Baku is to be highly recommended. Just not to watch Arsenal. As surprisingly impressive as Azerbaijan was Arsenal managed to surpass our worst case performance. On the positive side, Baku has both electricity and edible food. Their downtown is a cross between Dubai glass buildings and Madrid-like boulevards. Just goes to show what a copious supply of oil and gas can fund. On the negative side you had a stadium 65% full stuffed with locals that had no allegiance, a pitch separated by an Olympic track, security guards both ringing the pitch (to stop any porn stars intervening) along with security guards standing between each block of fans blocking the view of anyone near them. Then we had the moronic UEFA entertainment by some random clique 1990’s DJ. And those were the highlights. This set the tone for a very subdued atmosphere. There were, maybe, 5,000 fans in the stadium that actually cared about the outcome. As others have noted, from the get-go it seemed more like a pre-season friendly. There’s more passion and chanting in a Community Shield August match than for this one.
Our team selection was as expected. As unhappy as I was to not see Leno play this loss can’t be pinned on Cech. Without him it could have been a lot worse. And, worse than that, I can’t even pin this one on Mustafa.
The first half threw up a few chances for us. Aubameyang had an important chance early on but shanked it wide. Cigarette might have been awarded a penalty. Overall, we were ok but there was no smoothness to our play; they was no link up play. It was clear though that whenever Hazard received the ball our midfield and defense went into an apoplectic fit. Somehow, we’d forgotten how to play against him. Torreira tried to pick him up and Ozil was clearly tried to shadow him. How we missed Ramsey. He would have been able to maintain the required work-rate and strength. To be fair Hazard was the one world-class player on the field and he played like it.
At half-time, the discussion was that this might be a 1-0 game and that it was reasonably well balanced. No-one could have seen that second half coming. But right from the second half whistle Chelski were more aggressive and we decided to be anonymous. In fact, we defined anonymous. We’ve seen this through out the season but usually it’s the first half where we did not turn up. This time we decided to end our season with this most limp, passion-less performance. Their first goal was Classic Giroud. A perfect header. I remember in the first half thinking that we were lucky he was not playing for us because he’s too slow for our style of play. While that remains true he also showed why he’s still picked for France and for that style of play. It makes you wonder what might have been if, when we signed Cigarette and had the two of them play alongside each other. Whilst we at it, if we had taken back Fabregas as opposed to Ozil. Anyway, there’s time for revisionism later.
It’s hard to describe the way we disintegrated after their first goal. It was a stunning as it was all too familiar. We are truly schizophrenic. We are simultaneously a team of two half’s. Pun intended. And this second half was one in which we utterly disappeared. The defensive cover disappeared along with our defense. And we continued to struggle to link up any creative movement. And the few opportunities we had both Aubameyang and Cigarette chose this game to completely shank everything. This, as noted in the prior post, was about big game players. And both our premier goal scorers truly sucked. As dominant as they both were against Valencia, they were appalling in the final. If they had played like this in Spain, there’s no way I would have been walking the streets of some wealthy, modern pseudo Middle-Eastern come Western city at 2am in the morning looking for yet more lamb and chicken saj to eat.
If someone had said before the game that these two forwards would have a hard time tie-ing their own shoe-laces then no-one would have expected that we would win the game. Without either of these two we are a very average team and we proved it again. Sure, Ozil was pretty irrelevant but he’s no longer a match winner for us; he’s just a lightening road because of his wages.
I need to re-watch the second half to understand what happened. I remember that they scored more than us. And I also remember that they grew into that second half and found their game as we continued to wilt. But tactically it was not clear how this happened – aside from Hazard terrorizing us.
