Well that was a bit more like it, wasn’t it now?
A 2-0 home win, safe passage into the knockout stages confirmed through an assertive performance, plus a bit of confidence restored in the players with whom we all looked at and wondered if they had the collective metal to get us out of this quagmire of poor form that we seemed to have waded in to.
I have to say that that I was less than confident before the game, as I ambled my way into the pub to meet a few fellow Gooners to chew the fat with. As I said yesterday, the home defeat to United hit me harder than I thought, so much so that I didn’t really come into the game expecting the team to give any kind of response o the debacle that was last weekend’s result.
I should have a wee bit more faith. Perhaps.
That game last night was exactly what we all needed to restore a bit of faith in the ability of the team to fulfil its potential. Don’t get me wrong; this was a Dortmund side shy of a few players, not needing anything (having qualified from the group already) from the game and languishing in 16th in the Bundesliga, but you could tell from the way they played that they were still up for taking a British scalp. But not yesterday. Yesterday they came up against an Arsenal side which was wounded from a harsh defeat at the weekend.
It didn’t take us long to assert or dominance and perhaps, having been scoffed at during the pre-match brewskis due to his inclusion in the starting 11, it was only fitting that Yaya Sanogo scored his first proper Arsenal goal within a minute or two of kick off. The ball from Santi was composed and the slide under that Weider-fella chap was as composed as any of us could hope for. Isn’t it nice that the monkey in the room that is Sanogo’s whole ‘no goals’ tag has been consigned to the farcical history from whence it came? If you’re an Arsenal fan then there’s no way you want to see any player toil, so to see him notch his first goal was pleasing for all of us to witness.
The rest of the game ticked along as if it was all part of the Arsenal show. Emilio Martinez was called into action with a good save from that bloke who sounds like he’s from the He-Man movie with Dolf Lungren – Mikataryian of Eternia or something – but that aside, we looked to be in control for most of that first half.
The second half was more of the same, accompanied by the now obligatory Alexis goal having been picked out from a good ball by Santi I believe (I’m starting this blog on the way home from the game so forgive me for the sketchy details) and finished with aplomb. The guy is an absolute beast and one only hopes that our form can pick up in the league; if only to prove justice to his overall play. Like in Football Manager, I am simply running out of superlatives. He scores, he dribbles, he chases, he hassles and harries. He is a joy to behold and is the stand out player this year by a country mile. Lord knows what we’d do if he picks up a knock, but at least he looks robust enough to take a tackle, hold on a second whilst I touch some wood.
There were still frustrations from yesterday though. But these frustrations seemed to be born from our own vexation with the players getting things right rather than wrong. For instance: full backs. Pre-game my compatriots and I had a lengthy conflab as to why we essentially play with four wingers. We recounted the halcyon days of the 90s well drilled defence and how they knew the score when it came to covering one another. The old ‘puppet’ description was given by one, who said that it really isn’t rocket science: one sits, whilst the other one pushes forward. It mitigates risk and ensures you have bodies back for when you are caught on the counter like we were for the second goal at the weekend. So why on earth can’t we do that every week? Who knows. More to the point, if lessons have been learned and we see that moving forward, who cares? If we see the same resolute defending away at West Brom at the weekend, I’ll be happy, as will your good self too I’d imagine.
Midfield also had a positive balance I thought. The Ox marked the occasion of his 100th Arsenal appearance with a very fine display and really was deserving of a goal with that lobbed volley on to the bar in the second half. There was a bit of a debate on Twitter that I was involved in that went on yesterday about where he should be playing and whether that is centrally or wide. I’m not sure we got to any kind of resolution, but one things for sure: The Ox is showing more frequent signs of good performances and with some of the injuries we’ve had this season you can see already how important he’s been for us. With the last thing we need being Walcott rushed back into action too early, it is a bit of a blessing that we have somebody like Alex who can give the manager enough leeway to make Theo’s return a gradual one.
Ramsey too, I thought, was better. He is still not the swashbuckling player that upped his game a few notches last season, but he did everything asked of him yesterday night, the simple things. He was always showing for the ball, his distribution was better and his all round game was sans flicks thankfully. He needs to put together a run of four or five games like that, then the confidence will come and we’ll see the player we’re all craving for.
The one sour note of the evening has come once again with the injury to Arteta, who Arsène admitted afterwards that it ‘doesn’t look good’ for the Spaniard. He has been a vital player for us when fit, but therein lies the issue and, if we’re all honest with each other, it’s only going to get worse as he gets older. We need to start thinking about an effective replacement, of which I don’t think many see Flamini as that, so Arsène needs to have his plans in place soon if we’re going to get something out of this season.
So that’s that as far as the Champions League is concerned. Sure, there’s another game, but I really don’t expect to see Anderlecht pick up anything away to Dortmund in a couple of weeks time, so I hope Arsène throws the game in Turkey and focuses all of his attention on our league form. We simply have to start putting together a run of victories. No more draws. No more defeats. The league is well and truly beyond us now, but all of the teams fighting for Champions League spots aren’t, so Arsène needs to get his eyes on the prize of third and go for it.
Happy Thursday unto thee I say.