Brave Arsenal Bounce Back to the Top

Back in the early days of the Emirates, Wenger’s Arsenal gave the word “brave” a new meaning, at least in football terms. For some, bravery will always be about barrelling into the 50-50s and putting your face in harm’s way like Phil Jones. 

But for us, as we honed the short passing game that endures in Arteta’s Arsenal, “bravery” became sticking with your football principles in the face of setbacks, ridicule, and occasional violence. 

It was in those days, not the glory of the Invincibles, that Arsenal’s modern identity was forged. This is our Plan A. 

Our courage is about taking the difficult but more effective option. That might mean passing and receiving in tight areas, or looking for overlaps even when you know the other team is ready to pounce on the counter. Above all it means persevering, like Saka did all match, knowing you will be kicked. 

That devotion to technicality even bled into our corners, in which we kept playing it short, and kept finding players in dangerous positions, like Zinchenko to make it 2-2. 

Yesterday’s win at Villa, when Sauron’s eye was glaring at the manager and players was brave as hell. That was true for the final 20 minutes, when we continued to go for the win, knowing that counter attacks are Emery’s meat and drink. 

Villa’s two goals were clinical in a way that makes it hard to point fingers at our players, but even if they were out of the blue they put us in a position where there was no longer margin for error, even when we’d been playing quite well again. 

We revelled in that pressure this time. Take the passage of play before Zinchenko’s equaliser: Saliba tracked Watkins on a potential counter, ushered him down an alley and mugged him for the ball. It was a colossal piece of defending and exemplified a team shrugging off the baggage and rising to the challenge. 

The past two weeks—yes, it’s only been two weeks since Everton away—Arsenal have played like a good team going through a sticky patch, as opposed to an average team that had finally been found out. 

The way we look back at this run will always be coloured by the results, but in every game you could say that we’ve done the things that good teams do. For me, that applies most of all to the way we’ve worked the ball from defence to attack, only for things to break down. 

Throughout this run, it has taken something special or a unique set of circumstances to take points off us.

But Villa are nothing special, and were the most vulnerable of any team we’ve faced since Wolves before the World Cup. They’ve got a lot of talented players, and Emery is still one of the best at preparing for individual matches, but their momentum has ebbed since the new year.

And while we’ve been doing a lot of things right recently, we haven’t been winning. Good teams win, and this was a winnable game. 

There were other factors in play of course. One was the physical aspect, with under 72 hours between kick-offs. Another is morale. It would only be natural for heads to drop after a winless run.

And yet, even in the lowest point in this game, immediately after Villa had scored their second, we were brave enough to keep playing our football, attempting and succeeding with high-tariff passes through the lines to players in spots that made Villa uncomfortable. 

Good examples were Xhaka finding Nketiah in the area from deep, or Saliba clipping a pass out to Saka on the move, as we tried to assert ourselves the only way we know. 

Fast-forward to a match poised at 2-2, with six minutes added and a lot more wasted by Emi Martínez. If we had ridden our luck, Villa had burned through a season’s worth. And here we are, pinning them in their box, working it from side-to-side, looking for a yard. By hanging back, Jorginho found several, and he made the most satisfying connection. 

The ball ricocheted off the crossbar and then off the head of Martínez, as poetic comeuppance, as if some greater force had looked at Arsenal’s last two weeks, had watched that guy’s World Cup celebrations, and said, “You know what, you deserve this.” 

It was a fitting end to a week in which Arsenal were supposed to have been figured out and needed to come up with a Plan B. 

No way, Arsenal must live and die by our Plan A, because our Plan A is who we are.


11 comments on “Brave Arsenal Bounce Back to the Top

  1. It’s a great summary and I’d also say Plan A would not be being questioned but for some of the dodgiest VAR activity so far seen since its introduction, and our more recent inability to take some of our chances whilst occasionally granting our opponents gift-wrapped equivalents that have largely been gobbled up.

