Can’t guarantee this blog will be worth reading. There are two reasons for my starting a little with the handbrake on. Firstly I could have sworn I already did West Brom just the other day and secondly I have a raging toothache and just necked a chemical cocktail of pain killers including some prescription pills we found when we cleared out Dad’s bedside cupboard after he died in 2004. He had them for his bad back but anything will do when the hot tea hits the root canal. I will persevere for as long the words swim in a vaguely legible fashion but once the old pink pachyderms start floating across the page I shall retire gracefully from the fray.
Our opponents today have been the surprise package in the early part of the season. Apart from routine wins at places like Old Trafford and creditable draws against Fulham and Everton they really raised eyebrows by managing to take Arsenal to extra time and penalties in the Carling Cup. Rumbelows Cup. Milk, Littlewoods, Coca Cola, Whatever The Hell It Is Now Cup. You know the one. Here’s an idea, let’s all go back to calling it the League Cup and we’ll know where we are. What the hell is Capital One anyway? No idea. Could be a chain of airport jewellers or an Albanian Lama Farm for all I know and frankly I don’t care to be educated on the subject.
I have watched the Baggies twice this season and found them to be a bit of a curate’s egg. They were in the one instance prepared to commit a range of niggling and unnecessary fouls and in the second showed themselves capable of some scintillating skill on the ball, good movement off it and against admittedly poor opposition in Manchester they played with a calm maturity which did them credit. I was particularly impressed with Stéphane Sessègnon but also the strength of the central defenders and the speed of the whole team on the break. In fact I have to say that in the past sides have done to us what West Brom did to United with solid obstinate defending and fast opportunist counter attacking football and even though we look a lot less vulnerable to such tactics these days I am fairly certain that they’ll adopt a similar approach this afternoon.
How am I doing? Seems OK so far but I know people under the influence often exaggerate their own coherence so I’m aware that when I read this back later it may be so much gobbledegook. I might have written out my shopping list for all I know. It’ll certainly make the trip to Lidl interesting as I try to fit a match preview into my trolley. At least I haven’t mentioned Winston Churchill this time. That seemed to kick off all sorts of problems in my previous write up. I do want to focus on an aspect of our game as well as the usual stuff about German supermarkets and dead statesmen that you expect to find in an Arsenal blog. I’ve been impressed with almost every aspect of our play lately. I am in the minority perhaps in thinking that the second half against Rafa’s merry men was in some ways more significant than the first. How can I say such crazy stuff? Well it’s partly down to the cough medicine I used to wash down Dad’s out of date pills but also there are arguable footballistic reasons behind the assertion.
In the first half we blew away a team who were I believe unbeaten in all competitions prior to stepping onto our hallowed turf. Blew them away. It was a mouth watering tsunami of football from a group of players at the top of their game and I doubt anyone could have lived with us in that mood. In the second half some folk were disappointed that we didn’t continue apace and put them to the sword. A five or six goal humiliation is of course always fun for us to witness, especially if we’re dishing it out rather than bending over and receiving the punishment. There was understandable discontent that we appeared to lack the killer edge of the first half but I feel very differently about what happened and the possible reasons for it. In the past we have been in similar situations and not known whether to shit or get off the pot. If we went gung-ho at teams we ran the very real risk of shipping annoying goals as against Tottenham Hotsuprs a few years back when we ended up drawing a game we could have won and yet at the same time we never looked comfortable trying to see out the match once we’d taken the lead. This is why I have enjoyed our recent performances, especially the second half on Tuesday.
There are two things happening. On the one hand we are playing with much more maturity and confidence than in the past. Sometimes the ‘Per….. Kos….. Bac… Per.. Kos.. Per KosPerKos – Aaaargh! – Szczęsny hoof it away’ routine still happens and that fills none of us with pacific tranquillity, but more often than not we defend a lead in tigerish depth and, when we win it back, play the ball around with enormous composure. This was much in evidence against Napoli and is the stuff winning sides are made of. The second thing is that a squad battered and bereft by a spate of untimely injuries to top class players and with a new face occupying a vital position have had to play a lot of games in very quick succession. High pressure games with all sorts riding on them. They’ve done this in the certain knowledge that most of them will be wheeled out again in a couple of days as the reserves just aren’t there at the moment to allow tired legs to be rotated. So they’ve preserved themselves. They’ve been good enough to get their noses in front and go into cruise control and see out the match with the bare minimum of fuss. No mean feat and requiring no little skill and self belief. On occasions, such as the last time we travelled to the Midlands to face today’s opponents, the match has descended into more of a dog fight but the players have shown themselves more than capable of rolling up metaphorical sleeves when the situation demanded it and getting stuck in. Skill. Composure. Maturity. Determination. Flexibility. Qualities any sporting team need and I believe we have in abundance.
There is a sense of us approaching the turning of a page as far as the season goes. I’ve heard plenty saying ‘let’s get to the international break and see where we are’, or ‘we could be top of the league and top of our group at the international break’. As Churchill said, ‘this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning’. Phase one over, still in all cup competitions and top of both league groups would be a decidedly acceptable place to be. More importantly the break actually comes at a pretty good time for once as we await the return of our injured players. I believe that win lose or draw today and we have still had a fine beginning. We have of course been here before and seen the wheels fall off. We’ve seen United struggle in the first few weeks and walk away with the league. However we’ve also seen Arsène build sides that start breaking club records during the course of a season and go on to achieve true greatness. Which will this season be? Of course I don’t know any more than you do, I have a gut feeling, but I am as superstitious as the next fan where the beautiful game is concerned and so will not speak of such things in a public forum.
Let me conclude by saying that this elephant is becoming a little uncomfortable and I may need to buy a new cheek in Argos today as I appear to have bitten through the old one. Or perhaps it’s just my wife’s jumper, I wish it would climb down from there. It’s high time for another tablet; your round I believe?