I wonder how many match reports used the word ‘clicked’? Last night we click, clickity, clicked, and it was a reminder that when this Arsenal side *does* click, as it did in an eight-minute, four-goal, second half spell, they can still blow teams off the pitch. As the ball flew in again and again – including precise, intricate, counter-attacking goals - it was like being teleported back to watch ye olde Arsene Wenger teams. The Good Arsenal. And with smiles and songs all round the Emirates, it was easy to forget that this is still the same group of players who’ve served up a string of sterile performances this season, featuring less shots on target than I have testicles. The Bad Arsenal.
Who’ll show up next time? No one surely knows, and all we can really do is keep riding the bucking bronco. (I’m introducing more US sports-themed analogies in the hope of luring Stan and Ivan into following.) Against West Ham the ride was plenty enjoyable, though I’d be lying if I said my thoughts weren’t pretty dark after Collison’s thunderbastard opener. Luckily, Poldi’s had an even more thunderous bastard tucked in his left boot. That goal seemed to have a similar transformative effect to his countryman’s epic header against Spurs earlier this season. Suddenly confidence seemed to flow back into the side, and after the first half… Well, you know what happened.
This match report, if that’s what I even serve up here, is late so let’s cut straight to some observations…
- Poldi is ace
10 goals and 11 assists in all competitions is obviously a decent return, but it’s more than that. What Podolski delivers is *efficiency*. Each of the passes for his three assists last night had to be put in exactly the right place to make the finisher’s job as easy as possible. In that sense he’s the anti-Gervinho. Rather than just cutting the ball back in hope rather than expectation, Poldi fires it in exactly where the striker needs it, with the right amount of spin. Yes there have been games he’s been less effectual, but how much of that is down to the whole team faltering? I maintain he’s the kind of player who needs those around him firing, in the sense of confidently making runs and overlaps, to get the best out of his game. It’s also worth noting that his goals have often been important ones - either equalisers, as last night was, or ones that put Arsenal into the lead. I also had the pleasure late last year of interviewing him for my work, and he couldn’t have been more friendly and funny. Safe to say I like him a lot.
- The ‘new’ signings shone
Okay, technically not so new now we’re into another window, but I still regard Santi, OG and Poldi as the newbies. All three were excellent last night. If I can clarify what Elliot from Yankeegunner said about Giroud on our recent podcast, it wasn’t that he’ll never be good enough, it’s that a club like Arsenal shouldn’t be reliant on a single striker, who’s in his first season, to lead the line every week. It’s too much pressure. But to be fair to Olivier, he’s handling it well. His goal crashed in from a corner was especially pleasing, given our usual kitten in boxing gloves level of threat from set pieces. Here’s the thing about transfers, and what actually frustrates me about our inactivity - the last three guys Arsene has bought have, for me, been entirely successful. I don’t expect Messi. No one does. I don’t even expect Cavani or Gotze. What I *do* expect is more players of the calibre of the three who did so brilliantly last night so that if – *kisses lucky rabbit’s foot, crosses self* – we do start succumbing to injuries then the cupboard is filled with more than just Craig Eastmond and spiders.
- Rambo’s return – A big game from a player with a big heart. Here’s why I stick by Ramsey: The notion he’ll never be the player he was becoming before the leg break is demonstrably false. Last year, when he was asked to carry the team’s creative output, he created more chances than any other Arsenal player. Cast your mind back, also, to the home winner he scored against United, when he and Jack ran the show in a midfield without Cesc. It may be that he still isn’t a starter for a while (though without reinforcements, don’t bet against it), but there’s definitely some mileage in a midfield that incorporates Wilshere and Ramsey passing and probing. What he isn’t: A right winger. What he is: A central midfielder who’s availability ought to be welcomed.
- Bac is back
Much, much better. Sagna looked like the player we’ve loved for years last night. Committed, energetic, and as poor old Dan Potts found out, built like the Champs Élysées. Perhaps he is unsettled by thoughts of a summer exit. Perhaps we will let him leave to clear a path for Jenko. But wanting out didn’t seem to hurt RVP’s form. I hope whatever is going on behind the scenes, Sagna keeps reminding us of what an immense servant he’s been.
- Theo is stronger, dribblier, and the best finisher at the club
Also looking tougher to knock off the ball is Theo, who seems to have finally added the ability to take defenders on around the box. His goal was actually my pick of the five. Poldi’s was more spectacular, Santi’s was cuter, but the ball and finish for Walcott’s was the perfect expression of the Arsenal counter-attacking style many of us fell in love with. No doubt the celebration was naff, and some will get sand in their vaginas about it given the austerity being suffered out here in the real world, but do not kid yourself we aren’t a better squad with him in it, or that other clubs wouldn’t have snapped him up.
- The Ox is rusty
It’s small potatoes as complaints go, but Chamberlain misplaced a few passes and took on a few daft shots. The game was long won by then, but before his illness it felt like he was on the verge of being a regular starter. Keep knuckling down and improving and we won’t feel the loss of Zaha at all though.
So, the main takeaway from an encouraging night is we need to click for longer, more often. Click, clickerson, Le Clicks. Obvious, really. It’s all very well praising the players for their goal and assist stats, but they need to start spreading them more evenly over the fixture list. Thus far we’ve scored 46 times in the league, but 23 of those have come in four games, with the remaining 23 coming across the other 19 matches.
I also think that knocking five past a struggling West Ham side doesn’t change what we need from the transfer window any more than Liverpool scoring five against Norwich suddenly makes them world beaters. In some ways I’m heartened that the interest in Diame doesn’t seem to be real, as it suggests we’re after a higher calibre of player. Or it could suggest we aren’t actually after anyone at all. Either way we’ll know in seven days.
The promise is there in this side, but it still needs assistance if it isn’t to be undone by injuries. We shall see soon enough. For now winning is winning, and winning is good. As the game drifted to its extended conclusion, Arsenal players taking potshots from crackers angles, I mused that after a late winner against a hated rival, nothing in football pleases me more than seeing us give a team – any team, really – a brutal shellacking. Which, after an even first half, is what the second half was.
The idea that Fat Sam has, or ever really had, some sort of Indian sign over the Arsenal is a myth that isn’t borne out by the record books. Let’s hope Chamakh remembered which shirt to wear this morning, or I fear he’s in for a terrible hiding of his own.