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Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Kozza's Gonna Get Ya (And If He Doesn't Mustafi Will)!

If revenge is indeed a dish that's best served cold, then after five agonisingly long years, Saturday's thrashing of the Blues came straight out of the freezer!

After having endured Chelsea's piss-taking humiliation of Arsène's previous two big anniversary celebrations, there was plenty of anxiety in advance of the commencement of the stubborn old bugger's third decade in the box seat.

Tweets to the Sweet
Moreover, after hearing the line-up, I don't think you'd have found many Gooners wandering around the concourse prior to Saturday's game who'd agree with the sentiment that "Arsène knows", since pretty much everyone was moaning about his team selection.

With the cracks that had been exposed in Conté's team in the past couple of weeks, myself I was praying AW would capitalise on Chelsea's current frailty, with a "nothing to fear" statement of intent, by putting out our most positive XI, pairing Santi and Xhaka in the middle of the park. And with my nephew, Shane and his girfriend over on a rare trip from Dublin (and with her being a Gooner virgin), I definitely didn't want to see us struggle for goals, playing without a recognised centre forward.

Nevertheless, with all the brouhaha about the managerial merry-go-round, I'm guessing it's top of Arsène's agenda to avoid having his pants pulled down, by any of the limelight hugging Premiership newbies. As a result, I was certain le Gaffer would be more conservative, not wanting to risk playing without the proven protective instincts of the likes of Coquelin.

With me not being sufficiently match fit for the trips to Hull or Nottingham and with a tally of eight goals in our last two awaydays, I've been wondering if I should avoid travelling more often!! Knowing quite how frequently the comments of those who've watched the Gunners play on the box have contradicted the opinions of those who've seen the game live, I tend to avoid passing judgment from the comfort of my armchair (although I'd be a liar if I didn't admit to my laziness being a contributing factor in my failure to post these past couple of weeks!)

Still I could understand the logic in not wanting to tinker with the team that trounced Hull's paper Tigers and with the infuriating consequences of our red card history against Chelsea, I could appreciate Arsène choosing his players from those who were least likely to cost us victory by losing their cool in a tetchy contest.

Yet while I chuntered about the absence of Xhaka and Giroud, others were whinging about Walcott's inclusion and absolutely everyone seemed to be walking into the ground irate. It was some contrast to the ecstatic mood fifteen minutes in, when much like London buses, you wait three and a half years for a derby goal against Chelsea and then two come along at once!

No sooner had I commented to my neighbour that Ivanovic was past his "sell by" date than he played Cahill into trouble, to have his pocket well and truly picked by Alexis. But if we were dancing in the aisles after our first, we were left tripping over our own open-mouthed jaws, with the gobsmacking gorgeousness of our second.
No stopping Hector!

Then just as Chelsea were beginning to recover some composure and threatened to spoil the party by pulling the goal back just before the break that might've changed the course of this match completely, our German playmaker entered stage left. We were right in line with Mesut's effort and he seemed to have an eternity to think about his volley, as Sanchez set it up on a plate.

I thought he'd missed the target and many seem to think he fluffed it. Yet after his glaring miss at Hull, I reckon Özil was concentrating so hard on making contact and keeping his head over the ball to keep it down that this was how he ended up striking it into the deck. It was one of those "car crash" moments, where I was convinced the ball was about to bounce harmlessly off the post, which only heightened the euphoria as it bobbled into the back of the net, knowing this was pretty much "game over".

I've been plagued by neck pain the past few weeks and having been prescribed some different meds by the doc on Friday, I made the mistake of taking them for the first time, only an hour or so before KO. While they didn't seem to do much to alleviate the pain, I didn't really care because they left me so gaga that I struggled to make it over the south bridge to the turnstiles. Moreover, after suffering so many years of "men against boys" misery against Chelsea, with Mesut making it 3-0 up before the break, I really needed to pinch myself to make sure this wasn't some fantastic imaginary trip.

It was hilarious seeing Alex Iwobi getting a mouthful from Nacho in one ear, presumably for failing to assist Monreal with William's advances down our left flank and more "agida" in his other shell-like from Mesut, for not offering an outlet at the other end of the pitch, when all the while, young Alex was having one of his best ever games in an Arsenal shirt.

I guess it was inevitable that we would take our foot off the gas after the break. In the absence of John Terry's determination, you sensed that so long as we remained solid and didn't offer our guests a glimmer of hope and a route back into the match with a goal in the opening period of the second half, the three points were in the bag.

Yet while my head knew this was sensible football, my heart wanted the Gunners to return some of the humiliation we've endured, with interest, by turning the choke-hold we had on this encounter, into a psychologically damaging strangulation, with the sort of scoreline that would truly put the West London "no history" wannabees back in their rightful place.

Not that I wanted to see Franny limp off, straight down the tunnel for treatment, but I'm sure I wasn't alone in welcoming Granit's arrival into the fray, with us already two goals to the good. To my mind Xhaka's stunning long-range strikes in successive games are symptomatic of the way in which he only plays in forward gear.

From what I've seen of Man City's extremely impressive start to the season, the most noticeable difference has been the scintillating tempo of City's play, compared to our more deliberate advances. Yet with Xhaka's reluctance to dawdle on the ball, we appear to make the transition from front to back so much faster, denying the opposition the opportunity to get bodies behind the ball.

