Aggregate

My favorite soccer team won on Tuesday. It also lost.

There are no doubleheaders in The Beautiful Game, just the agony of mathematics. Arsenal beat AC Milan by three. It needed four just to make it worth their while.

It’s an odd quirk in a sport I’m quickly growing to love more and more. Trying to explain aggregate scoring in the knockout round of Champions League play to even a casual sports fan takes time. Fully explaining a worthless 3-0 win takes an eternity.

It’s been a weird season for the Gunners. Tuesday’s game was no different. Given no chance to score four — God forbid — five goals to stay alive, expectations were low. Then they halved the deficit 26 minutes in and scored a third before the break.

It wasn’t meant to be. If anything, the ‘almost’ makes it feel all the more frustrating. But so it goes in a campaign wrought with weird occurrences and even weirder emotions.

Arsenal’s season started with a thud. Then they sunk even deeper, all the way down the table and into oblivion. Two big stars — Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri — both left for new teams.

An 8-2 dismantling at rival Manchester United was the low point. Things looked pretty dire and there was talk of big changes at the club, including the removal of longtime manager Arsene Wenger.

Then things changed. The Gunners made a few moves before the transfer window closed and started to crawl back up the standings. Injuries healed and — despite still missing its brightest young star — Arsenal got better. They’re even back in the top four. A Premier League title isn’t in the cards this year, but a top four finish guarantees another crack at the Champions League next season.

Arsenal’s second-half turnaround is a sign of progress. Next year, things will be better. After all, it’s title or nothing in the EPL. No playoffs to hang your hat on across the pond.

The feelings surrounding Tuesday’s game don’t necessarily apply to the season as a whole. The arc is similar: lots of failure followed by success that doesn’t amount to much. Tuesday was especially cruel given the finality of it all.

The truth is that sometimes you just can’t win enough. Not enough for it to really matter, anyway.

In many ways, feelings from yesterday’s Arsenal game have spilled over into the last few weeks of watching the Sabres. Namely, can they win enough for it to really matter?

There is no aggregate scoring in hockey. Quite frankly, the standings are complicated enough. The aggregate in hockey is the same as any other sport: an attempt to outweigh the losses with wins. Do that better than enough teams and you have something worth playing for in April.

In our last podcast, Kate and I briefly debated whether making the playoffs is really all that important anymore.

We both concluded that it probably does not matter, especially considering how difficult that road will be and who the Sabres would end up playing. Maybe it won’t be worth the trouble at all.

Still, experiencing the emotions of a worthless, empty 3-0 Arsenal win is enough to make me reconsider. Progress is progress, the future is unwritten and pointless exercises of sport are no fun to be a part of.

Falling short may be inevitable. Perhaps it’s necessary to bring real change. Accepting that can come in time. For now, these games matter and there’s plenty of fight left to be had.

The Sabres did this to themselves. There’s no denying that. What’s getting easier to accept is that there’s a chance, and winning some big games would feel that much better if there’s a payoff at season’s end.