There was an interesting debate on the subject of dumb luck this week on PA. I think we all learned something. I for one now accept that when I say we as Arsenal fans were phenomenally lucky to have seen Arsène Wenger arrive at Highbury all those years ago, his arrival actually came about as the result of a chain reaction of deliberate decisions and events both predictable and controllable. When I say that we have been cursed over many years with unbelievably bad luck in the number and type of injuries suffered, I accept that the injuries are explicable and merely savagely coincidental rather than quantifiably unlucky.
All of that notwithstanding, no matter how explicable the minute alterations made to the universe which all together add up to create an unwelcome event, I still call it bad luck. Just as I call it good luck when we score a goal which from certain angles might look to have been offside. So if my flagrant abuse of physics and the laws of causality don’t offend you too much then please read on. Otherwise can I recommend maybe a book or a magazine instead. Perhaps listen to some music while tidying the kitchen. I don’t want my words to upset anyone.
You see I believe it was the most outrageous stroke of good fortune that Arsene Wenger persuaded Mesut Özil to come to Arsenal. I think we are lucky Aaron Ramsey showed the good sense not to choose Man United when he had the chance and the fact that we signed Petr Čech just as Chelsea’s keeper was about to get crocked is as lucky a thing to have happened as any other in many a long year. Someone certainly burned the right offering to the gods that day.
Despite these strokes of happy chance and the way they’ve started to bear fruit for us this season there is another player who has been on my mind lately. Not the luckiest when it has come to getting a kick in the first team but a lad who has shown himself willing to work his way into contention for a starting place and who, in our ‘make or break’ encounter with Zagreb was simply brilliant.
The swagger in Joel Campbell’s play on Tuesday evening was evident almost from the kick off. He set up two clear chances with vision and panache and a fair slice of technique within the first 11 minutes. For the first he intercepts a loose ball in the area while surrounded by five Zagreb defenders and plays it calmly out to Hector Bellerin. He drifts wide and holds a good position as the defence are dragged infield by a mazy Cazorla run. Mesut Özil who sees things human eyes don’t even realise exist can’t resist Campbell lurking in ten yards of space and drills a precision pass to his feet which the Costa Rican controls with the outside of his left foot, two touches as he runs forward are followed by a swift step over and then he eases the ball wide with his right foot before pickling out Santi Cazorla with an exquisite pull back which the Spaniard balloons over the bar – his unwelcome speciality these days.
Campbell of two or three games ago might have tried to score in the crowded penalty area when the ball first fell to him, might have wanted to be certain of his control and so shifted to his left foot rather than risking his weaker right and might have lofted a hopeful cross to no one in particular. But now that he has been given a few games and his confidence is growing we got to see why Arsène liked the lad in the first place. Aren’t we lucky?
The second chance came about through a combination of positioning, skill, control, strength and vision and the confidence to link with the great Mesut Özil. His pass to Alexis deserved far better as the Chilean hesitated when one might have expected him to shoot. Only eleven minutes on the clock and we saw that we have a player on our hands. I hear you say ‘So what Stew? Should Aaron or Oxlade-Chamberlain boot him straight out of the side then he won’t be getting the chance to show us again any time soon.’
Let’s not be so hasty. Injuries will happen, substitute appearances will happen and rotation will happen. When the time comes again however we will see a confident Joel Campbell, known and understood better by those around him and ready to come in and make an impact, Zagreb was a game changer and I sincerely hope he reaps the rewards because while he is capable of finishing he looks like a provider to me and we can’t have too many of them in our team.
I know I shouldn’t be talking about a forward player when we’re all supposed to be getting our knickers in a twist about Francis Coquelin but it seems to me that isn’t really a terribly interesting or complex discussion. Francis has two hugely capable and experienced understudies who can partner Santi in the middle. One, Mikel Arteta, is injured, so Mathieu Flamini comes in. If he has to come off for any reason young Calum Chambers is most people’s favourite to fill in or of course the ever versatile Aaron Ramsey would give us guile and passing and boundless energy from the centre of midfield. There. Not really complicated is it?
Whoever plays against Norwich today our style will remain the same, pass and move and everyone back when we lose the ball. Close from the front and gradually press higher and higher upfield as we attempt to squeeze the opposition into submission. Santi will wriggle and twist away from their advanced midfielders and Mesut will conduct the orchestra like no one else on earth can do. Alexis will pop and fizz like the fourth of July in Baton Rouge, and at the end Olivier will patiently await his chance while our full backs stretch the defenders to tearing point.
So what of our opponents today? Norwich City are not performing to their full potential so far this season. They are currently languishing in sixteenth place in the table having won only one in their last six so they are either in a horrible downward slide or due a change in their fortunes. Let’s hope the former is the case. Not that I wish them any ill will but if they’re going to enjoy a resurgence let it begin in a few weeks time when they play Man United and not today please.
We are in a curious position. Our last league outing was a crushing disappointment but our performance on Tuesday a revelation. Which result if either will influence us today? And even if it is the surprise reversal at the hands of the Baggies that plays on our mind then our hosts at Carrow Road are in just as bad a position if not worse. They lost their last fixture to Chelsea, perhaps a more humiliating defeat than being beaten by West Brom.
I shan’t speculate on the precise formation Arsène will choose today but I will be fascinated to see if a certain young man from Costa Rica has done enough to allow Aaron another substitute appearance. I’d be happier if our Welsh wonder were to be eased back in gently but that’s because I’m a superstitious fool and not possessed of the facts and fitness information available to those paid to make the decisions.
I read an excellent blog yesterday praising the work of Mesut Özil which was blighted by only one sentence. The author described Arsène’s decision to play our German maestro on the left of midfield last season as ‘inexplicable’. This is the problem I have with many of us armchair experts. The decision to start Mesut on the left or Aaron on the right isn’t ‘inexplicable’ it simply hasn’t been explained to you or to me. There is a world of difference between something that has no reason and decisions taken for reasons to which we are not party.
I much prefer to comment on what I think I see on the pitch, revel in what goes well and forget what goes wrong as soon as I possibly can. The rest I leave to the professionals. As our old friend Mel O’Reilly is fond of reminding us, he doesn’t tell Mr Kipling how to bake cakes, does he?