A guest post from @foreverheady
Meaningless methadone it may have been and for the manager and team no doubt a low stakes game, where getting fit and building up gently for the rigours to come was the main priority. And yet Arsene would have known that it was also a game that the team was expected to win, and win well – and that the right result would do much to build momentum and confidence. It was a useful, risk free game for the critics too: a win would be treated as all that should have been expected and that counted for nothing, while a stumbling draw or embarrassing defeat sure signs that the team was lacking the key personel so obstinately ignored by the out of touch manager.
But as things turned out, something rather wonderful emerged from a game which certainly exceeded my expectations – and given that this was the third time in a row that this has happened it is perhaps time to start taking it seriously. In the final game of the 14/15 League season Arsenal needed a point to secure third place in the table, their charge towards second spot having been derailed by two disappointing home results (with no goals scored each time) and a lacklustre point at Old Trafford. West Brom at home was a nice way to finish the campaign, but there were plenty saying that if we couldn’t break down the Swansea and Sunderland defences we would struggle to do so against a Pulis team. To add to the interest the following week’s Cup Final ensured that players would be anxious to make a last claim on a starting spot, while also remaining injury free. Arsene rested Giroud and started with Walcott up front and in an astonishing display of free flowing football Arsenal scored four goals, with Theo bagging three. It was breath-taking and the WBA defence was shredded. Much the same happened at Wembley: once again Walcott started centrally; once again the team scored four with Walcott the first scorer.
Fast forward seven weeks or so to the game yesterday, and Walcott was again a central attacker, although this time paired with Giroud in what looked suspiciously like a 442. I have to say it didn’t come as a total surprise to see Theo open the scoring, but what was slightly unexpected was the fluency and sharpness of the team, who seemed to pick things up exactly as they had left them at Wembley. At times the Everton players looked compleley bemused by the speed and trickery of their opposition, and if you haven’t seen the game I urge you to find a recording of it somewhere. Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey and Wilshere were unplayable, the stretching runs of Walcott almost impossible to predict. This was football of the highest order, football that no English club has produced for some time – and as I say, it was the third time in three games that it has happened. Yes, it was only a pre-season friendly (although before the game I was told Everton would provide a stern test). Yes, Aston Villa were poor (although before the Final I was told that they would be awkward opponents). Yes, the Baggies played as if they were already on the beach (although before the game I was told they would be resolute and well-organised). And yes, harder games lie ahead and we won’t always have it our own way (thanks for pointing that out because I would never have thought it, wet behind the ears that I am).
But given the evidence of yesterday, you would be foolish to think anything else than this side is transforming into something rather special who play football in a most unusual and next-level way. Any new signings will have to fit into this new evolving pattern – and, of course, help it evolve still further. These are exciting times to follow The Arsenal – and yes, it is only pre-season, but if you can’t be optimistic and excited in July, then you really have no business being a fan at all.