Ludogorets Razgrad 2 – 3 Arsenal
There was but one question which needs answering from last night’s match in Sofia: Is Vic Akers impervious to the weather?
Whilst the Bulgarian bench covered themselves with blankets (or to be honest they looked like hessian sacks with the seams unpicked) and the Arsenal bench had the ‘stadium’ style coats, Vic was there in thin waterproof jacket with shorts. Not just shorts but shorter shorts than the players wear. And they were running around.
Fair enough he was a bit squashed in the corner of the converted bus shelter with Bould and Wenger hunching over him but the most activity he saw during the ninety or so minutes, was walking across the running track to the fourth official for the substitutions. Perhaps he broke into a light jog off camera, just to keep the extremities warm. Maybe he’s got a thermal cushion he sits on to negate the almost sub-zero temperatures?
It’s something worthy of investigation by the official website or a question for the next ‘Twitter Takeover’.
If you’re going to win by the skin of your teeth, that’s a hell of a set of dentures to have. An exquisite and deft lob over the goalkeeper, two defenders left sprawled on the backsides in front of the net, watching helplessly as Özil rounded them and slotted home very coolly.
The only goal I can remember which bears comparison is Charlie Nicholas against Spurs in 1983/84, the one which left Paul Miller flat on his face in front of the North Bank as the ball trickled behind him into the net.
Arsène was equally enthusiastic about his mercurial German,
You know, I would say the great players make the right decisions in the game situations they face. They always make the optimal solution. To me it didn’t look for a while like the optimal solution, but when the ball was in the net I thought it was! You wanted him to take maybe his chance earlier but at the end he had enough skill to prove that he was right.
At which point, you’re thinking that there were 90-odd other minutes in the game. Largely forgettable if you’re honest. And if I’m honest, all I’d do is focus on an utterly beautiful footballing moment. There is much about the modern game which is unpleasant and distasteful – more of which later – but I refuse to let in sully such a moment.
Please excuse my reverie for a moment.
Ludogorets opener was an excellently taken free kick, albeit dubiously awarded. The defence was badly positioned to defend it, leaving Ospina hopelessly exposed. The Colombian wouldn’t have got to the ball and had every right to expect his back four and midfield to defend the delivery.
The second was more calamitous defending. Gibbs was left one-on-one and committed too quickly to the tackle but one beaten there was a lack of movement to stifle the danger from the usually reliable Koscielny and Mustafi. Two-down with just about a quarter of an hour played.
It was a match which repeated the patterns of the first meeting a fortnight ago but also those at Sunderland. It was all a bit too easy for Arsenal in the first ten minutes or so. Flicks, flops and niceties; smooth passing which was undone by a manic three minutes.
Critically, the players didn’t lose focus on the task at hand, even if they wobbled a little. The same attitude which swept aside the Sunderland equaliser was evident as the two-goal disadvantage was first of all reduced by Granit Xhaka’s cool finish and entirely negated by Olivier Giroud’s header two minutes before the interval.
Arsène was pleased when he spoke to the media, that the side didn’t “panic” at 0 – 2; whether he approached the deficit so phlegmatically in his mind is doubtful but going into the interval level changed his team talk at half-time. Much to his relief, I should think.
Overshadowing the victory was the news that Alexis Sanchez is facing tax evasion charges in Spain with the taxman trying to take all his dough or a million euros of it at least. Interestingly, the only players so far hunted down are Barcelona’s although Real Madrid’s sins are far more unsavoury as a French court is going to find out. The original story broke in El Periodico, the original Spanish report is here.
Ultimately, Lionel Messi was pursued for far more cash, Javier Mascherano 50% more so if the tariffs are set by those cases, Alexis is looking at a fine and an 8 month prison sentence served on probation. It’s no different from the arguments that O’Leary, Platt and Bergkamp have suffered in the past with tax authorities. I’m sure some will attribute any loss in form to the legal action but if others can deal with case without incident, I’m sure Alexis will.
There are wider questions to answer though. Barcelona have just finished a ban for breaching transfer regulations and these tax cases are coming with an alarming regularity. Is there something wrong in the heart of Catalonian pride or are players getting bad advice? In Alexis’ case, it seems the latter.
Nonetheless, it’s a distraction I’m sure club, manager and player could do without. And a salutary warning to football clubs and players around the world.
Which rather dampens what should be a happy occasion. It’s been five seasons since we won all our games in the Champions League group stage. After than we went on to…oh, a Round of Sixteen exit. Where’s that video of Mesut’s goal?