Friday, August 16, 2013

Broken Promises and Other Things

A lot has been written on this year’s summer, and even more has been said. Right from the end of last season, we have heard endlessly about all the money we now had to spend, and how we could compete with Bayern Munich for players in terms of finances. As Arsenal fans, we are no strangers to being promised something, only for things to work out in a different way (Both Cesc and Nasri would NOT be sold, remember?). However, there seemed a confidence in Gazidis’ comments when he said the Club would be very ambitious – it wasn’t just empty words. According to some, it was designed to put pressure on our manager; according to other it was a signal that Arsenal were back in the big leagues.
What remained beyond doubt, however, was the fact that the money was there. This was further proven by the brilliant SwissRamble in his fantastically detailed blog. We are swimming in cash. Okay, maybe all of it isn’t available at any one point for various reasons, but nevertheless we could quite easily afford a Wayne Rooney at £200k a week and £30m pounds. In fact, as Ivan was keen to point out, we could do more, much more.
But have we? No. Our only addition has been Yaya Sanogo – no doubt he will be our next Thierry Henry and Ian Wright all rolled into one, but what about this season? We certainly have been “active”, that is for sure. 22 players have been released by the Club in an effort to streamline the squad, and make no mistake, that is admirable. Such a cull has rarely been seen in any season at Arsenal, let alone in the Arsene Wenger era. Surely, though, such a cull is only a good idea if we plan on recruiting a massive number of squad players to replace the sheer quantity we have lost. A 20-year old striker, and a couple of 16 year old kids, however talented, simply aren’t enough.
Yaya Sanogo has been the only player added to the first team.

At this point, in our first team, we have 24 players. Now realistically, we can leave out Nicklas Bendtner (I hope) and Chu Young Park as players who are either up for a quick-fire sale as in the former case, or simply missing, as in the latter case. So that leaves 22 players to field a starting 11 from. Already, that is not enough. Now these 22 players are players who absolutely want to be at the Club, and whom I have grown to love and cheer for, whatever their faults. But let us, for a second, forget all that and try and be objective.
Of these 22, Frimpong, Miyaichi, and Sanogo cannot really be expected to start a game because they have neither the experience, nor, at this point, the quality. There are questions about their fitness too – speaking of which, we can safely leave Abou Diaby out of our calculations. He is such an immense talent, absolutely brilliant to watch on his day, but his injury record is dire. It is one of football’s tragedies, but he just cannot manage more than 2 days without rupturing a ligament or tearing a muscle. With those 4 players excluded, we are left with 18 first team players. As far as I remember, no Club has won anything of note with 18 first team players in recent history.
The lack of a proper transfer strategy is appalling. It seemed impossible at the end of last season that we would have a squad that is worse than last season, and yet that is the direction in which we are headed. I’ll illustrate with an example - Chamakh wasn’t good enough to play for the Arsenal. That much we all agree on. However, with him gone, who is our striker if Giroud gets injured? Chuba Akpom? Chuba is another great talent, but he is one for the future. Chamakh, even if you hate him, is better than Akpom at this point. United have four strikers right now of varying quality - Van Persie, Rooney, Hernandez and Welbeck. We have one - Giroud, not including Walcott and Podolski who don't really work there. 
We have lost the deadwood, but we have failed to replace that deadwood with some fresh blood, leaving only empty spaces behind. Well, empty spaces and a fat cash balance with a total of about £20m a year off our wage bill.
Arsene Wenger is a man whom I admire and love and respect. Yet no gooner, in his right mind, can absolve him of all responsibility in our transfer dealings. The 2011 summer was an absolute wreck, and was only salvaged by a stupendous last minute panic-stricken rush to buy players. And we all know how that worked out! That summer, we failed to replace the quality we had lost. We then built a team around that man Robin van Persie. Well, it turned out he is a massive cunt, so he leaves the following summer, where we finally have some good players in. However, the departure of our star man leaves us with no quality striker, and a system that needed changing once more. Again, no adequate replacement was brought in. We certainly had the funds to do so, but we didn’t. The summer of 2012 also left us worse off. Another failure. I am not claiming, for a second, that the sole responsibility of the last two summers rests on Arsene Wenger – that would be naïve and way too simple. It rests on the Club hierarchy, starting from an aging board that remains out of touch with the football environment, to a CEO that appears to be a little powerless and seemingly a bit incompetent, to an owner who cannot possibly care less about the Club and in all probability cannot explain the offside rule if his son's life depended on it, and finally to a manager who insists on going by his principles to prove a point which perhaps is best left unproven.
