Picture it : It's Wednesday October 30th's morning. The country is recovering from one of the worst storms in memory, and Arsene Wenger is settling down to watch a DVD of the night before's game, Arsenal v Chelsea in the League Cup, a game his team lost 0-2. Paying no attention to his opponents, he focuses on Arsenal, and, unlike the 8 preceding league games, where fluidity was the name of the game, he finds himself watching something else entirely. A series of staccato non sequiturs, punctuated by static and seemingly nonsensical images, flash pass "The Professor"'s eyes, and a chill runs through his spine.
The telephone rings... and he answers it, glad of the distraction from such disconcerting viewing. The line, is terrible, more static, and a voice drifts out of the receiver. "12 days..." it whispers, ephemeral, ethereal, with an accent which is both as recognisable as it is impossible. Like some grotesque amalgamation of Portuguese and Glaswegian, and with such an air of foreboding that Wenger himself barely notices that the line has gone dead, as the weight of what is to come descends upon him. Still holding the phone to his ear, he glaces back towards the television. A close up of a statuesque Bendtner dominates the screen along with the scoreline in the top corner. He turns it off, and sets about convincing himself that there is no need to panic. All is well. And yet, that niggling feeling persists. Another trophy has slipped away. And the schedule... look at the schedule. And that voice.. that voice...
The truth is, of course, that even were Arsenal to lose their upcoming games against Liverpool and Manchester United, and even their game against Dortmund, all would not be lost. They would still be above United, and assuming Manchester City won their corresponding fixtures, be on level terms with them. Two direct competitors for the final places come April/May. The Champions League is something of a quagmire, the group being competitive enough that, anyone could beat anyone, but you would still expect them to do what is required. After all, it's what Arsenal do, year in, year out.
However, this year is supposed to be different. New financial clout, a world class player coming into the club, rather than exiting. Arsene Wenger himself looking younger by the game, at least, up until now. But realistically, can he truly believe, unless he adds to the squad in January, that this team is of a class to take on the very best? Without Flamini in the side, Arsenal look an awful lot like the side who lost to Villa on the opening day of the season. Even the Crystal Palace game was a struggle. Can the same squad beat Barca, or Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich? A squad that, until the introduction of Giroud barely managed a shot on target against a second string Chelsea side who have much bigger fish to fry than a League Cup! If not, that leaves the league, and the FA Cup.
Football at times is as much about confidence as it is about ability. Lose to Liverpool, after losses to Chelsea and Dortmund, and what was rebuilt in the previous league games could be oh-so-easily destroyed. Belief is a fickle mistress, and needs very little encouragement to disappear in a puff of smoke. With probably the easiest chance of a trophy this season now gone, hope has to be found elsewhere. Old Trafford and western Germany seem unlikely to be accommodating hosts for Wenger's men in this respect.
The spectre of trophies past haunts the Emirates. If this is to be the season to lay those ghosts to rest, what happens in the 12 days from the Chelsea defeat could go a long way to exorcising those demons.