That’s what we need today. A backlash against the boo boys and bad luck and a disappointing first half of the Bayern tie. We need a victim, a sacrificial offering to the football Gods. We need them gagged and bound and prostrate on the alter of The Emirates. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the programme Dexter, but the hero is a deranged serial killer for whom you can’t help feeling a certain bizarre sympathy. His favourite thing is anaesthetising a bad guy (or gal – he’s an equal opportunities sociopath) then fixing him (or her) to a table with acres of clingfilm. When the victim regains consciousness Dexter selects one from a glittering array of surgically sharp bladed weapons and despatches him (or her) with care, brutal precision and evident relish. That’s how I want Arsenal and Villa to look this afternoon.
Anaesthetise them with the kind of scintillating attacking play we saw against, say West Ham, or in the second half against Liverpool, literally have them punch drunk, reeling and chasing shadows and then when they are reduced to prone, helpless prey deliver a series of viscous and yet beautifully crafted killer blows.
We all know the team have it in them. We know it because we’ve seen it, plenty of times. I’m watching highlights of some of our matches from this season and we have played some seriously joyous football, we really have. Even before the season started we saw some breathtaking stuff against FC Cologne. At just after 23 and a half minutes into the game a good interception by Gibbs led to a counter of such sure footed, quick passing that it was a travesty when Giroud’s curling shot was saved at the end of it. Personally I’d have given the keeper a yellow at the very least for Deliberate Ruination Of A Lovely Move. If it isn’t actually in the rule book then it bloody well ought to be.
Then when Southampton visited in September they ended up looking like one of those trailer parks after a tropical storm has landed. The quick thinking and freedom with which we moved the ball around, the intricate passes in and about their goal area and the merciless way we finished left their defence in tatters. They weren’t the only side to end up being designated a state of emergency after a visit from Hurricane Arsenal this season. Coventry, West Ham, Spurs, Reading and Newcastle have all been declared a disaster area after meeting our boys on the wrong day and in the wrong mood. When it’s worked for us this season it has worked to devastating effect.
Now I know and you know that there have been moments where things have gone less well. Sometimes we’ve been the architect of our own undoing, and even in the games where the opposition have been shrink wrapped on the table staring in wide eyed astonished terror at the shining blade they’ve somehow managed to sneak a goal or three. Doesn’t matter when you bag six or seven but as Liverpool proved it matters when you only match their two. But what is the point in dwelling on the negatives? It won’t cheer us up, it won’t send us into the match filled with optimism and hope and so what possible good would it do anyone beyond a criminally deranged masochistic depressive who has deliberately stopped taking his meds? Frankly, fuck that for a game of soldiers. I’d much rather watch and rewatch the opening one minute and thirty one seconds of the second half of the West Ham game at the Emirates:
Jack to Santi back to Tommy V. Tommy V wide to Bac who slips it first time down the line to Theo. He wriggles and squirms, takes three or four feather light flickering touches then passes to Giroud who plays the most sublime pass across his body, one touch, infield to Santi as Jack and Theo take off like greyhounds one inside the other out wide. Santi needs no touch to control Giroud’s perfectly weighted ball but rather sweeps it forward down the inside right channel for Theo to race onto. Twenty five seconds have elapsed when Theo sends the perfect cross into Jack’s flight path and only an heroic intervention from Tomkins who very nearly scores an own goal prevents us from taking the lead.
From the corner, taken short, Jack loops a high cross over their area and they head it clear. Gibbs picks up the knock-down and at this moment we still have eight players in and around their area. Gibbs plays a one two with his Captain then puts over a cross which is headed clear, Ramsay on the edge of the area, performs some ball juggling acrobatics off his chest and then delivers what looks like a contortionists pass with the outside of his right boot. It loops perfectly into Santi’s path and he Lukas and Gibbs tie a cats cradle through and around the visitor’s defence who just manage to hack it clear for another corner. One minute seventeen seconds gone.
Theo’s corner, from our left this time is driven to the near post where Per is waiting for his trademark flick on. Except he isn’t there. For some reason he abandoned his position peeling away back towards the penalty spot. And as we looked on bewildered Olivier Giroud appears from nowhere to redirect the ball inside the near post with a touch so exquisite, so skilful that the extraordinary difficulty of playing such a shot is not immediately apparent. One minute and thirty seconds gone and West Ham who had managed only four desperate touches of the ball were looking into the eyes of a remorseless killing machine, and could barely twitch in response.
That is what I’m hoping to see against Villa. When all the countless hours of work that Arsene and his coaching staff put in with the players pays off, when the beautiful engine he has assembled from so many diverse components of world football purrs into life then growls and then roars. That ninety seconds of play is what I see in my mind’s eye when someone tells me this team are past it, not good enough, didn’t cost enough, that Steve Bould can’t coach and Arsene can’t manage. Because believe me that wasn’t a fluke, that was what they work towards every day and that is what they can deliver. With confidence and consistency those special passages of play will become too numerous to separate in our memories. The deft touches, the assurance that a pass into space or made fast under pressure will find a team mate ready to nudge it around his marker or already be running onto the expected return, these things are all there, sometimes bubbling frustratingly close to and yet under the surface but ready to be unleashed in a venomous backlash.
Let it be today, please Arsene, let it be today.