Henry Winter might have been proud of last night’s “Who needs the bus when you have the coach” quip, or whatever it was he said following Chelsea, sorry, Jose Mourinho’s 1-0 victory at the Etihad last night. The rest of us just vomited. And wondered where “The Coach” was when Chelsea lost at Stoke a few weeks back, or when they drew at home to West Ham just last week. Yeah, yeah, I know this is going to come off as sour grapes, particularly if you are unfortunate enough to be a Chelsea fan (although, look who’s still on top of the league). But, really, where’s the glory in one team who have spent shed loads of money beating another team who have, er… also spend shed loads of money?
Ok, Mesut Özil didn’t come for free, nor did Santi Cazorla, but nobody came in and gave us a blank cheque to sign these guys. Everyone at Arsenal has suffered to get where we are now, perhaps nobody moreso than Arsène Wenger- despite what some fans may believe. Arsenal have had to fight through lean years, selling one star player every season since 2005 to help finance the new stadium and still stay (relatively) competitive up until, well, this year actually. If I’m mentioning this again, it’s only to highlight the absurdity of Mourinho’s “little horse” narrative that he’s now spinning.
Anyway. A couple of things I didn’t get around to touching on yesterday because; a) I was busy slagging some of you off (no, not you, the deluded ones) and; b) because my computer chose my lunch hour to become even more lethargic than Nicklas Bendtner.
One) The title of yesterday’s blog implied it, but I’m not sure I fully articulated it. The speed of thought and, in particular, movement the Ox displayed in scoring the crucial second goal on Sunday afternoon highlighted a crucial asset he can bring to our midfield. I said yesterday that neither Arteta or Flamini would have made that run. Of course they wouldn’t have, they’re not attackers. I think Jack Wilshere maybe makes that run, but he probably doesn’t shoot at the end of it. What the Ox showed with the run and finish was a directness that can help to unlock a stubborn defence, particularly when the death by a thousand passes style isn’t quite cutting it. As we approach a midweek fixture with Manchester United, who almost certainly will not come to play (although they kind of need to start going for it), he may come in very handy there.
I’d be less inclined to start him at Liverpool, if Jack Wilshere is fit, because I think our passing game will likely be more important at Anfield. And we saw on Sunday that, not surprisingly, the Ox’s ball retention is not quite up there with someone like Mikel Arteta- yet. That being said, he must be full of beans after Sunday, so he may be worth a start on one of the flanks- especially with Lukas Podolski being so anonymous on Sunday. With the options we’ve got on the flanks at present, I’m not sure there is a “wrong” selection- as long as Santi plays.
And hasn’t he come to life with a bang? I never bought, as you should know, the narrative that he had been shockingly awful since his return, but I would certainly concede that he hadn’t quite been up to the standard we expect from him. He is, though, now contributing goals or assists every time he plays. His dribble that led to the opening goal on Sunday underscored, again, the importance of a Santi Cazorla able to play off both feet- his markers had no idea where he was going. Bearing in mind that we’re now through a run of games where we’ve been expected to win every time we’ve played and into choppier waters, I think the little Spanish genius is back in the groove right on time.
I am, generally, an optimist when it comes to Arsenal- which is part of the reason the last couple of years have been so tough. So I don’t approach the games at Anfield or with the outgoing champions with a sense of great trepidation. My sense of calm when I think about these games, at least today, is based on a defence that keeps going from strength to strength. I mean, we all know goals win you games, but defences stop you losing them too.
And I look at a centre back pairing who stand unbeaten when playing a full 90 minutes together in something like 30 league matches. I look at a goalkeeper who has swept aways last season’s cobwebs and kept 11 clean sheets in 24 league matches. In the league, we have conceded one (wonder) goal at home since the 19th October- that’s one goal in nearly four months! Think back to all those times Almunia used to concede a goal if the opposition so much as looked at our net. Even if you’re one of the sourpusses who routinely rings up 606 to piss on all of our chips and tell us how Arsène’s doing it wrong , I think you have to agree the improvement’s pretty impressive.
So, it might not be enough to get us through the couple of months, it might not even be enough to get us through the next couple of weeks, but it is enough of a reason to believe.
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