A point gained. An exam passed. This is a new Arsenal. No way would we have gained a point last year. This team is developing. And next year we’ll beat Liverpool after a few surgical additions. This team showed today is can compete. Finally we came up against a real team – a team with talent and ability – and we stood toe-to-toe with them.
Unlike previous weeks, right from the start, we competed and played our game. The intensity level and the inter-play was there from the beginning. We dominated large parts of this game. Of course they had many chances to score including one legitimate goal disallowed. We also rode our luck when Leno came out to intercept a ball and entirely missed the ball and they hit the post. And who picked up the ball from the rebound off the post? None but the best player on our team. The little man that worked like a terrier. The player who, in a sequence in the first half won two tackles back-to-back that he had not right to win. Our little Uruguayan energize bunny. Today Torriera was immense. His presence utterly changes our team. You could replace every other player in our team and though we’d be impacted (possibly) we’d survive. But there is no-one who could replace this mighty midget. He is the glue that holds this team together. One measure of a player is how they improve those around them. Torreira make Xhaka look like a composed, elegant and controlled midfield player. Carefully re-read that sentence. Unbelievable but true. That’s how good he is. And he’s enjoyable to watch – he keeps the play simple and clean. Nothing too complicated. And forward moving; no sideways passes from him. 13 years after the departure of Viera to Juventus we finally have a replacement. If we learned nothing else form today that would have been sufficient.
We also saw a masterful, controlled performance from our center half today. No not that moron Mustafa. But Holding. With each game he is maturing and growing in confidence. On many occasions he acted as the last line of defense to their dangerous attack. His distribution was first class and he’s reading of the game excellent. Now we just have to find him a viable partner (on the pitch….).
Even if we had lost today – which is looked like for a while – there was enough on display today to raise our spirits. We are seeing the evolution of the team that we hoped for. Of course, there are still a handful of weak links that undermine the team. But over the course of the next transfer window or two we can correct for that.
Mikeytarrien, today, was hands down, the worst player on the pitch. I can’t thing of a single thing he executed properly. In the first half he either lost the ball in dangerous positions or misplaced passes. He added little to this team. He was so poor that I was crying out for the introduction of Ob1. There is no place in our future for Mikeytarrien; he’s luxury we can’t afford. We will stumble through this year with him but he must be the first player replaced. He exposed Bellerin numerous times; he can’t defend. And, on a couple of occasions he showed he can’t score either. I’m sure that in the NoHopaCup he’ll play and score but we can’t afford to have him in the starting eleven. Within a year he’ll be gone.
I felt sorry for Aubameyang today. He made good runs and worked hard. I was surprised he was taken off while we still needed a goal. But fortunately, we still had the most wonderful Cigarette to rescue a point. What a brilliant goal. He’d worked hard the entire game but seemed to be missing that final touch and never quite got into the right position. But he more than made up for it when he received a perfect pass from Ob1 and then spanked their goalie before unleashing a perfect shot without once looking up for the goal – a natural strikers instinct.
Even though Liverpool looked like they’d catch us on the break again and win by 2 goals, the equalizer was deserved. Liverpool of last year would have played their heavy metal football and possibly overrun us. But this year we have the more conservative, the more Mourinho version of Liverpool. They only had small periods of domination and could not generate that many threats through Salah. Mane exposed us a few times but they lacked that creative spark in midfield. And this was largely because of the dominating performance of Torreira.
Neither goalkeepers were that impressive today; both goals could be attributed to them. I’ve yet to figure out Alisson. Maybe following in the footsteps of Mignolet and Karius has lowered the bar so far that he seems like an upgrade. But for us, Leno is on the cusp of begging the question of whether Cech should start. The irony is that the deciding factor is not their actuall native goalkeeping ability but their link-up play with the ball at their feet. Leno is clearly more comfortable and at peace with the ball rather than poor old Cech who seems to want to pick the ball up. But today Leno gave up a goal and made a couple of poor judgment calls on when to come out for crosses. He looks a little lost and it feels like his confidence could wane.
For the first time in a number of years I felt like we were watching a genuinely competitive game in which we were able to stand up to a top 5 team. Even if we had lost I would have felt the same. Today we turned up. We executed a well orchestrated game-plan. Our tactics (though not some of the players) were good and adaptive. I like that we were brave enough to take off Kolasinac and put Ob1 back there. That move was sufficient for us to generate our goal. A word on Kolasinac – I was expecting him to be torn apart by Salah. He’s not blessed with speed but, in the first half when Salah played right wing, he managed to nullify him for the most part. Going forward he was strong and linked well with others. It was better performance than we had the right to expect. I had assumed we’d lose both full-backs to injuries. Thankfully Bellerin, though he was caught out of position on a couple of occasions, managed to stay on the pitch.
It’s a shame that there’s no role for Ramsey in this team. When he came on he barely impacted the game. He’s wasted on this team. We don’t quite need him. It’s just criminal that we can’t sell him for a hefty transfer fee. That’s inept on the part of Arsenal FC,. Thankfully Gazidis is finally gone to wallow in the filthy luca of Milan. This is definitely addition by subtraction. We would never have fired him. But to let this Ramsey situation to develop is a fireable offense.
A word or two on Ozil. While not his season best performance he still managed to help create a number of openings and chances. Our focus should be in getting the ball to his feet more often. Some of his flicks and one touch passing remain unparalleled in the EPL. Unfortunately he and Cigarette did not link up well today. We had to wait for Ob1 to find him.
So, this far into the season, I think we can finally make some observations based on enough data. The obvious conclusion is that we are moving, finally, in the right direction. There is still a long way to go. We’re not at the level of Man City (not that many are) but we’re also behind Chelksi and Liverpool. But, after at least two years of stagnation, we are evolving and improving. We still play entertaining football. We remain committed to beautiful football. But now we have some notion of organization, control and tactics. I will defend Wenger to my final breath (…aarrhhhh…..) but his time was over; he’d run out of ideas. Emery, full of energy and enthusiasm, a nice full head of blacked up greasy hair, is a younger model. An upgrade. And that is all that counts. Sure, I’d like to qualify for the Champions League. I don’t think we’re good enough for that. Unless we can bring in, during the January window, another center half and a right midfield player to replace Mustafa and Mickeytarrien. But we can be confident that we have gone through a state change. The club feels energized and the fans are behind the team and excited for the future. We know there will be some games when we just rip apart the opposition and other games when we flail miserably. But, as long as Emery improves the individual performances of the players (aka Ob1 and Xhaka) and continues to shuffle the team for each opponent then we can be confident in our club again. No more of this expecting the worse outcome. Waiting for the inevitable mistake form Mustafa (though this will continue to happen). Waiting for us to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And today was that turning point for that. Watching the team bounce back and dominate started to remind me of what it was like to watch our team when it had a backbone. Its been a long time since we had belief in our team. But, inch by inch it’s starting to return. Today was the first real test. And we passed. A point gained that in previous years we would have lost. And that is uplifting and exciting. Is that optimism I detect invading this blog?