So often of late for Arsenal, even with the good there is bad. So often for the club's success-starved fans, even in relief there lies angst.
So it was again in this latest of heart-stopping dramas, a 2-2 draw away to Swansea City on Sunday in the third round of the FA Cup. And so, after another conflicted and uneven performance, this is what Arsenal’s topsy-turvy season has become:
A footballing proverb.
In the fightback, there was also surrender. In staying alive, there was yet more weariness. Along with the bad, there was good. And in relief, there now remains angst.
The good was, as usual, quite so. Arsenal fought back with two goals in two second-half minutes, quickly turning a distressingly depressing 1-0 deficit into a promising position of power.
Lukas Podolski leveled the score with a finely taken turn and shot set up by Laurent Koscienly's better turn and pass after Swansea failed to clear a corner. Then Kieran Gibbs blasted the Gunners in front with a stunning volley set up by Olivier Giroud's classy chip.
It was Arsenal at their artful best, a squad purring with expression and offensive intent. And it didn't last long, of course.
Four minutes after Gibbs' volley had promised cathartic release, the defense lost track of big man Danny Graham on a corner and allowed the Swansea striker all the time he wanted in the six-yard box. Graham's top-corner finish and Swansea's equalizer came predictably—almost as inevitably as Michu's quick-return opener in the 58th minute, only moments after being introduced as a sub.
This was, after all, the same team that had won deservedly at the Emirates only weeks ago. And Michu was, after all, the man most responsible for the 2-0 scoreline that December day.
Quite how Arsenal's defense lost track of Michu for Swansea's opener on this day is anyone's guess. Nor is it easy to understand why Graham was given what felt like minutes to control, position himself and shoot—all without the slightest bit of pressure—inside the Arsenal box.
But while both were hard to understand, neither will have surprised. For all this season's hopeful moments—from the fightback against Reading to the Newcastle rout to the first match against Southampton—there has always been an inverse.
This time, action and reaction merely happened in the same match.
"We should have won this game," said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (via Arsenal.com). "We have shown quality and heart, and it’s quite good if we can repeat that."
And yet, along with the quality and heart, along with the fightback and turnaround, there was the later capitulation and poor defending. Along with momentary release and ecstasy, there was gnawing emptiness.
Along with the flair-filled finishes of Podolski and Gibbs, there were appalling misses from Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud. And with the thrill of staying in the hunt for silverware, there was the realization that Arsenal now must face a replay, another match in an already-crowded fixture list, against an obviously ominous opponent.
"I am frustrated because I wouldn’t want [a replay]," said Wenger (via Arsenal.com). "But if that’s the choice between going out or staying in the hat, I take the replay."
But to think, Michu might actually start the next one. The noted Arsenal-killer needed just over a minute on the pitch to pick apart a fragile back line. With 90 minutes against his favorite personal punching bag, it's anyone's guess what the Spaniard might accomplish.
Michu was once again irrepressible, but Arsenal's shambolic defending again underlined the need for new signings this month. For that matter, so did the second half's bevy of missed chances and the first half's incoherent attack.
Under Arsene Wenger, Arsenal have never been beaten in the FA Cup's third round. To keep that streak alive—and to maintain their best hope for silverware this season—Arsenal must survive another round in the ring with Michu and Swansea.
In fighting to a draw in the first bout, Arsenal displayed both the best and worst they have to offer this season.