An hour before last night’s match, my friend Eric gives me a call. He and I grew up together, him supporting Liverpool and me Arsenal. We normally chew the fat before and after our respective games, analysing, moaning, bragging – whatever the results. “You guys need to get rid of Uncle Bob”, he says referring to his nickname for Arséne Wenger. He gave that nickname to Wenger in reference to Zimbabwe’s former President Robert Mugabe, who at 92, was hounded out of office kicking and screaming. There is something Mugabe-esque about Wenger, particularly the inability not to recognise that the natives are revolting, and clinging onto power at the cost of the collective.
Wenger is our Lucy, and like Charlie Brown, Arsenal fans are suckers for hope. How many times has Lucy put the football in front of Charlie only to yank it away, sending him flat on his backside. Eric chuckles and says, “you know, Bob is probably going to win the Europa League and you all are going to think he’s still the cat’s pyjamas”.
It’s that unnerving feeling that the light you’re seeing at the end of the tunnel is an on-coming train. How many times have we been here. That head scratching moment when you ask yourself where the hell have these players been, just before we revert to type in the next few games.
A Good Day At The Office
Take nothing away from last night’s performance, while wearing the dreaded blue I might add. It’s a travesty that before last night, Arsenal had only won one away game since new year’s eve.
Coming to the San Siro to face a rejuvenated Milan under the stewardship of Gennaro Gatuso was daunting. The Italian club was in fine form, 13 games unbeaten and only conceding 4 goals. They had also only lost one of the last 18 European fixtures that they had played at the San Siro. With pedestrian losses to Brighton, Swansea, Watford and Bournemouth, you had to be thinking “here we go again”.
The first few minutes of the match played out to the script. If you think that Milan had 11 corners during the game and that Arsenal defended all of them diligently, no one will hold the confusion you have against you. Clearly, Milan had been watching Arsenal’s last few games and they came out guns blazing.
In fairness, the Gunners had to earn the right to play and they did so with purpose and determination, a unity in defence from all the players being the foundation of a professional and positive performance.
Keep It Simple, Stupid
What was clear was that the players took responsibility and went back to basics. We pressed high up the pitch, squeezing space out and leaving Milan baffled about the team they thought they were playing. The passing was slick and sharp, and Welbeck, Mkhitaryan and Ramsey were willing runners behind Milan’s defence.
Ozil was commanding in midfield, combining well with Wilshere and Mkhitaryan to give Milan a run for their money. The breakthrough came 15 minutes in from the German’s pin-point assist for Mkhitaryan to cut back and do a ‘Frank Lampard’. Yes, even deflected goals count.
Arsenal could have scored two more with Chambers coming close and Mkhitaryan testing Gianluigi Donnarumma’s resolve. The Armenian was unlucky to clip the cross bar soon after, a moment that got you thinking – are we going to rue that missed opportunity?
Ramsey had other ideas and clearly Ozil was operating on the same frequency. A slick pass to present the Welshman with an opportunity to dummy Donnarumma onto his arse and effortlessly move past the keeper to slot the ball into an empty net just before the break.
Look Ma! Arsenal Are Doing Tactics
If you get another chance to watch the game, try and observe Arsenal off the ball. Jack Wilshere in particular was brilliant, holding back and police marking Milan’s front man with that resolute “Hell no, not tonight”. Arsenal anticipated and dealt with any counter-attacking threat decisively.
Sead Kolasinac was even smart enough to take one for the team, deliberately handling the ball because he knew that he was never going to catch the Milan runner. The Bosnian also knew he was coming off after injuring himself tackling Suso on the byline a few minutes earlier. An excellent yellow card to pick up if ever there was one.
Our midfielders constantly tracked the runs of Milan players and contributed to an excellent defensive effort. Calum Chambers was being targeted, especially in the first period of the game, but the young chap stood resolute and probably had his best game for Arsenal for a long time. It made you wonder whether defensively, he’s going to give Little Belly Button a run for his money at right back.
Ospina was also commanding when he needed to, at one point, taking out Mustafi by double punching the German’s head and the ball. Dare I say that even Xhaka had a very good game, helping to marshal the midfield and sticking to his defensive duties.
It’s The Hope That Kills You My Friends
It’s been a while since Arsenal dominated a game and ruthlessly dispatched a worthy opponent. Taking last night’s match in isolation, there was a feel good factor around the Gooniverse. Short lived I’m sure, but you can’t refuse to acknowledge the team effort, commitment and determination to perform and play themselves out of a rut.
Which then begs the question – “What the hell have you folks been doing all season?”. Why do we have to wait until we’re down and out to play this way? Setting aside the fact that Wenger has to go, it was great to see the players take responsibility and play with pride and determination. It’s the dropping of heads and the hopelessness of rolling over and being tickled on the tummy by teams that frustrates.
I would be happy to watch performances like last nights for the rest of the season, a mix of brawn and brains; the attacking verve and finesse with goals to show, and the ability to get ugly and employ the dark arts when it’s called for. While you’re at it, no one is going to complain if you throw the Europa League Cup into the mix.
I guess we get to find out who has the cojones on Sunday afternoon, seeing as the captain of our noisy Hertfordshire neighbours has a bit of mouth on him.
Have a great weekend good people.