(That said, I think Arsene Wenger is a fantastic, fantastic manager. His consistency is remarkable, and I believe at times that he is one of the few sane people in a footballing world that has slightly lost it. However, I do believe he has his faults, and the Club bosses must try their best to balance his faults whenever possible).
Stan Kroenke - at a loss to explain the offside rule.

The summer of 2013, too, appears to be hopelessly unplanned. Say we do get in the “two or three players” that Arsene wants. Is that enough? That would mean we have about 21 players for the season, or at least until January. It means we can’t field two whole teams with first team players. It means that we do not have two reasonable quality players for every position. It is not enough. I won't get into specific cases - I have neither the confidence of the ITK, nor the inclination, at this point, to suggest players the Club should buy.
But here is what really hurts – the feeling that we are not doing all we can to achieve what we want to achieve. Let’s say, by some miracle, we find ourselves in the title race, only to end up losing in the end. On one level, that is all I want. I don’t want us to specifically win this year, or that. I want us to be in the mix, as Arsenal should be. I want us in there with a realistic chance of winning trophies. If that happens, then sooner or later the trophies will flow. I am certainly not satisfied competing for fourth place, given the resources we have. That last clause is the reason why it wouldn’t be acceptable, this season, to be in the title race and then not win the title, however unlikely that scenario is at this moment. I hate, absolutely hate, what-if scenarios. What if we had 3 more players to support this squad – maybe we could have gone on to win this title. And the fact is, here and now, we do have the money to get those 3 players that will erase the what-if scenario of the future, whether it be for the title, or for a top-4 place. If I honestly feel that the Club has given it absolutely everything it has to challenge for the Premier League title, I wouldn’t mind losing it that much, but it hurts really bad when we are told we’ll do everything to compete, and then don’t.  
Well, there’s still a little over two weeks to go, and we can salvage a lot even at this point. A few marquee signings would not only boost the squad with quality, they would also lift the supporters. And I do believe we will do it, boy I sure hope so! I just wish it had been sooner. 
A new season beckons. Are we ready?

Today, of course, we start the season against Aston Villa, at home. There is nothing that is more exciting than the whiff of the first game, the excitement of the first kick of the match, and the butterflies in the stomach until the first goal of the season is scored. The players who are at the Club, who will start the game today, are all top class in their own right. I can’t wait to get behind the team and fidget in nervous excitement this evening. So here’s to three points, and as always, UP THE ARSENAL!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

It's Right There

This is the perfect time for Arsenal to blow it, isn't it? It's right there. Despite just three points out of a possible twelve, we are somehow still the masters of our own destiny. And yet, and yet...
Our record in cup finals over the last few years has been poor. Last year's Carling Cup debacle has done little to falsify the claim that Arsenal lack "bottle". We have our midfield maestro, Arteta, sitting on the sidelines, watching us make defensive error after error, with his hair still startlingly perfect. We can't win without him - it's as simple as that, really! His composed passing is what we always hoped for from Denilson. He gives Song the license to venture forward so Alexandre can take all the time he wants to complain to the referee while he silently covers.
Our defense has been found lacking in the last couple of weeks, and not surprisingly, it has come right when Thomas the Verminator is struggling to put a foot right. The old Vermaelen (the Vermaelen of old?) and of course, Arteta, have been missed. And with Sagna injured, Walcott will have little support on the right hand side. What's that? Coquelin, you say? Well, he's good, but he's not nearly as brilliant as Bacman.
Wow. I really don't give us a chance, do I?
I confess - I am nervous about Sunday. I wish I could be sure that we will win, that everything will be alright with the world. But with this team, you never really know what to expect! Sometimes they are magnificent, playing like their lives depend on winning the game, and then other times we are just not interested (as I write this, I realize that this is a point I've made multiple times before. So, it's obviously very true)! It is impossible to predict which side will decide to show up.