To watch this game live was as deflating as any match I’ve seen. Except that is for the memorable loss to Birmingham in the League Cup Final. That is still the low bar for me. Even against Barcelona we could feel cheated by the Lehman sending off and the fact the team actually played – and if it were not for Henry we would have won that. But this performance was dire. It was listless and lacking in any imagination. The only interesting move was the outstanding goal from Ob1 (another classic substitute performance from him btw) and then the chances that Willock created in his little cameo. What a statement though by Emery. A big a fuck-you to Ozil that you could hope for. He could have brought on Badbeck to grab another goal but chose instead to start planning for next year by benching Ozil. I remain an admirer of Ozil but I now concede that he has to go. The manager, who was ambivalent towards him most of the season, has clearly decided that enough is enough. Fine, then let’s move on. Because this was a game when Ozil should have stepped forward (as opposed to backwards).
It’s hard to describe the utter deflation of both seeing those goals go in and also watching the lack of response from the team. Realizing that you’ve come all that way to watch a team disintegrate. Having believed – foolishly – that the last 5 games of the regular season were not the reality of this team and that Valencia was the false dawn. Standing there, in this modern but soul-less stadium surrounded by stunned Arsenal fans all asking the same thing. What the fuck has happened to this team – to this club. Around us the Arsenal fans that made the expensive and arduous trip from London did not even wait until the 80th minute to start leaving. Imagine coming all that way and leaving early! There was utter frustration and despair. It’s not like Chelski were so dominant. It was more that we just had no game. Only when we brought on Ob1 and Willock did we inject some pace into our attack. And even then we, of course, handed them back a goal as soon as we scored one. How ridiculous is our defensive play? How is this aspect of our game any better than in previous years. Where’s the progress and development?
So it turns our Azerbajian really is better than Arsenal. The people were very laid back and friendly. Aside from the distance, it really could be a European city. It stays open late; there are a ton of clubs, the food is excellent and it’s completely safe. It’s patrolled by a vast number of look-alike young policemen who all look like they originated in the same petri-dish.
After the debacle of Wednesday night we took a couple of days to travel round the country before returning to Baku; we needed to get away from anything to do with football and it’s coverage. Outside of Baku, the country really is amazing. It’s a cross between the Scottish Highlands, Chile, Norway and the Caspian Sea. The food is even better and the people completely relaxed. These people have it figured out. In remote villages high up in the mountains, supported by the largesse of the government coffers they don’t have to worry about preening football players. Rather they eat their sheep and marry their neighbours (or maybe it’s the other way round) ; even if they are family. Two days of that and DB10 and myself found our way back to the reality that the weekend CL game could utterly destroy our belief in the football. As depressed as we were, the possibility that North London might have a winner was too much to contemplate.
So, thank you Salah and Origi. Thank you random referee from Holland. Thank you VAR. As pissed and angry as I was given our pathetic second half performance if someone had offered me the choice of us winning the NoHopaCup and that lot winning the CL versus both of us losing, without hesitation I would have chosen the option we landed on. How abject and sad is that? We needed this game more than anyone else in order to qualify for next years CL. But, no, I’d prefer to suffer the ignominy of a loss to Chelski and lack of qualification (with all the economic impacts) just to deny that lot their cup. Now that’s what I call a real fan. None of this plastic rubbish. But someone willing to absorb substantial pain in order to inflict more pain on them. Ah, I’m even smiling as I write this. It’s so true. If you offered me relegation from the EPL as long as that lot finishing one place below us I would have to seriously consider it.
One other observation. It’s funny how all four English teams actually played like shit in the two finals. And quite amusing that, North London in particular put on a dismal show. Maybe it’s something in the water. Also, for further symmetry, we should compare 2006 and yesterday. A referee decision altered both games. We of course, managed to score, through one of their (prior) own. We thought we’d find our way back to the final as they now do. We were focused on a new stadium and the related economic crunch as they now are. We sold Henry. Who will they sell?
So that’s it. Happy to be back but I’m still amazed that I miss little old Azerbajain. A nice little old country surrounded by others that don’t quite meet that description. It still does not forgive EUFA for organizing such a shitty show (playing stupid music for team introductions, have stupid on field pre-match interviews etc) and having an insane ticket allocation.
I’ll now let the dust settle before crafting a full end of season review and set up for next season. I need time to reacquaint myself with some natural happyness before getting all upset again.