It occurs to me that this might be why he's not started a Premiership game because his refusal to play sideways or backwards risks losing possession more often and our statistics obsessed leader prefers more caution? Or perhaps Xhaka didn’t rate consideration merely because AW feared his tendency to incur the official’s wrath? It also occurred to me that Granit's had success with his long-range efforts because of the surprise element and with 55,000 shouting "shoot" every time he receives the ball, he's hardly going to catch anyone on the hop.

Meanwhile football is all about chemistry and le Prof’s struggled in recent years to chance upon a recipe that might result in the perfect feast. It would be foolhardy to go overboard based solely on a single result, especially when you consider that up until Saturday’s game we were all whining about assorted missing ingredients. Nevertheless, it’s hard to keep a lid on the cascade of optimism that’s sprung since Saturday’s magical victory.

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in relishing the opportunity to return home and savour the highlights again (and again!) on MOTD, Goals on Sunday and every other review of the weekend’s games and frankly I was flabbergasted by the limited attention given to our result, by all the pundits and the media in general. I agree with those who said to me that it’s better for us to remain “under the wire”, out of the limelight. Yet to my mind, compared with Man U scoring a few set-piece goals against a Leicester side that’s a shadow of the team that won the title, or the Scousers rolling over Hull at home, much as we did on the Tigers own turf, our supremely dominant defeat of a team that many assumed would be title challengers was far more momentous and deserving of much more recognition.

Then again, if our own fans can’t be bothered to demonstrate due appreciation for such a sensational result, why should we expect it from others? Just how long have we been waiting to be able to stick two-fingers up at Abramovich and all the dodgy millions he’s thrown at his plaything? When I reflect upon quite how deliciously satisfying Saturday’s result was, it absolutely baffles me that there were so many Gooners departing their seats before the final whistle, as if this was just any old game!

I sat there on Saturday wondering what sort of hot date, or precisely what sort of exciting event would be more enticing than the pleasure of lingering to relish such a rare occasion. Exactly what sort of Gooners dash off merely to beat the traffic, the queue for the tube, or to seek any such mundane advantage, rather than savour such a marvellous moment?

Perhaps the same Gooners heading for the exits before full-time were those crass folk giving Fabregas the bird. I'm all for absolutely anything that adds a little atmosphere to the overly sedate environs of our theatre-like surroundings at home games (and have never understood how the same fans who sing their hearts out at away games, sit on their hands at home matches?) and I was coating off Costa as loud as anyone. 

Yet I can't forget that Cesc pretty much carried our team on his young shoulders for a couple of seasons and if it wasn't for his desire to fulfil a boyhood ambition of playing for his home team, in front of his Catalan countrymen, I can't help but think that he might have become a one-team Arsenal legend. And so while I might've momentarily, instinctively joined in with the booing, on account of my dodgy eyesight, I'd much rather we applauded a player who gave so much of himself to the Gunners and who, as far as I'm aware, has never said a bad word about his former home.

The significance of chemistry is patently evident in the difference seen in Kanté’s influence in Chelsea's midfield, compared to his crucial contribution to the Fox’s success last season and more importantly, although it’s still early days and I’m only ever one disastrous performance away from contradicting myself, there appears to be a very promising chemistry between our new centre-back partnership.

Is this our "shall not pass" partnership?
After enduring all those years of first Drogba and then Costa making monkey’s out of our defence, perhaps the most pleasurable aspect to Saturday’s display was the way in which Koscielny and Mustafi completely nullified Chelsea’s goal threat. In fact I was almost as satisfied with the clean sheet, as I was with our three goals. Personally I feel that if these two can fulfil the promise of their burgeoning relationship to the point where we no longer have to fret about conceding sloppy goals, we might at long last have the capacity to mount a genuine title challenge.

When I posed the question as to who was my neighbour’s man of the match, he rightly pointed out that there were so many brilliant performances that it was far easier to pick the couple of players who weren’t worthy of this prize. For his last minute, last ditch tackle alone (not to mention the assist for Theo’s goal), I suggested Bellerin, but one could just as easily pick Nacho, Kos, Mustafi, Iwobi, Alexis, Mesut, even Theo and it was perhaps only Santi, or Xhaka who didn’t produce stand-out displays.

Aside from being far more irritated than usual by the early leavers, the only other disappointment on Saturday was the complete and utter lack of vocal appreciation shown to Wenger. No matter which side of the fence you happen to sit when it comes to our manager, surely everyone can agree that his twenty years of loyal service to the Arsenal cause merits our appreciation and respect?

Beating Basel Weds, The Tollington Thurs
I heard Chelsea’s Neanderthals singing their offensive ditty about our leader, but in his seat in the upper tier my nephew was most disappointed by the absolute lack of response to his attempts to lead a chant of “one Arsène Wenger”, which will only perpetuate our library like reputation upon his return to Dublin. His girlfriend had sprung a surprise birthday present of the trip over to the Chelsea game and all her pals had told her that she was bonkers because it was bound to be a miserable weekend with our customary defeat to the Blues. I’d joked with her that with it being her first ever game, we had better win, or it would be her last!

Mercifully Shane and Aoife departed beaming at their good fortune and with Aoife being instantly converted to the Gooner faith, I had to try to explain to her that it wasn’t quite this euphoric every week. But with them both being such lucky charms, if it was down to me, I would’ve paid to change their flights home to try and maintain Saturday’s spell against Basel tomorrow night.



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itti said...

nice read! keep going!