On paper, we have a lethal attack. Gervinho was (apparently) great in the Norwich game, and Walcott's return will give us that added sting going forward. Perhaps van Persie won't be as isolated as he has been recently. Rosicky is playing like he's in his prime (he is just 29 because of all the injuries, remember?), which is obviously great. I won't even attempt to put in a line on what Robin adds to our team.
Alexandre "Songinho" Song. He is a bit of an enigma, is he not? Some of his passes are magnificent, magical, exquisite. They remind me of this guy called Cesc Fabregas. But in his quest for the "killer" pass, he often forgets that his primary role is still to guard the back four. That worked okay when we had Arteta, but without him, well...
Ramsey does not quite have the same positioning intelligence. His natural instinct is to move forward as well, and he does not quite have the maturity to take over the Arteta role. He is also having a nightmare second half of the season. Ramsey has talent. That much is undoubted, I feel. He just needs to get this season done with, relax over the break, and come back and see what he can do next season. There have been cries to send him out on loan, but I don't think that's a real possibility. He has learnt to play and doesn't need match experience. He is going through some very difficult times, as Wenger himself said, and needs a break.
For that reason, I sincerely hope he doesn't start tomorrow. There were whispers that the Ox that is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain might start in midfield on Sunday. That is very positive news, but it means that Song will have to curtail his forward runs. The Ox will give us a push in midfield, and his pace will certainly unsettle the WBA defense.
Speaking of West Brom, they're going to be missing a few players themselves. Odemwingie is a "doubt", although not a very serious one I gather. Him missing out will boost our chances - his pace has troubled us in the past, and I wouldn't be surprised if he did that again tomorrow. Jerome Thomas is a doubt as well, and so is Chris Brunt - their captain. It seems like West Brom are a little light in terms of attacking options.
It is their defense, though, that is worth applauding. Like any Roy (or is it Woy?) Hodgson side, they are a well organized unit at the back and will be hard to break down, especially at the Hawthorns. They have won four and drawn one of their last six at home, keeping three straight clean-sheets in the process. That is pretty respectable, to say the least.
On the balance, though, we should have enough arsenal to overcome the Baggies.
The importance of this match cannot possibly be stressed enough. This match is not only worth the 25 million pounds that come with Champion's League qualification, but is also key in keeping hold of our captain. Rest assured, it will be goodbye Robin if we don't finish top 3. We have to assume Chelsea will win the final in Munich, no matter how much pain that thought brings.
But I think the players know this. Add to that, this will be Pat Rice's last match with us, and everyone wants him to sign off in stye. There can be no excuses on Sunday. The referee doesn't give us a penalty, fine. They have ten men behind the ball, fine. They have a pathetic pitch, fine. We just need to go there and play our football, and have the will to win.
Losing is simply not an option, and the consequences of that are too excruciating to get into. The club is attempting to rebuild itself in terms of personnel - both on and off the field. But it all starts with this one match - it's a classic everything-or-nothing situation.
I look back at the beginning of the season, and it fills me with hope. Amidst all the drama, and all the negativity, we still managed to pull off that two-legged win against a good Udinese side. Sure, Szczesny had to save a penalty to keep us in it, but we did it. We found that will to win. And I'm confident that we can do so again.
It's the perfect time for Arsenal to show what they're are made of. It's right there. Let's grab that third spot!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Final Push

So here we are. Four games to go, and everything still up in the air. Our noisy neighbors languish in fourth, while we sit nervously in third, and Chelsea have somehow pulled off a win against Barcelona. I have never quite been part of such a close season, never mind the roller coaster ride that has brought us to this point.
When last season was reaching its conclusion, there was huge disappointment, but also relief that it was finally coming to an end. Summer would bring about changes. It did. Obviously, not very good ones. However, the way the team has grown together is something that has been pleasant to watch, and in the last two months or so, we went on a run that saw us convert a 10 point deficit into a 5 point lead over Spurs. We seemed unbeatable, and even showed the Oil Sheikhs that money, indeed, cannot buy you class. However, a direct consequence of reaching such dizzy heights is that the success often gets to your head. That is exactly what happened against Wigan.
