If you had said to someone a month ago that Arsenal were going to be top of the league in a month’s time- they, in all likelihood, would have laughed at you until you punched them in the face. Of course, being top of the league after 4 games is nothing to shout about. I know that, but bearing in mind how painful, how end of days, that Aston Villa defeat felt, we’ve seen quite a turnaround over the last month. And we should be glad about it. Incidentally, this is our best start to a season for three years.
Ok, yes, it’s a pity that the much anticipated link up between Santi Cazorla and Mesut Özil will be delayed until the next international break has been and gone as the Spaniard is injured, but there’s nothing we can do about that. It also highlights the fact that those who said that we didn’t need yet another tricky midfielder were wrong- where would we have been without the German’s touch, speed of thought and delivery on Saturday? Not forgetting, of course that not only was he making his debut, but also that Özil was ill. And I don’t mean “ill” like all the cool kids used to say- do they still say that? I have absolutely no idea. I do know that we can reasonably expect Özil to get even better, and that is a seriously droolworthy prospect.
We were, of course, grateful to Martin Atkinson’s efficiency with the whistle on Saturday afternoon, but I’m not sure that the referee is quite deserving of the stick he got- yes, I would say that, but hear me out. The Sagna Altidore tussle went on for more than a couple of seconds, then the referee blew his whistle for the free kick to Sunderland. For me, the second he did that, what happened next became irrelevant. It doesn’t matter that Altidore went onto put the ball past Szczesny, the whistle had- clearly- already gone. In his column for a certain newspaper, former referee Graham Poll said the following,
“My opinion, assisted by watching calmly on the TV, was that he should have held the whistle and see what developed – but I cannot say that he was wrong factually.”
And that is exactly how I feel about it. As for claims (by Robbie Savage, Gary Lineker, and Alan Shearer) that the Bac Man should have been dismissed for denying a goal scoring opportunity, I would- again- disagree with that. The laws of the game say that a player will be dismissed for denying an “obvious goal scoring opportunity”. Was it an obvious opportunity when Atkinson blew the whistle? I don’t think it was. What happened (the goal being scored) after the whistle went is irrelevant as the game- as far as the referee was concerned- had stopped. I would also go further and say that sending a player off for a six of one, half dozen of the other tussle outside the penalty area would have been harsh in my book. A cynical trip with Altidore clean through? No argument from me, but this wasn’t that.
In any case, it’s great to be on the right side of a refereeing decision in Sunderland for once.
Away from the refereeing controversy, which would have been irrelevant had Theo Walcott been in any kind of goal scoring form, we were treated to the latest installment of the Aaron Ramsey rebirth. If it seems to you that I have been overly satisfied by Rambo’s resurgence, it’s because the tone and volume of the criticism that was directed at Ramsey over the last two years was, to me, sickening. Here was a player- a kid, really- being asked, one year after breaking his leg, to replace one of the greatest midfielders we’ve ever had. There was a player who began the following season being asked to play on the flanks, but not having the pace or the trickery to do so and he suffered because of it. Now, with confidence restored, we’re seeing what he’s really capable of. And guess what? He’s still only 22!
I would certainly take the point that the passing that led up to Ramsey’s lovely finish for the killer third goal (insult to Sunderland injury, just moments after the Altidore incident) was the kind of Arsenal goal to make the purist purr- as it did me. However, his first goal, the edge of the box volley from Jenkinson’s cross was something to see. I don’t think he would have even tried that a year ago. Six months ago, he would probably have tried, and skied, it. Put simply, this goal was the kind of goal a player full of confidence scores.
The only dark cloud on the horizon, aside from the latest incidence of Laurent Koscielny’s brain leaving his body in a pressure situation that wasn’t even that pressurised, was the fact that the goal machine, Olivier Giroud finished the game hobbling. Apparently, he twisted his knee. However, it seems that he will be okay for Wednesday’s Champions League opener, which I think we can all agree is great news. Especially as we don’t have a viable alternative to him at present. Away from that, the way he took his goal on Saturday was a joy- the hesitant finishing of last year is, currently, a distant memory. And then there was his slide rule pass from which Rambo killed any talk of the Black Cats having nine lives. It seems fitting that it’s these two players, who began the season with something to prove, who are taking Arsenal forward.
Forward, Arsenal, forward!
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