    I was dreading another lunchtime kick-off, especially one so soon since our last game – two red flags for the price of one.

    In the 2nd half we always looked like we ‘should’ end up winners but as the extra-time was announced, one began to fear the worst.

    I was particularly pleased with the Zinchenko and Jorginho goals, as these two had been picking up the brickbats of ill-considered criticism recently – and what ways to answer those! The ex-Chelsea stalwart in particular will unlikely score a better assist, ever.

    Great game, potentially season-changing result.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A long-standing invitation to Ascot races meant I had to endure loud and boorish hilarity from what surely must have been Chelsea fans as I walked from car park to course while the news of Villa’s opening goal spread like wildfire. Relying then on Twitter to follow the match, I saw how quickly our self-proclaimed best supporters in the league turned on the team: all the weary old tropes were wheeled out, with Nketiah, Odegaard, Jorghino and Xhaka (of course) coming in for the harshest criticism. So the equalising goal, Ramsdale’s save, and the sweetest of poetic justice in the dying minutes more than made up for Mrs Heady’s unbridled disapproval at my frequent absences from the luncheon table.
    What a great result, and what a great and perceptive review. Well played Birdy, well played the team and manager, and well played Edu and his henchmen for their comprehensive exploitation of Chelsea’s risible transfer policy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post . Took a while to get going, looked weary and even lacking confidence in the first half, but an excellent second half, with some standout performances, especially an ex Chelsea player replacing the supposed irreplaceable.
    Saka continues to amaze me, no matter what the things refereeing the game let be inflicted on him, he generally gets up and does his best to do the opponent damage. But I do worry for him over time, he is one of his country’s star players but doesn’t get the protection usually afforded that role because he plays for Arsenal. Imagine what would happen to players rotational fouling say Grealish.
    Whether it was the coaching team collective will or whatever, they deserve huge credit for the second half performance , just 2.5 days on from facing arguably the best team in the world.
    And they beat the curse of ref Hooper, who until yesterday, hadn’t officiated an away win all season, and for some of that game, I could see why

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great read once again. The guts and determination running through this squad is there for all to see. It is these traits that will be needed to counter not only the football but the tackles, the VAR decisions and banal punditry.
    There will many twists and turns before this season is out but Arsenal are well equipped for the roller coaster.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks so much again, AA, FH, PG, MD and BB.

    And it’s true AA—the blip wouldn’t have become a wobble if VAR had done its job last weekend.

    Jorginho’s surely got a couple more seasons at the top, and Chelsea pretty much gave him to us. Now one of the weakest areas in our squad is one of the strongest. Hope it turns out to be like AC Milan letting Pirlo go.


  7. Interesting referee decisions again in the Manu game. That is all I am saying.


  8. I expect Ferguson hasn’t got long so they’re trying to give him one last tilted title to celebrate


  9. I think the language we use is very important.
    I have never seen VAR get anything wrong it is the trolls from PIGMOL who “forget” draw incorrect lines or interpret situations wrongly.
    It is embarrassing that football is the only sport where technology is questioned.
    We need to be honest the standard of officials is that bad it looks like it’s corrupt.
    Even something as simple as timekeeping is not done correctly and to be honest has been bent for years.
    Look at the second half. Eight subs at thirty seconds a sub, a goal 30 seconds, a booking for time wasting 30 seconds and you’re up to five minutes already. Now take into account two major stoppages in the first twelve minutes of the second half and it has to be a minimum of 12 minutes extra time. Strangely when there was a VAR check when we went 3-2 up an extra two minutes was added it has to be bent
    In most sports the ref has nothing to do with time added on but the clock is automatically stopped. It’s easy but PIGMOL won’t use it because they can’t give their favourite teams extra time.
    Throw ins is another easy fix. Mark where the ball goes out and give the throw to the opposition if a player steps over it. At the moment officials don’t care where throws are taken, even in the other half at times.
    Technology is our friend so when there are dodgy decisions remember is PIGMOL and not VAR.


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