The Emirates has become something of a fortress in the second half of the season, and to be outplayed by a team fighting for relegation really isn't something we can dismiss as a "blip". To use a (very) old expression, there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the lip, and since top four is our trophy, we cannot take any opponent for granted.
We have tough games ahead, starting tomorrow - Chelsea at home, followed by Stoke away. These are obviously key games in the scramble for third/fourth. Win these two, and I think we're home. Lose, and this could be exactly like the end of last season, merely condensed into four weeks.
The Chelsea game, as I see it, is a must win. And there should be no reason why we can't. Chelsea fought like their lives depended on it when Barcelona came to visit on Wednesday. Credit to them, they came away with a win. The good thing for us is that they were knackered, chasing Catalonian shadows for much of the game. Roberto Di Matteo has said that he will rest a few players on Saturday. On top of that, David Luiz is injured and Ivanovic is suspended.
Chelsea now believe that they can protect their first leg lead at the Camp Nou, and so maybe, just maybe, they won't attach as much importance to the game as we do. We need our key players to perform, and I hope to God that van Persie overcomes his minor goal-drought. One goal in five games is definitely poor, especially when you consider that that one goal was a penalty. Of course, this is not to criticize Robin, for he is quite clearly the player of the season, and I can wax lyrical about his importance for hours. My point is, he needs to step up.
Theo Walcott is another big game player who needs to produce on Saturday. He is someone who relishes big occasions, and is at his best when he has something to prove. His battle against Cashley Cole will be key not only to our attacks, but also in keeping Juan Mata quiet (if he starts).
A player who will be missed more than anyone else, though, is Mikel Arteta. He has come to define consistency for us this season, and has been exceptional. He adds a certain composure to the midfield that was missing last season. Well, as the footballing Gods would have it, he's out for the rest of the season. He's been the ideal partner for Song in the double pivot in midfield. He allowed Song his forays forward and covered brilliantly. If that was not enough, he produces the occasional screamer, like the winner against City. Much like his hair, his possession stats are as close to perfect as you can possibly get. He's attempted over 2000 passes this season, with a success rate of over 90%!
His absence, then, certainly leaves us with a bit of a crisis in midfield. Personally I doubt that the boss likes Benayoun to play in the center. Song and Rosicky are certain to start, but what of the missing third player? Ramsey has come under immense criticism for his lackluster performances in the last couple of months. He has been abused both on the pitch and off it, and obviously that cannot be good for his confidence. However, I feel he has a lot of talent, and that will never go away. He's only 21, and has gone through a lot in the last year or so. If coming back from a horrific leg break wasn't enough, he lost his national team coach and has had to deal with the pressures of captaining his country. Not very easy, all that. And even then, he never shirks responsibility in a match, always asking for the ball when he thinks he can contribute. Perhaps he's trying too hard. He needs to relax on the pitch, and let the game flow naturally. I expect him to start on Saturday.
The other question mark is on the left wing. Who starts? Gervinho, Chambo, or Yossi? This is a tough one. Gervinho, for some reason (maybe fitness? confidence?) hasn't started for a while now. The Ox hasn't started in a while too, for whatever reason. The only player who has started with some regularity is Yossi Benayoun. He has developed a good understanding with Rosicky, and they offer a dynamism in attack that we don't have with Gervinho. Gervinho is a direct player - an out and out winger. Yossi constantly cuts inside and switches positions with Rosicky, giving variation to our play down the middle. However, he is ineligible to play against his parent club. So, given how cautious Arsene is being with AOC, Gervinho seems to be the one who'll start on the left wing.
At the back, we certainly welcome back Laurent Koscielny from a two match suspension, and how we need him! He adds so much to our defense, and has been one of the stand out players for us. One of the best defenders in the Premier League this season, maybe even Europe, we need him to keep Torres quiet.
Whatever the team, we will have to come out all guns blazing. We cannot afford a weak start, and certainly not an early goal (an early Chelsea goal, that is). If there's one thing Chelsea can do, it is to defend. This will definitely not be an open game like the one at Stamford Bridge was. Chelsea were a different creature under Villas-Boas, but have reverted to their old, boring, defensive, effective selves under Di Matteo.
