Stickability in football doesn’t come any more pronounced than Arséne Wenger at Arsenal. David Dein must have been thinking on the plane back from Tokyo those 21 years ago, “you know what, I’ll convince the board he was Arsenal before he was even born. Just look at his name”. Bate Borisov was the 122nd different team that Arséne has faced as Arsenal’s Manager. Longevity does have its purpose in life, the trouble is when you get to the point of diminishing returns. Look at Arsenal’s financial performance in the last year. You’ll most likely be called crazy if you ever mention Wenger’s name and diminishing returns in one sentence in the corridors of Highbury House.
No matter, 3 points were up for grabs in the group stages of the Europa League. I couldn’t help smiling yesterday when YW mentioned that Arséne had to haul Petr Cech onto the plane to make up the numbers in the squad. I would have been miffed if I was Macey and Cech took my place on the bench. The truth is, not many people knew what to expect from Bate Borisov. They were called minnows, and yet they’ve recently beaten Bayern and Roma on that very ground. Before the fixture was announced, the only two things I knew about Belarus was that Alexander Hlebb called it home, and Tom Clancy liked the country for his plots. You could never tell which Arsenal would turn up though a core of experienced players with a sprinkling of youth was a good gamble.
Oy! Arséne. Put Me in the Team or Put Me in the Shop Window
The match started brightly. Mohammed Elneny carrying the piano for Li’l Jack to weave the sweet tunes in the midfield. If Theo Walcott’s first attempt wasn’t good enough as an indicator of Jack’s determination to have the Freedom of the Borisov Arena, then try he would again. A sweet give and go with Giroud – as Nigel Winterburn loves to say – saw a sublime assist presented to Walcott who made no mistake in giving the Gunners a 9th minute lead. He wasn’t favourite to be first goalscorer so that was definitely a best bet NZ. Clearly, Jack wasn’t the only one thinking of bearing gifts. Denis Scherbitski the Bate Keeper needed a sofa to hide behind after his 22nd minute howler of a clearance.
Ospina must have been laughing his head off after his Koln howler. Giroud on the other hand must have been wondering who he has to sleep with to get a gift like that for his century. Three minutes later, Rob Holding must have thought Christmas has come early. Per Mertesacker guided the ball from a corner for Holding to shin it into the net. Finesse is never a worry for defenders, the goals they score in the right net count too. I’m still processing the imagery of Mertesacker “jumping” on Holding’s back to celebrate the goal. You have to wonder what would happen if it all went wrong.
He looks at me and says “You lot need a new fella to do your laundry”
A 3 goal lead in 25 minutes must have lulled us into a false sense of security. The Bate Manager had already seen the signs and made a swift change quarter way through the game, switching his system of play. A no-nonsense cross 28 minutes in that was bulleted into the top of the net by Ivanic, Elneny seemingly admiring his mark.
As I shook my head and sipped my pint, my friend George says “There’s more married couples that keep more clean sheets than you lot”. I nearly spilt my pint laughing as the imagery invaded valuable real estate in my head. And what? A new laundry man would help?
For a crowd of 13,000, the home supporters became even more raucous. Bate were used to winning. They’ve won the last 10 league titles and were determined not to get a good hiding despite Arsenal’s industry and superiority. Even with them pulling a goal back, our only enemy was likely to be our complacency.
So, Am I getting a “Cavani” or what?
“he’s a nice guy”, they say. “He was raised from good stock”. That’s why our Theo decided Giroud should take the penalty. As if Giroud was ever going to give up the chance to notch his century. Good thing Arsenal don’t pay players €1 million to encourage them not to take spot kicks. . It was either a penalty for Stanislav Dragun catching feelings and fondling Mustafi in the box, or Nemanja Milunovic being sent off for elbowing Joe Willock in the face for good measure. Something had to give.
The Frenchman coolly buried the penalty to mark his place after the 18 Arsenal centurions who came before him. It says something about Giroud’s unsung status when you think that he has reached the 100 goal mark in his 238th game, one less than Robin Van Persie did. I’m sure he would have wanted his 100th to be a Crystal Palace-esque acrobatic overhead kick at the Emirates, but a goal is a goal. Well done to him.
It was unlikely that we would lose the game from that point on, but Bate still had other ideas. They played much better in the 2nd half, pressing Arsenal higher up the pitch. Their reward came in the 67th minute, Ospina’s point blank save falling into the path of Mikhail Gordeichuk. The Bate forward must have woken up on the wrong side of his bed because his response was an anger management intervention. From a few yards out, he ruthlessly smashed the ball home with a venom that nearly took out the netting.
Are you watching folks? We have our Neymar
It’s started and he’s only 17. He’s English, so you know the pressure is going to mount. Martin Keown boldly proclaimed that there’s something of a Neymar in our Reiss Nelson. I think it’s too early to pull out the stops, but I must admit there’s something special about the lad. His dummy to the left, a swing of the hips to the right and another dummy back to the left was sublime. Fair play to the Bate victim who did the right thing and sprawled on the floor in submission. It was the only respectable response. I hope Nelson gets more pitch time this season, and looks like Wenger has the same idea.
The 17 year old wasn’t the only one. Marcus McGuane and Eddie Nketiah got cameos on the night making them the 847th and 848th players respectively to represent the club. With the League Cup campaign and the Europa League, fans can look forward to enjoying a bit more of our young lads.
Now, about Dad and his juke box….