How enjoyable was that? I can’t remember the last time I was as relaxed during the entire game. No stress. Right from the first few minutes we dominated. There was not one moment when I thought we’d lose. And once we scored the first – after missing 3 other chances – there was little doubt we’d win this one.
There was so much to enjoy about this game. The only dark cloud was the appearance of the joker Cedric. We forget that he was once part of a backline that might have David Luiz, Mustafa and Kolinsac. Sometimes we forget how far we’ve come. And his presence was a reminder of those dark days. He can’t defend. He can’t pass, he can’t tie his shoe-laces. In the few minutes he was on the pitch he backed-off as they attacked, giving them so much room to move in. Sure he might be a little rusty but class is permanent and, likewise, shit sticks. And boy, does he stink. Let’s hope Tomi recovers quickly and AMN is used as the replacement. With Cedric on, our defense was more exposed down our right. He would watch them push forward and would just continue to drop back without applying any pressure. Let’s just pray for Tomi.
OK, now that negativity is out of the way let’s review everything else because there was so much that was so positive. The angst of Aubameyang has been replaced by the performance of Martinelli. How timely is that. What could have lingered as a soap story has instead turned into the arrival of yet another youngster. After his delicious goal against West Ham and his overall contributions in attack and defense, today he took the this opportunity to demonstrate he needs to be part of the starting 11. The first goal was that of a striker in the right place and the right time. The second goal was cool and calmly taken, again reminiscent of TH14 (without the attitude – though he’s young yet). And that pass from Xhaka! It was reminiscent of the pass he produced in the Euros for Switzerland against Italy when he set up some fat Swiss roll to score.
On the other side Saka terrorized their defense. Yes, he should have scored in the first 3 minutes. He is a gamer changer though. And we saw that against West Ham as well. He’s had a slow start to the season but finally we’re seeing the player we saw last year. Today he wandered through their defense and across the pitch. Between him and Odegaard they should have scored more. But, that third goal was an example of how dangerous he is as he drifts in from the right. Odergaard had enough time and space to dictate the game today. His passing was simple and penetrative. It’s just a shame he resists shooting to set up others. In that first half he cut right through Leeds.
Both fullbacks were barely challenged today – aside from the one foul on Tomi. Both, along with our two center-backs, easily repelled any attacks today. All had plenty of time to pick out passes. And noticeably Gabriel continued to instruct Partey where he needed to be to receive the ball. I’m still not convinced by Partey. He was better today but he was playing against pubescent teenager whos’ balls have only just dropped. He was also quite solid against West Ham. There were times – as against West Ham – when he moved the ball quickly – one touch – but too often he’s ponderous. Speak of ponderous, Xhaka was able, like Odegaard and Partey, to play through the lines today. I was amazed that he avoided a yellow card for his foul on the half way line actually, it was not even called a foul. And then Mariner booked their guy for the identical foul on Tomi. At least Mariner was not as poor as Anthony Taylor was on Wednesday. At least Taylors’ incompetence was reasonably even-handed even if he did help reduce them to 11 men. I understood the first yellow but how he could give us a penalty and then a yellow card for that tackle is beyond me.
Which leads us to Cigarette. Another game where he wasted too many opportunities in front of goal. Against stronger teams – like West Ham – he can’t be so profligate and thankfully (penalty miss aside) he wasn’t. But still, his overall link up play suits this team. He has a smart football brain, takes up good positions, and as with the first goal against West Ham, has that creative knack that Aubameyang lacks. With Cigarette, even with his wastefulness, this team is better balanced.
Being able to bring on ESR is turning into our magic sub. He deserves to play. But he’ll have to bide his time. He is developing into a Freddie like finisher now. It’s only been a year since he’s come into the team and his development has been remarkable. The goal mid-week was beautifully taken and today, after an Ozil-like, intelligent and delicate pass from Odergaard, his positioning and finishing were everything that Cigarette should dream about.