The crowd has a major part to play, and it seems the Emirates has finally found a voice this season. Adversity brings out the best in us, doesn't it! It's been a crazy season, and as it heads into its final stage, we need to be behind the team one hundred percent.
No matter what, it'll certainly be an interesting match, but a lot depends on which Arsenal side decides to grace the Emirates pitch - the complacent, defensively frail one that lost to Wigan and QPR, or the determined, resolute, creative one that won against City?
Here's hoping that it is the latter, and here's to three points!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Little Bump

As Mike Dean blew his whistle after fervently checking his watch again and again to make sure we didn’t have a second over the allotted four minutes, there was a sense of disappointment. 1-1 against a Fulham side who have really not proven themselves to be anything more than a low-mid table club this season, no offence, is not something anyone was expecting given the kind of run we’re on. There were some whispers of a drubbing too.
Well, this game was anything but. From the start, we looked sluggish, never quite running after the ball or showing that extra bit of energy to win it back. Of course, this was a direct consequence of the match on Wednesday against Dortmund, where we produced a brilliant performance to beat the in form German champions. The players were understandably tired, and only two from the eleven that played midweek were rested – Koscielny and Gervinho. I didn’t really mind that, since rotating too much would disrupt the rhythm of the team. But then, this is what you get if you have a solid, first choice starting eleven. You can’t expect them to play two matches in a week at full strength. That is where one notices the importance of having a deep squad, and rotating the team well enough.
To be honest, we don’t have the quality to do that often. One never knows what kind of mood Arshavin is in (we took that gamble today, and it failed. He was terrible), we have players who are good, but lack that extra bit of spark that has always differentiated the average footballer from an Arsenal player. I’m not naming names, but do we have a set of team who can do the job at Norwich away, and another set who can beat the German champions three days later? No.
And maybe we can’t have two complete sets with the disparity in the kind of money available to City or United and to us. But we can certainly afford to bring in quality reinforcements – ammunition we will need when we lose Le Forehead and Chamakh in January. What happens if we lose Song or van Persie to injury? There are things that I probably shouldn’t ask, but nevertheless someone needs to. Backup for Song is Frompong or Coquelin, and for van Persie is Chamakh or Park. The more experienced Chamakh will be gone in January for everybody’s favorite tournament – the ACN.
Now that I’m on a roll, let me finish my criticism. I assure you I have enough positives to make up! We had the worst start we’ve had in 50 odd years, and there was no reason for us to have that kind of start. I say that because the start is obviously linked to the summer, and we had the worst summer in some time, when it could so easily have been different.
We dragged ourselves down to such a point that we needed an incredible run to get back on track, and we set about doing just that. This unbeaten run, which now extends to 10 games, has been great, but it shouldn’t have been necessary.
Going into this game, we had some serious momentum with us. The key was to continue moving forward – keeping up with all the other teams fighting for those 3rd and 4th spots.
Being physically drained out didn’t help – there were a couple of sloppy passes that weren’t sharp enough, and we had to grow into the game. Santos was the pick of the players for me – he has learnt to curtail his forward runs, and is defensively a lot more available now than he was in previous games. I noticed this last game too, where he was still caught forward sometimes, but improved on his defensive duties. Good to see him doing that after receiving so much criticism for not tracking back.
Fulham were trying to slow the game down, and were successful – our best attacks came after winning the ball in deep midfield and playing quickly down the flanks. Walcott was particularly impressive, and he continues his hot streak. Arshavin, on the other hand, was shocking. He wasn’t very interested in the game, and his work rate remains abysmal. He had had ample rest before the game, and should really have been up for it. Instead, he fell in with his teammates and looked as though he had just finished playing a full 90 minutes yesterday. Poor. One wonders how long Wenger will keep him in the squad – a January exit does seem likely at this point, although with Gervinho gone we will need him to perform in that time.
We looked comfortable in possession, but the lack of pace killed us. We couldn’t speed the game up, and were closed down well by a very organized Fulham side. The goal seemed against the run of play, but it was that kind of game. Schwarzer was playing a blinder, and Thomas Vermaelen, while trying to hack the ball clear, only succeeded in rolling it past the diving Szczesny.
