Arsenal 2 – 1 Chelsea
Reasons to celebrate are in short supply this season so reaching a Wembley final is one of them, especially when it offers the opportunity of lifting a third domestic trophy at Spurs home. The dog banner can be properly replaced then with one which simply states “1971, 2004, 2018″.
A beer or two in celebration and lifting one to remember the unique talents of Mr Mark E. Smith, who sadly passed away yesterday. The Grim Reaper is on a mission: “I see your 2016 and raise it”.
But we’re not here to talk about the latter; that’s for Dad’s Jukebox, which comes out of hibernation today.
So to the Arsenal. 2 – 1 winners over Chelsea when the opening 10 minutes made me fear the worst. Wenger said afterwards that we were “frightened” of the visitors. The discretion with which the players changed their soiled shorts was admirable.
By the time the ball pinballed into the Chelsea net for the equaliser, I’d have been quite happy with us keeping the margin of defeat down to three. After that, the most bizarre of goals to be seen at the Emirates this season – possibly any season – the hunt for silverware was on.
Jack Wilshere said afterwards we had “got our formation wrong in the first 20 to 25 minutes and they took advantage of that.” It’s hard to argue with that analysis and it underlines why Mohammed Elneny is in the side.
Dropping back into the middle of the defence in the second half quelled Chelsea’s ardour. Where they had been in command in the first, they were subservient to Arsenal in the second, to the extent that I thought we deserved to win overall. This despite Chelsea scoring twice in the first ten minutes, with one thankfully ruled out for offside.
Even God Looks Up To Nacho
It wasn’t sweetness and light all the way through to the final whistle. We were in danger of getting blown away but didn’t. That is positive; getting into that position was a concern. Of course, we ‘ve got Nacho Monreal so we don’t have to worry about anything and rightly being crowned Man of the Match is the least he deserves.
Another Wembley goal and he should be made a Freeman of the London Borough of Islington. Everything should be free to Nacho anyway; what a guy.
He’s carrying on the long tradition of dependable left backs, traceable all the way back to the double of 1971 and before, some will argue. OK, so Gael Clichy isn’t on that list…
Monreal, the subject of Athletic Bilbao’s leering attention once again, is a player the club should be looking to move into the Academy as Per’s right-hand man in years to come. Two utterly unfussy defenders instilling their knowledge into young players from the outset will put us a country mile ahead of where we are now.
We rolled in the first half, playing rope-a-dope with Pedro and Hazard; in the second, we rocked defensively. I genuinely can’t recall a save Ospina had to make as Wembley’s shadow loomed larger over the game. That’s more to do with excessive alcohol, I’m sure. Carroll and Crouch are touted as solutions to Chelsea’s woes. Their transfer budget hasn’t shrunk in that case, it’s shrivelled.
Ice Cold, Our Alex Is Not
There were commendable performances all over the pitch. Bellerin did well on the right, particularly in the second forty-five minutes where he constantly pushed Chelsea backwards. Jack and Özil used the ball well and imposed themselves on the game after we moved to three at the back while Alexandre Lacazette ran his little socks off for little reward.
A special word for Granite Xhaka in attack, nipping in with a deft flick of the boot for the winner. Elneny’s inclusion in the side is freeing the Switzerland international’s defensive shackles. If Arsène doesn’t see the benefits of having a defensive midfielder behind Granit, he never will. A sweeper-style such as the way Elneny played will do just nicely.
There is, as ever, a welter of concerns. Some of these are through unrealistic expectations on ours and the manager’s part. Alex Iwobi typifies that. He was poor last night, nullified in attack by pushing him inside when he didn’t willingly cut inside himself, and defensively, his distribution was suspect.
The youngster could do with a spell out of the spotlight and certainly is the prime candidate to lose his place in the side to Henrikh Mkhitaryan. A loan spell? That might work although I don’t think he will get that this transfer window.
Is this the death knell for his Arsenal career? It’s certainly a plateau and whoever replaces Wenger will hold the key to his future. At the moment, it’s hard to see how he will avoid being sold beyond relying on the manager’s largesse and tolerance.
Ram-Aubameyang, Ding Dong
That tolerance is going to be needed in big doses with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, if we land him and a high-level delegation visiting Dortmund signals we do. Whether the manager does seems almost irrelevant. Arsène toned down the rhetoric from muted to comatose after the Germans copped the arsenal over his innocuous comments last week so it’s hard to read anything into his proclamations on the subject.
I do think he genuinely believes he can achieve a top six finish with the squad as it stands but any higher is reliant on others failing. There’s an element of defiance in it all with his stubbornness seething beneath the surface. This is, without a shadow of doubt, Sven Mislintat’s transfer window. Arsène has his role to play in convincing players of their role in the side but it strikes me that the relationship is one of director of football/manager in terms of recruitment.
What Sven says goes. If he tells Arsène that these are his options, then these are his options. Who will blink first? Arsène already has. It’s a new way of working…