Well, that was a disappointment wasn’t it? I don’t know about you but I didn’t sleep well last night. Ridiculous really how much of an emotional impact a reversal on a football pitch can inflict isn’t it?
If an uninvolved bystander such as myself is so crestfallen after the match (and contrary to what others might think I am deeply deeply fed up) one can readily apprehend the depths of despair to which the players must have sunk. That’s before we even consider the unenviable task facing the manager. Imagine the gut wrenching anguish Arsène must be feeling this morning and he, unlike us, cannot express it, cannot wallow but instead must ignore his own pain and try to motivate his players, to instil the necessary belief without which they cannot hope to overturn the two goal deficit when they travel to Monaco on St Patrick’s day.
Many people underrated Monaco yesterday, at least I must assume so judging by the wildly optimistic scoreline predictions we saw being bandied about. The simple truth is that if you wanted to demonstrate the consummate away performance in a European tie you would be hard pressed to beat the men from the Principality and the way they went about their business last night. Before you shoot me down for that remark let me say that I am well aware that they rode their luck last night, not once but twice. The first time was when they got away with as blatant a handball as you will ever see go unpunished inside a penalty area and the second of course was when, entirely against the run of play, they fluked a goal with the aid of a horrible deflection. The point is, however, that many great victories come with a lucky break. How many double centuries have you witnessed where the batsman was dropped while still in single figures? The Spanish Armada, Waterloo the outcomes of both battles hinged largely upon the vagaries of the weather. What matters is how you use that good fortune, how you turn it to your advantage.
Last night Monaco turned it to their advantage in a ruthlessly efficient manner which you can only admire. Set up to defend and hit on the break it was vital for the visitors not to concede early on and the platform that the lucky goal gave them came at the perfect time. Up until that decisive moment Arsenal’s tactics had been perfect, closing down, cutting off their supply before they had a chance to mount a counter attack and keeping them pressed back. The penalty apart we came close on a couple of occasions but sadly it was not to be. Once they had the lead they simply needed to defend well and wait for us to come at them knowing that as the game went on we would have to attack in ever increasing numbers. When this inevitably happened they knew gaps would appear in our rearguard which their fast direct counter attacking style could easily exploit. And that of course is just what they did. Superb defending at the team level with every man in his position stifling the quick inventive approach for which we are rightly famed but also at the individual level with so many well timed tackles and interceptions that I lost count of them.
Sometimes you simply have to doff your cap to the opposition and say well played. They got their lucky break, they made absolutely the best of it and now our squad has somehow to rise from the ashes of this setback and show its mettle. It is of course simple for me to sit here in rainy Somerset and say these things. So much harder for the people actually involved at the club. There are however some important facts to remember. We’ve overturned such deficits before. We’ve gone away in Europe where nobody gave us a prayer and got the result. We’ve overcome disappointment in cup ties to raise our game in the league plenty of times. Above all we have to face Everton on Sunday and every new game is an opportunity to wipe clean the stain of previous setbacks and get ourselves back into winning ways.
Wallow if you want to, that’s fine, without the despair there is no joy, it’s the emotional cycle through which all sports fans must go, but never lose hope and never lose faith in these players. They were handed a lesson yesterday, without question, but today is a new day and they must dust themselves off and get on with the job.
That’s enough omphaloskepsis for one morning – I’m already looking forward to Sunday.