This woke te players up a little bit and we started to attack with more intent. The boss made very offensive changes, and ones that tactically made sense to me. Fulham weren’t going to attack a lot, and when they did it would be on the break. So the slow Mertesacker was replaced with Diaby, and Arshavin made way for Chamakh, while Gervinho came in for Ramsey. We shifted to something of a 4-4-2.
The changes worked, and we were pushing hard for the equalizer, with Gervinho being the chief architect of a many a dangerous move. We got our goal, and deservedly so. It came from a Walcott ball that was nodded past Scwarzer by none other than Thomas Vermaelen. We had eight minutes to win it, and the players knew how important it was to do so.
We built attack after attack and there was no doubting the commitment. However, this was how it should have been from the start, not just in the last ten minutes. There was too little time for another goal, and Mike Dean was almost too keen to blow the final whistle.
A word on the referee – it was a horrible game from him. Some of the calls were unbelievable. Tackles that should’ve been called for a foul, and fouls that were great tackles. On top of that, he wanted complete control on the pitch – anyone who appealed to him in the slightest got a warning, or in some cases a yellow card. No surprise, then, that we haven’t won any of the last ten games he has refereed in.
While previous Arsenal sides might have come out and won by maybe two or even three goals, that is just not how this side works. As Wenger put it, this side is less cavalier than the others. We are a solid team who play good football, but nothing too fancy. I have nothing against that.
We need some solidity, and we have that now. It is not too long ago when I would be sitting in my chair, my heart exploding as we struggle to hold on to a 2-0 lead with 10 minutes to go. Now I feel much more confident – in fact I believed that one goal was all we needed today to win, until of course they scored and we needed two!
This Arsenal side has something of a calmness and composure that the sides of the last few seasons did not. Even when we were a goal down, we did not stop believing – we had the belief to keep creating chances and did not panic. I think that is something that Arteta has been instrumental in bringing, along with the return of Vermaelen and the brilliance of Szczesny. We are also a lot more direct, and the over reliance on wing play that was so visible at the start of this season has been toned down.
This point could, maybe should have been three. But it is easy to see the team last season going a goal down and giving up. And I feel we should get used to these “narrow” victories that really flatter the opposition and don’t do justice to the domination we enjoy.
I’m fine with that as long as we keep on winning. It might not be as exciting, but it is certainly more mature. What do I think this side needs? I feel we need an exciting midfielder, and a talented forward to support van Persie. Mario Gotze and Alexandre Pato. Time to stop dreaming, isn’t it?
Anyway, what was important today was to keep the momentum going – we didn’t quite do that, but at least we didn’t completely stop. Now after the little business of the Carling Cup on Tuesday against City, where I expect the boss to let the reserves have a go at it, we resume our campaign for the Champions League places.
Up the Arsenal!

Sunday, October 30, 2011


It all started with a dream I suppose. Well, not exactly. To paint the entire picture, we must go back to Thursday night. That night, the night leading up to Friday, I did not sleep. One of the many side effects of procrastination is that one often ends up with an intimidating workload to be completed in a very short period of time – but I managed. I was in the groove and by the time the sun was rising, I was done with everything.
After I was finished with classes, my assignments all duly handed in by mid afternoon, I had two options – either to go to sleep, or stay awake. I decided to stick it up and finally sleep only at night so I could wake up in time for the match. For the record, I’m studying in the US, and since this was an early afternoon kick off, for me it meant waking up at 6.45 AM on a Saturday morning.
I was determined to make it, and somehow I managed to stay awake through the day. Then, I don’t know what happened. Somehow I just couldn’t go to sleep. It was terrible. Maybe there is a point before which you must go to sleep, and once you’re past it there is no hope for you. So it was that I went to sleep, like a typical college boy, at 3 AM.
And that was when I had the dream. The only thing I remember was Drogba scoring a few goals for Chelsea and continuing to haunt all Arsenal supporters. It was terrible. For some weird reason, my alarm went off right at the whistle and we had lost. When I took stock of where I was and the fact that the match hadn’t begun at all, I felt slightly relieved. Then came the realization that the Drog was not going to play, and I was even more relieved.