After the debacle of Everton to win three on the spin, in some a dominant manner, is both unexpected and uplifting. I’ve never felt we could grab the 4th spot. I still don’t. It’s a long season. But to inhabit this spot, if only temporarily, is a testament to the growth of this team. And, after doubting Arteta after that Everton result, he has again been able to learn the necessary lessons. Though I’d still like to see more of AMN and I wonder where Sambi was today. Whatever now happens this year Arteta is safe. It makes me wonder where those loud, ignorant, moronic AFC fans, who were calling for yet another change, are now. Are they vocal enough now to speak up and admit they are tossers that come from a family of wankers? (If my kids are reading this – if they’ve learned to read – to be clear, I’m not referring to our family). We have just three actual grown-ups in this team – Xhaka, Partey and Cigarette. The rest are just out of diapers. And, again, today they showed they could be the nucleus of our team for a decade. And lead us back to the promised land. Leads us back to 4th place! I kid. But, today, I’m optimistic, happy and relaxed. It’s a strange feeling. One I’ve not had in many a year. I’ll enjoy it for the moment because this is not reality. But I’ll take it for today.
A word on Leeds – they were genuinely dreadful (ok, that’s slightly more than one word). This must have been the easiest game that Ramsdale has played for us. I can’t remember a single save on note. He was able to practice his distribution today. And enjoy the weather. But Leeds. Oh my. I don’t get how they can have such a depleted team and yet not recognize that they needed to adjust their tactics. The had not cover for their defense. And when they did break forward they over committed and exposed themselves to our continued counter-attack. They played like an average Championship team. Which, we know, they are not. But with the available players, they used their usual tactics and refused to adapt to the circumstances. So much for having a respected and admired manager. Credit to the Leeds fans though. I doubt our fans would be so tolerant to see their team loose so many games on the trot. I heard no boo-ing no moaning. Nothing. Maybe, because they’re northerners, they are just happy to be away from the coal mines; happy to have electricity; happy to have money for pints; happy to be in the EPL and they remember their despair from the last 20 years so they have learned to appreciate what they have. Just maybe, they have accepted the reality of who they are and the team they support. That’s unusual but you have to admire that. I have not even mentioned the rain, cold and general lack of any education, culture or sophistication. Lucky I’m not a snob.
And a word on the Premier League. Talking about wankers. How did they not plan for COVID? Sure last March was different. No-one had experienced that (well, not those who are under 100 years of age). But after seeing what happened last year, how can the best financed, most commercially successful league in the world be so unprepared for this wave? How can they let, one-by-one, so many games get postponed – and at the last minute – with no thought for the travelling fans. At some point, as we saw with the Super League – the fans have to rise up to protect their game. How can the EPL not enforce protocols. How can they not have a plan to react to this circumstance? How are they going to make these games up. Thankfully, AFC has been spared (though we weren’t last year) and others will moan about the fixture pile-up. How have they not put teams in bubbles to protect the players. Why have they not enforced vaccines. Unless the EPL is being run by demented adherents to DT and his cronies who believe COVID is not real (unless it infects them and then they get the best medicine and doctors available to save them), why are players allowed to opt-out? It’s not free will. It’s stupidity. It should be a requirement of employment. They are employed to play football. You don’t need a degree, nor an education. But you need to be able to play. When you’re injured you go to doctors for the medicine. When you’re sick you go to doctors, so they should all go now and get vaxed. If not, then they can’t play. And they should not be paid.
So, onto the stupid League Cup/Milk Cup/Carabo Cup/Tesco Cup/Sainsbury Cup/Pooh Cup. If we field an even younger team we’ll have to have prams on the pitch. I figure this time we’ll field the old-timers – Holding, Chambers – and even Cedric. And maybe we’ll even see our most expensive signing make an appearance. He’ll be well suited to drift in and out of a game against 1st division opposition. It would be insane for the ACN to be played. But, given the money involved and the ineptitude of the leaders of our great game, this could be the last chance to see our great Pepe in action for a month or so. A great time to say goodbye to him.