really speak to Arsenal fans in the pub and find out how they’re feeling, this has just been the most joyous time for a really long time to be a Gooner.
I’ve never felt the Emirates like this in my life. It’s been such a magical place to go to.
I know what people are saying. But I don’t think this is the only window to win the Premier League. No, I think this is the next generation of Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta and Edu have had a plan right from the very beginning, and I think they had a lot to do.
There was a lot of deadwood, there were a lot of bad signings from the Wenger era, the Emery era – players on a lot of money, bad eggs who needed to get out and move on.
But the core of this team with Odegaard, Saka, Saliba is, I think, a proper team.
They’re young, too and that’s been a stick to beat them with this season and perhaps that’s where the inexperience will come in at this stage of the season. Let’s face it, they’re in uncharted territory.
But it’s also a real positive for next season because those youngsters, if they don’t win it, there’s plenty of hope.
Look at Liverpool for example, reaching the Champions League final, losing it then winning it the next year and doing the same with the Premier League.
I think there’s a lot to be learned in a loss, it will be heartbreaking for everybody. But if I sit here as the optimist I am, I look at next season and I don’t think they fall away. I think they learn from it and I think they get stronger.
For example, the season before last we wouldn’t have even hoped to be linked with Declan Rice and now we are potentially frontrunners.
I don’t know what’s going to happen there, but the fact we might get one of the best young midfielders in the country, who might even be a future England captain, at Arsenal. That’s just, wow. Imagine having that.
Mikel’s done the most amazing job and it’s not difficult to see how inspiring he is. When I spent time with him recently asking him questions and finding out his plan for that club, it was fascinating.
You forget how many ex-Arsenal players are involved behind the scenes. Obviously Mikel, Edu, Per Mertesacker are there, while Jack Wilshere has taken the team into the FA Cup Youth Final.
There is so much of the old Arsenal DNA in that club, and I think everybody is benefiting.
Yes, there has been mistakes, and I think now they’re getting them right. But there was a lot of criticism for their movements in the last couple of windows.
We looked at Odegaard and thought maybe that was an expensive signing. There were some question marks over whether or not Aaron Ramsdale was the right signing as goalkeeper. Look at them now.
I think you have to trust they have a vision, that it doesn’t always work straight away and everybody has to settle into their new roles.
It’s not just players, it’s people behind the scenes. But there’s a lot of trust in the way it’s been worked out now and a realisation it takes time.
But as for the City game? We can’t take a draw.
I think the minute we say ‘we’ll take a draw’ that’s it, you might as well say game over.
You have to go there and try and win. We have a terrible record there, but perhaps playing as the underdogs might be a little bit of an advantage to us.
If we fall away the way that we’re doing now and don’t win it, I will be absolutely gutted. I’ll be devastated, because this was an amazing opportunity.
But I don’t think it’s the end of Arsenal. I think this is just the beginning.
Manchester City vs Arsenal is live on talkSPORT at 8pm on Wednesday, April 25
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