Damn the coffee tastes good this morning. I had a long and wearying day yesterday, entirely missed any football related news and gossip and have woken to thin watery sunlight washing through chill autumnal air. Only one thought could kick me out of the womb like warm coddling of my memory foamed paradise; Turf Moor, sixteen thirty hours, and the return of our all conquering heroes.
There is a superstition among fans that travelling north of Watford on the weekend following a European midweek match is a tricky affair. The best we can hope for is to survive and nick the points and return home to prepare for the next game when, refreshed and rejuvenated, the boys can once again turn on the style. That mood has not so much lifted as evaporated this week.
Such is the atmosphere of joy and goodwill within the Arsenal family right now that everyone is licking their lips in anticipation, revelling in some sparkling performances and generally not coming down off their post Chelsea buzz. I’m a naturally cautious character. Having predicted a good day when Costa and co visited the Emirates I agonised over removing the offending paragraph. Terrified of hubris, of misplaced optimism, and (whisper it) being irrationally and unforgivably concerned at ‘jinxing’ the result it was a genuinely difficult decision to leave it in.
In the end the sense of gathering momentum, the hints of a joyous return to the wonders of Wengerball were so strong as to be irresistible and my inner editor waved the white flag and skulked off to sulk in the corner. Of course I didn’t ‘know’ we would trounce Chelsea and produce a performance of breathtaking superiority over Basel. I didn’t dare to even guess but I had to express the feeling, to try to articulate the warm spread of confidence that came not out of the blue but from the steadily growing assurance with which the team was playing. The signs were there against Watford, and they proved themselves true.
So now the point in hand. Can we continue the momentum against Burnley? Is this side on the verge of putting together an indomitable run or have we just witnessed a flash in the pan? A quick survey of the coffee grinds reveals nothing of note and certainly nothing pertinent to the football. Our opposition promises obdurate, methodical defence and a George Graham like miserliness whenever they take the lead. Arsène said, in one of his many interviews last week, that Sean Dyche has come up with a system for Premier League survival, honed over his four years in charge, and based around efficiency and organisation.
This suggests that we will need to be at our fast, inventive and free flowing best to bypass an obdurate midfield and well drilled defence. We have of course had plenty of experience of siege warfare over the years. Teams are alleged to have hit upon two ways to frustrate Arsène Wenger’s side; kick ’em up in the air, or pack the defence and hope for the long ball counter attacking goal. I have often seen people bemoaning the fact that we appear incapable of dealing with either tactic to which I have a one word response. Phooey.
If we were truly unsuccessful when faced with the tactical defence employed by ninety percent of our opponents then we would hardly be finishing in the top four year on year would we? While it can be frustrating to watch sometimes the team generally does get their reward. The exceptions which prove the rule of course stick in the craw and take on a distorted importance in much the same way as the single grain of sand renders the Vaseline less efficacious than one might otherwise wish.
Having said that it is a gruelling business wearing down a dogged defence and can delay the crucial breakthrough until very late in the game. I suspect that rather than going fishing and assuming all will be well on the day, the greatest coach in the Premier League spends many of his waking hours turning over solutions to the problem in that overstuffed Gallic noggin of his. I also believe we are seeing the fruits of those mental labours played out on the pitch.
A subtle shift in tactics enabled by being able to augment the squad with the right kind of players, by patiently allowing key personnel to return to form after long spells of injury and shifting others positionally have all combined to a new, dare I say more ruthless version of Wengerball. Fast direct running with simple combinations such as that which left Theo romping into the open spaces behind the Basel defence for his second goal. Lofted passes over the massed ranks exploited by lightning quick, intuitive footballers coming from all over the pitch whether nominally wide midfielders, fullbacks or strikers. All of this combined with the tried and trusted patient passing moves designed to keep possession, frustrate the opposition and draw them out from their lair has achieved a heady brew of irresistible football.
My pesky inner editor wants me to sound a note of caution now. This entire caffeine fuelled piece, he says, has a ring of triumphalism surely out of place in a preview of events yet to pass. Once again I squash his objections and counter with this. I’m not predicting an easy win, heck I’ve not even predicted a win. All I’m doing is revelling in a purple patch, enjoying the sun while it shines and gathering ye rosebuds, in time honoured fashion, while I may. I don’t predict nor expect the wonderful form of the last two games to continue for the rest of the season, that would be a fatuous exercise in trying your patience. However I do firmly believe that if we can’t be happy and enjoy the sport when our team is playing well and winning then really, we should question whether we ought to be following the game at all.
If you’re travelling to Lancashire today, wrap up warm and I trust you’ll be in good voice. If you haven’t heard from me by four o’clock, send someone round to give me a poke, it’s just possible the coffee may have worn off and yesterday’s exertions have caught up with me. I’d hate to be sleeping when the the next chapter in this fascinating football story unfolds.