There was something extremely cathartic about Danny Welbeck’s goal on Sunday. A palpable relief of tension so orgasmic that my involuntary exclamation awoke Liz from a deep and dreamless sleep. I was watching in the wee small hours having evaded the score until I returned home from my labours and had managed to remain quietly respectful to those already ensconced in the land of nod. There are though some moments in a football match which are like a sneeze – you just can’t help but produce an explosion of unexpected noise and the second, decisive goal of our encounter with Jose Mourinho and his merry men was just such a moment.
There was of course the fact that the game was all but over from the instance the ball crashed in off the underside of the bar, but there were other things in play. While the team have been battling to find lost form and wayward confidence I’ve often found myself watching games as if holding my breath. Like observing a drunken relative carrying a baby across an untidy room I’m willing them to succeed but all the time oppressed with the nagging thought that the whole enterprise is one misstep from disaster.
That tension blew out like a surfacing whale when The Ox’s perfect cross connected so sweetly with Danny’s bonce. Earlier in the game the commentators had been wittering about young Noddy Holding’s slightly under hit back pass as if it were the greatest disaster since Blues Brothers 2000 and I was feeling for the kid. He’d had a good game, looked skilful and composed in possession and brimming with confidence yet they’d hung him out to dry on the flimsiest pretext. So when he was instrumental in setting up that goal another bubble of frustration burst.
He completely Coquelined the United turnover when we seemed to have lost our way, momentum, and the ball, not only robbing the opposition player but sliding out a long leg to direct a sweetly improvised pass to AOC which took another defender off the board. It was a gorgeous moment fully deserving of the goal which followed.
So, if my noisy nocturnal instincts were correct the team felt the monkey leave their back on Sunday afternoon and tonight, while I don’t expect an easy game, should at least be a really good contest. Southampton at St Mary’s has provided an uncomfortable experience for visiting Arsenal fans in recent times. I was surprised to discover that we must go back as far as 2003 for our last league victory there. We have of course a memorable FA Cup win in January to balance against this disagreeable statistic, but cup ties are notoriously individual and shouldn’t be seen as part of the trend.
On their day these Saints players can be obdurate and awkward opponents. They came away from Anfield with a goalless draw, played out similarly fruitless ninety minutes with Hull and Bournemouth and unlike Arsenal have beaten West Brom and Crystal Palace. Set against these results they also leaked seven goals in total against City and Chelsea and so a picture emerges of a capable side but one which, with a fair wind and a good start can be put to the sword.
The big question hanging over our team selection, apart from the usual knocks and scrapes, is the injury to Lauren Koscielny. I can’t overstate his importance to our back line and you’d have to be a football illiterate not to appreciate the calm he brings to those around him and the complete arse aching irritant he must be to every striker unfortunate enough to have to face him. With a new formation still bedding in his leadership and nous have been and will continue to be vital for our chances in the remaining fixtures. Can he be risked? With a cup final looming and our league position precarious it’s a tough choice for the manager to ponder.
The other variable in recent games has been in the centre forward position. Gone are the days when our top two was a given. We have now the luxury of five players each capable of bringing something different to the role. Needless to say I like them all and will be happy whoever starts but in an away fixture it may be that Giroud’s masterful hold up play and defensive cover at set pieces wins out. Of course I have no clue about tactics – no more than any other blogger out there and will not be offering advice to the manager. Having an opinion and having expertise are as far apart as reading Arthur C. Clarke is to building a space ship: leave it to those who know is my mantra and one I’m content to repeat.
Once again the fixture has fallen at a time when I will be at the coal face so it’ll be a Thursday morning breakfast match for me. For the rest of you I trust it will be a joyous evening and a rare chance this season to see the Arsenal rolling without that proverbial handbrake on. To my mind beating United was only half of the job – stepping over them in the table tonight would complete the task. I believe we can do it. I look forward to being proved right.