Dreary, dogged, dour Arsenal eek out three points. That was simultaneously painful and invigorating to watch. One commentator compared us to Sheffield United. The same commentator would previously decries Arsenal as not having a backbone. We’re either boring and defensive yet gaining points. Or they complain we can’t tough it out and win games.
That’s exactly what we did. Did we have some luck. Sure. Maybe it’s payback for Everton, Wolves and countless other games when we were genuinely unlucky. Here, we defended and forced Chelski to play sideways and backwards. We made them look like us when we lost to Leicester. Except then were were savaged by the media and Leicester were acclaimed for their tactical masterpiece. How Brendan had outsmarted Arteta. That’s just the hypocrisy we have to live with. And, worst of all, it’s compounded by our own fans. We won. We got 3 points. And I bet all we’ll hear is how it’s too little too late. How our style was abject – which, of course – it was. So what. Those fans that chased out Wenger are now intent on repeating the same trick with Arteta. They have made up their little minds and just want to complain. We actually beat Chelsea twice this season. But instead we’ll hear about the Everton, Leicester etc results.
More on this later. Back to this game. We were organized and dour. But Arteta clearly had a plan. This was like the approach he adopted that won us the F. A Cup last year. Tactics tuned to the specific opposition. He re-introduced a back three. Thus we had to see both Gabriel and Mari consistently give the ball away with their wayward distribution. But they defended solidly with able assistance from Holding. They were always under pressure and weren’t helped by Leno who would often take too long to pass the ball. But that’s because he’s indecisive and was not built to play this way. He’s more old school. He blocks shots (most of the time) and stuff like that. He does not do so well with the ball at his feet.
Of course, their high press was more smothering than ours. But then we really just had one forward. But the little pressing we did resulted in our sole goal and sole shot in the first half. It was the exact outcome that we would have expected from our defense trying to play it out the back. In the second half we continued to gift them the ball outside of our penalty area. For example Elneny tee’ing up Giroud. Or Gabriel on numerous occasions giving them the ball. We were overrun for long periods but we played a deep blocked and gave them no chance to really test Leno. It as tough to watch but they lacked the creativity to unlock our defense. Again, it was a role reversal for Arsenal. And it worked. We will not play like this in every game and even when we do we’ll lose quite often. But needs must. We – like them – were knackered. Saka is done. He’s on empty at this point. Odergaard is already on his holidays. And Tierney is one step away from another injury. And now Bellerin has likely played his last game for us. It’s a shame to see him leave in these circumstances. He’s given us 10 years and deserves the opportunity to play elsewhere.
Elneny was so industrious today. He never stopped running and working hard. Partey started the game by making two errant passes but then seemed to settle down. He really is a very good defensive midfielder though. He shielded the back three and understands how to best position himself. Together they helped snuff out Chelsea. Smith-Rowe ran himself into the ground and did his best to help Tierney. On the other side Saka got so little help from Odergaard. The latter reminds me of Ozil when he defends. He never tracks his player preferring to point to the player and expect someone else to track back. A better team would have exploited that. Holding really was solid again today. He is very underrated. He’s had a remarkable season given his previous injury. There’s no way he could have expected to have played this number of games this season. Mari made his usual one cock-up per game but somehow their most expensive of strikers managed to find the empty stand. That and when they hit the cross-bar twice towards the end of the 90 minutes indicated that today was destined to be ours.
We as fans are so myopic. We (well, not me, of course) decide on a narrative and then fit all the data to re-enforce our prior view. Whether it be that Arteta can’t take this team forward to us needing new owners to invest in the team. Yet when we’ve invested – Partey, Aubameyang contract, Odergaard – that is ignored because it does not support peoples priors. And Arerta, we’re told, has had a miserable season and needs to be replaced. And yet, those same supporters also want stability and growth. But seem unaware of the contradiction with replacing your manager in less than 18 months. Sure we should have beaten Villarreal but let’s not kid ourselves we’re a Champions League team (yet). Judge Arteta after 3+ years. Support him now. Support the team. But it seems our fans view the glass as half empty. Yes, we’re a mid-table team. What did you think would happen this year. We always knew we needed 3 or 4 transfer windows to fix this team. Look how much better Chelski were today. That’s because they spent trillions of dollars every minute on buying everyone. We should focus on building around Saka and ESR. Of course it was this reverse fixture that saw the two illuminate our team and give us hope. And maybe it was that hope that blinded us to the known reality. It caused us to raise our expectations. And now everyone is pissed off because we’re not in the top 4.
It seems this cloud of pessimism has overtaken our club. Maybe it’s because people have lost faith in Arteta. But it seems that there’s this perception that we’ve had a disastrous season. Really? We got to the semi-finals of the NoHoppaCup. We’ve had some wonderful performances. We hear people harp on about losing so many games – 13 – and saying that’s unacceptable. Really? Have you seen the other teams in this league. All season long – without fans in the stadiums – teams have lost more games at home and we’ve seen more surprising results. The media get paid to push these story lines. That Arsenal is in disarray. That Arenal have had a terrible season. Yet the season is not quite over. And I wonder if they’ve been watching what’s been going on with that other lot. Now that really is what I’d call a car wreck. And they are about to lose their once in a generation captain. Not that that’s the benchmark. But, again, for Arsenal it’s not the end of the world. Yet. And it’s the same people that chased out Wenger. They have the attention span and patience of a fly. And the selective memory of a fly. Sorry all those flies reading this blog. But then you’ll forget this in another second anyway.
After an unexpected and valuable win at Chelski rather than be uplifted and happy (well I’m a little uplifted), instead, like our manager, I’m pissed off. He’s after match interview was instructive. He was aggressive and unhappy. I feel the same way. I’m pissed off. We were never as bad as our own fans have claimed nor as good as they thought when we put together a winning streak. How can any team be effective when you have Willian, Ceballos, Eddie in your squad. We’ve finally dumped Mustafi, Kolinsac, Sokratis and Ozil. Come back in 12 months and we’d have cleaned out 5 more players. But we knew all this. So why are our fans so unhappy with Arteta now? They need to channel their frustration to Kroneke. Because that’s a match made in heaven. Our deaf owner and our loud-mouth idiot fans.
So, well done Arteta for gaining three unearned points. It’s about time we won against the balance of the play. It’s about time we had some luck. They say over the course of a season that decisions average out. This was our make up game. Enjoy it. I’m sure normal service will be resumed again Palace.
A word on one of my favorite subjects. VAR. Today it felt like they made some changes such that all VAR decisions were rapid. No long delays and no stupid decisions. Maybe that was luck as well.