Arsenal fans are no strangers to consolatory victories. After contriving to exit competition after competition every season like a seasoned stack of dominos, the team turns up in spades against one daunting opponent, blows them out of the water and licks the wounds of an incompetent season with this fleeting moment of sunshine. Yesterday was not one of those matches.
When the final whistle blew, Arsenal fell to its collective knees and coughed and panted and wheezed, dust-clouds of exhaustion suffusing into the Emirates air. Rosicky couldn’t bring himself to stand, lying down on the London green, shaking his head in a surreal infinite loop, refusing to believe that the tie was declared over. Thomas Vermaelen was looking into the distance, epitome of defiant pride and gutting disappointment in equal parts. The atmosphere was hardly akin to one after a consolatory victory; the players had actually believed they could pull this off, persistent belief stretching from before kickoff to the last raid forward. And that admirable, arguably mad belief almost metamorphosed to glorious reality.
Throw me anywhere in midfield, imma blow your brains out
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has now played on the flanks, as an attacking midfielder and a deep lying one, and has impressed in all aforementioned avatars. Yesterday, the lively teenager played as a part of a two-pronged axis with Song, and combined fearless attacking with dogged defending to set Milan scurrying in the first half. Every time he got the ball, the kid sought to make a difference.
When he got the ball on the right side of midfield in the 40th minute, Chamberlain marauded forward, daring Milan’s right flank to stop him. They backtracked and backtracked, Chamberlain nimbly tried to slip in between them and was untidily felled; Bingo Time in Milan’s defence as they couldn’t live with the bloodlust of the Ox. When he pulled up injured in the second half, Arsenal’s performance dropped as a whole. Does this level of impact indicate special talent or paucity of options within our team? I’d like to believe it’s the former.
Hum me a tune, Little Mozart
Rarely has a single player turned things so unequivocally in his favour over the space of a few weeks. Not that Rosicky was ever a scapegoat; I certainly always reserved a soft spot and half for the nippy Czech. But he was the definition of fringe at times, playing in Carling Cup fixtures and useless dead rubbers, not having scored since blueprints of the wheel were being bandied about and believed by most to be on his way out eventually. I had pondered whether the masterful performance against Tottenham a week ago could have been his watershed moment. Yesterday, he went one better.
For the entirety of the first half, Rosicky took a Gatling gun and pummelled Milan’s bodice with it, running like a rabid terrier during high noon. Same petite turning circle, same burst of pace to leave markers for dead, same jostling and harassing and wanting the ball like he was addicted to it, and the same refreshing willingness to shoot in front of goal as he side-footed a neat finish to make it 2-0.
The abject disappointment writ large on his face at full-time was telling, as was his admission of being proud of ‘his’ team in the press conference. He’s certainly earned himself a contract extension, that’s for sure.
He can miss whenever he wants
Anyone who even thinks of blaming Robin van Persie for missing a gilt-edged change yesterday in the second half will get one right in the solar plexus from me. Go in for an immediate retina scan, good sirs, for you hath not watched this season properly. The Dutchman has single-handedly dragged us through games at times (Liverpool at the weekend was evidence rife) scoring from every possible angle and against every possible opponent, unquestionable in quality and indomitable in spirit.
He covered more than ten kilometres yesterday, he’s been run ragged this season, he’s comfortably leading all charts of any importance in England and I think he’s earned a couple of misses, if and when they do come. That chip would have gone in more times than not, but Abbiati read it well and that was that. Even if van Persie had scored, there were thirty minutes left to play. That miss was painful, but hardly the difference. The first leg was the difference.
These few weeks have been a microcosm of our season
After being kosher-kebabed at the San Siro and subsequently speared at Sunderland, the hounds were well and truly out. That week encapsulated the depths we’ve sunk to at times this football season; Man United almost touching double digits against us, our penchant for own goals against Blackburn, Kyle Walker’s flukey-fluke at the Lane, an injury crises running through every position in turn like impartial cancer- the lows have been low.
But the last three wins, two magnificent and one daylight robbery, have shown that this team certainly performs when its backside is on fire. When they come out in tides, determined to break up opposition play with endeavour off the ball and break up opposition nets with flamboyance on the ball, few teams have stood a chance. Chelsea, Aston Villa, Borussia Dortmund and now AC Milan; all of them at the pointy end of a merciless red-and-white machete that swished and didn’t stop swishing- the highs have been high.
One hopes this was not a pyrrhic victory and that the team can lift themselves up to battle on for fourth (third?) place. Although I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the end of both the highs and the lows of this season yet. Onwards to Newcastle, and a potential high.
This post also appeared on BigFourZa------------
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