In this state of semi consciousness, I gathered enough strength to reach for my phone and see what was going on. I vaguely recall reading something that implied that Szczesny was making his customary miracle saves, and that our defense was all over the place. So for the next 45 minutes or so, I kept drifting in and out, periodically waking up from some terrible nightmare where we lost 4-3, 3-2, scraped by 2-2, and won 2-1, in what order I can’t remember.
I finally woke up as Walcott scored, courtesy of my recently recruited Gooner roommate. It was a beauty. The way he got himself up and weaved through two defenders, while leaving Cashley in his wake was magnificent. I haven’t quite been his biggest supporter, but if he continues to put them away like that, I’m fine with it.
Judging by the comments on Twitter and the commentary, I gathered that the defense on both sides had been dismal and the attack, ridiculous. I can’t recall when Chelsea had last been 3-2 down with half an hour to go.
Like most people, I could see that this was not over. We were defending with heart, although technically we seemed pretty poor at the back. At the time, however, all I cared about was Chelsea not getting another goal. Somewhere around the 75th minute I was involuntarily shivering, and no, it was not due to the cold (at least not entirely).
Let me make this clear. I was expecting nothing from this game. I was mentally prepared for us going down at the Bridge, but now that we were leading, the finish line almost visible on the horizon, I had genuine hope of winning it. Typical Arsenal, isn’t it? At that moment, I would have liked nothing more than for someone to turn the TV off, but I sat glued to it. There is something about football that turns us into obsessive people – where we have no control over ourselves. I was screaming at every decision given against us (the ref was as poor as some of the defending), and praying for another goal to make it a two goal lead.
It was only when I was assured of the result and watched and re-watched the highlights that I appreciated the technical details of our play – the swift, slick passing, playing almost on the counter, exploiting Chelsea’s high line, etc etc (much like we did against Barcelona at home). All that didn’t matter then. To be honest, little else in life mattered at that point, apart from eleven players winning a football match. The comforting thought was that I was not alone at all in bordering on the unstable when Arsenal played. There were thousands of people who cared as much, if not more. Somehow that gives it all a special meaning, as though it matters, as though an Arsenal win would make the world a better place.
The goal did come, but it was Chelsea who scored. Of course. And it was Juan Mata who had hit a screamer right into the top left corner. I had my head in my hands, saying to anyone who would listen (and I have a feeling even our neighbours did) that we had bottled it.
Five minutes later though, an incredible tumble from John Terry let van Persie through, who was never going to miss given the kind of form he is in. He Cech-mated the goalkeeper (not the best play on words, I know), and slid the ball into an empty net.
Chelsea were now committing everyone to attack. I had my heart in my mouth when the ball fell almost perfectly for Juan Mata to volley in twice, once with nobody in goal. Two excellent blocks ensured that we survived. Koscielny, who is fast developing into a great defender, was having a brilliant game once more.
Deep into injury time, we scored again while on the counter attack, and throughout the move I was screaming at the team to slow the game down and play keep ball. But when van Persie blasted a left footed shot past Cech to complete his hat-trick, I was screaming once more, rejoicing in the fact that we were almost assured of the three points.
So that was that. We had won, and what a win this was. I won’t say I never dreamed of the result, for I did, quite literally. This, however, felt like another one. A 3-5 result at Stamford Bridge never happens, right?
van Persie had been phenomenal, and Ramsey and Koscielny had played some of the best football they ever had in an Arsenal shirt. What made it more special was that we deserved the victory. There was that feeling of finally having proved ourselves to the world, to all the doubters out there. If a 3-5 win at Chelsea isn’t proof that we’re back, I don’t know what is.
Above all though, it reminded me of how much I love the club. It was clear that every player on that pitch in the red and white loved the club. They knew what the victory meant; they knew what it meant to play for Arsenal Football Club. The players going to the away supporters and saluting them after the game was over proved that.
This is why we do it everyday, isn’t it? This is why we are willing to go through those final 20 minutes of intense nail biting and shivering and praying. It is matches like this one, like the one against Barcelona, when we see the glory of this great club on full display.
It was a magical match that finished in our favor, and for a little while at least, the world is indeed the better for it.