Last time we spoke I was wondering whether or not I ought to watch the match. Could I release some kind of reverse jinx hoodoo and help Arsenal overcome Bayern by missing it? Well, by now, unless you’ve been held against your will in some remote Gulag you probably know the outcome. Thanks to me giving up on all forms of superstition and just watching the match we triumphed. We trounced them. We out thought them, out manoeuvred them and out foxed them. Thanks, as I say to my not paying any attention to any silly nonsense about lucky charms and rituals. I suppose Nacho Monreal can share in the credit with me. Perhaps Arsène Wenger too.
The rest of this week has passed in something of a haze. I’m still recuperating after my unplanned aerobatics while nominally out mountain biking. I made the mistake of assuming that as the agony had all but subsided I could come off my pain medication. Needless to say of course the only reason I wasn’t experiencing the full warp factor ten discomfort levels was due to the very course of physic from which I had so recently abstained.
Consequently by Thursday evening I could be found staggering about like a flayed man in a cactus patch howling for codeine. I have since scored some pills which have an effect similar to that of a marquee erector’s mallet to the base of the skull and while my pain threshold has been suitably raised my coherence levels are experiencing a severe dip in the market. Cognitive function is through the floor and there are no takers for reflexes nor conversational sparkle.
I mention all this simply by way of explanation in case you feel short changed with this morning’s offering. I find my analgesically addled concentration drifts from the matter in hand to other matters and even on occasions to other hands. The most cursory of glances over the preceding paragraphs is evidence of this. The only reason I haven’t drifted from the point of today’s duel with the blue half of Merseyside is that I haven’t even managed to as much as get to the point in the first place.
I’ll have a go and see how far I get. Normally, and I think normally is the word I want, it might be usually, generally, customarily or ordinarily, to be honest they are all reasonably synonymous with one another, either way in the usual run of things, at least as far as this season goes, we would expect to find ourselves intrigued. Intrigued that is to discover how the boys can respond after a Champion’s League let down, a cup calamity, a European setback. How, we cry, will the manager motivate his charges, lift their heads and inspire them to give of their best on resumption of their Premier League duties? I have to say Arsène has answered any doubters in the camp with some reasonably emphatic post Euro faux pas performances.
This time we face a different dilemma. Whereas after Olympiacos the lads would have slunk back to their digs, collars turned high, hat brims pulled low and hoped to get off the N41 for Crouch End Broadway without any of their fellow passengers recognising them, the post Bayern binge must have been at least a two day bender. I should imagine they all had to train in bin bags to sweat it out yesterday. How Arsène will pull his bleary eyed boys back into some semblance of order and persuade them that the party is over and they need to get back to work I do not know.
The visit of Everton is not to be taken lightly, and the eleven who start and the three who come on for the final chukka will need to be sober, present and correct today. One of them at least may well have been surreptitiously bunging his tequila shots into the potted plants after Tuesday night’s epic match. The hugely unwelcome injury to Aaron Ramsey opens a door to one of the second eleven as we used to call them.
I’m firmly in the Oxlade-Chamberlain camp as I feel his inclusion offers the least disruption to the other positions and partnerships on the pitch, he has played there before and while it is true bad lack and bad judgement have dogged the defensive side of his game I strongly suggest that a run of matches would be the best antidote, next that is to a couple of well taken goals. We know the boy has phenomenal talent and we know that were he to really catch fire then an attacking three of him, Theo and Sanchez would pour ice down the jerseys of the most resolute of defenders. When one adds the guile, class and abundant energy of Mesut Özil, the understanding between Santi and Francis Coquelin and two of the best fullbacks in the league, then even missing the man who I think of as our most vital cog we ought still to have enough about us to continue our fine run of results.
I haven’t mentioned how good Per, Kos and Petr Čech are because quite frankly that is like pointing out that the Himalayas are quite a long way above sea level or that the moon is made of cheese – some things are taken as red and do not need reiterating. Or even iterating in the first place. I confess where Čech is concerned I had been worried. When I heard we’d signed someone from The Bridge, the Stew Black lip was seen to curl of its own volition. It is hard for me to warm for men from that area of Fulham but of them all the former first choice between the sticks seemed the most likeable. Also the man is a drummer and as such I thought I ought to at least have sympathy for him. We bass players do an awful lot of good work in the community helping drummers to fit in with normal society, covering their mistakes on stage and showing them what the fork is for during meal breaks in recording sessions.
My worries were more to do with his age and ring rustiness. Was he replaced by Courtois for a reason? Were we getting ourselves a rusting, beaten up old hulk of a keeper trading upon his past glories or did he still have enough of the right stuff to provide the final piece in our defensive jigsaw? His early games saw my apprehension rise. Handling errors like that made by David Ospina are entirely understandable and eminently forgiveable. We are all taught on our mother’s knee that to err is human. The positional howlers Mr Čech made in his early appearances were far more troubling. These were the type of mistakes that you did not expect from a man of his experience. Can I just state for the record that any residual doubts doubts I may have still harboured evaporated like breath off a scalpel after Tuesday night. In fairness he’s been growing in stature in every game but on the occasions – the perhaps inevitable occasions – that Bayern broke through, the giant Czech was the final rock in their path, the one they simply could not overcome. He was so good I would say he almost rivalled Nacho as my man of the match. It appears that he just needed time to get into the swing again. As with medication so with goalies – I should learn to be more patient.
We are the team to beat at the moment, top of the form table with five wins in the previous six. In comparison, Everton’s form over a similar period sees them in eleventh place. Like us they have only lost one of their recent half dozen but have been picking up a lot more draws. One warning note – they are unbeaten away from home having won two and drawn two on the road this season while we have only won 50% of our home fixtures. Do not be surprised if we too need to be patient this afternoon. This is a team which must have honest hopes of travelling back up the M1 with at least a point in their pocket despite our blistering run of form.
How do we make sure that we keep the pressure on Man City? It depends on how Martinez decides to play it. If he wants to do to us what we did to Bayern then he had better hope his forwards are quick and accurate when they get their chances and his defence and midfield have the game of their lives. We will need to do what Bayern did only do it better. Win the ball back quickly, put them under steadily increasing pressure and wait to exploit the cracks as and when they appear. If Everton come out and try to go toe to toe with us then we need to give them a taste of the medicine which Man United found so unpalatable here a couple of weeks ago.
One of the biggest lies told to the gullible is that Arsène doesn’t do tactics. That’s like saying MPs don’t do expenses or Captain Birdseye doesn’t do breadcrumbs. It’s just baloney as we all know. His sides are intelligent enough and flexible enough to adapt to the strategy of their opponents, to implement a careful and rigid game plan or to improvise when the opportunity arises.
Who we’ll see replacing Aaron will have maybe less of an impact than the way Martinez men go about the quest for their draw. Can the fans be as intelligent and adaptable and show the necessary stoicism? That is down to the psychology of the individual. You and I will float through the game in a bubble of serenity, smiling sweetly at each impudent flick and indulgently forgiving the occasional misplaced pass. Or at least I shall – as long as these pills don’t lose their potency before half past five this evening. Which reminds me, it’s time I had another hit, so I’ll say adieu for now, I’m off to get the spoon and the rope and stick the Velvet Underground on my turntable. Man.