Having been dumped out of both remaining cups in the preceding seven days (yes, I know, but *c’mon*), it’s fair to say that as weeks go, Arsenal’s had been something of a shitter. It’s also been fair to say that mine hadn’t been much better, thanks to the sale of the Mouse Haus having “done a Mata” and fallen through at the very last possible minute.
Before kickoff, I was bemoaning my misfortune to Chris who stands to my right, and – bless him – he nodded and listened sympathetically as I told my tale of woe. “It’s at a times like this,” I finished up saying, “that you realise there are bigger worries in life than this football club.” Chris nodded sympathetically once more, paused, then grinned and said: “Now wash your bloody mouth out.”
The team provided an early pick me up in the form of Santi stroking home at second time of asking with barely more than five minutes gone. Chris and I agreed that, actually, it’d be quite bloody nice thanks if the team could cruise to a routine win with few alarms or surprises along the way. Neither felt especially convinced of the likelihood of that happening. And so it went.
Arsenal teased and probed to little serious effect, while Villa flipped in some dangerous looking crosses and forced one good save from Szczesny – more on whom later. The longer it stayed locked at 1-0, the more antsy I felt about getting caught by a set piece or a quick break. In the end it was the latter, with Villa demonstrating how counter attacks only really work if you commit men to them and shift the ball as quickly as feasibly possible.
Even with the 20 minutes left on the clock, I wasn’t hugely convinced we’d be able to find a winner, based on the ponderousness – the handbrakiness – of our play up until that point. In the end though, we managed to raise the tempo (perhaps in part due to the withdrawal through injury of Diaby, who’s the human equivalent of a slow motion button on a DVD player) and eventually Cazorla’s class told. The mood in the stadium, which had gone from subdued to sour, was finally lifted. Three points. Relief.
Here are seven some other observations about the match and recent goings on at Arsenal, in no particular order…
- Cazorla was the difference – Yesterday saw the Spanish goal pixie back to something like his very best. Even without the goals he was the outstanding player on the day, regularly losing his marker to set up chances, most of which seemed to either bounce off the hapless Giroud or, more worryingly, elude him completely. Even without the ball Santi chased down defenders and always made himself available. Without him I doubt we’d have won, and in hindsight his absence against Blackburn was felt most keenly of the three rested first XI-ers, a big selection call which Wenger must surely regret now.
- We need to talk about Woj – I think most Arsenal fans would agree that Szczesny needs an experienced keeper in the squad to provide some competition. I’ll go even further: I’ve been of a mind since last season that Arsenal could consider replacing him. That feeling is starting to harden into ‘should’. One chap told me that this would be incredibly harsh to “one of the most promising young keepers in Europe”. Perhaps he is. Without watching the majority of other young keepers in Europe, it’s very hard to say. I certainly haven’t seen all of them. What I have done is watch a lot of Premier League football, and can state quite categorically that there are at least half a dozen, probably more, keepers in England currently making less mistakes. Is there any real reason why we need to have a player in such a vital position learning on the job? Certainly we shouldn’t be entirely reliant on one option. So: a new keeper must be a priority in the summer. And if young Woj isn’t willing to back himself and battle for his spot, then I would conclude he wasn’t made of the right stuff in the first place.
- Rambo has silenced (as least some) of the critics – Slotting in at right back with a game still to be won, the Welshman barely put a foot wrong, played some smart passes, and looks close to being back to his best. It’s notable that I didn’t hear a single Ramsey-related groan from around me in the North Lower yesterday. He might not have been the sexiest re-signing of the vaunted ‘British Core’, but Rambo is exactly the kind of player you need around if you’re going to create the kind of squad depth most fans (rightly) bemoan the lack of at Arsenal.
- Our decision-making in front of goal is still crackers – “Same old Arsenal, always trying to walk it in” goes the cliche about Arsenal brilliantly sent up by the IT Crowd. But the point about truisms is that they’re true, and this one still sticks despite the personnel changing several times. There’s no doubt that a big part of the crowd’s frustration in the years since the move to the Emirates has been down to the way players around the box opt to prod and flick rather than put their laces through the ball. To a degree I understand why it happens – they’re looking to create the highest percentage chance of scoring by opening up the defence as completely as possible, rather than hoping for a lucky deflection. But on a day like yesterday, as with so many other times when teams defend deep, you can’t help feel we need less shuffle and more justfuckingshoot. But here’s the really maddening thing: when they *do* opt to shoot it’s often from an insanely wide angle, well away from the goal. It’s a decision-making thing, and seven shots on target from 26 attempts tells its own story about our profligacy.
- There is a special circle of hell in which Arsenal fans are forced to watch our attacking corners for all eternity – Honestly, we should just give the ball back. At least there might be less chance of getting caught on the break.
- I’m not convinced by Arsene’s latest quotes – I haven’t had much to say until now about the supposed press conference ‘meltdown’, because I’ve tried to reconcile myself to the futility of getting annoyed by anything he says. However. It seems to me quite a thing to get annoyed with The Sun for their deliberate falsification of facts (no doubt to create mischief, and absolutely #DontBuyTheSun), but then in the same week come out and say “we only had money recently”. Perhaps that’s true, I can’t say for certain – but what I can say, and what Gingers4Limpar’s thorough trawl through the cuttings proves, is that if it is true, then we’ve been very deliberately fed “wrong information” for years now. And no doubt the apologists will cite Machiavelli, and claim it was in the club’s best interest to do so. But if you’re going to be annoyed about a newspaper’s paying readers being let down by misinformation, don’t try to tell me the paying fans haven’t been let down by outright disinformation too. Like the Gingers4Limpar article, I’m hugely sceptical this promised loosening of purse strings will actually occur. Buried within the recent quotes is this line: “I believe we have to be faithful to what this club is about, which is to give a chance to the young players we educate.” Why does it have to be that education is what the club is about? Was it always Arsenal’s raison d’être, or just under Arsene? I would gladly win something with a bunch of grizzled old men at this point.
- Cup Final jealousy – As I started typing this post, while sat waiting for the train back to cider country to depart, a swathe of chanting Swansea fans poured off the opposite platform at Paddington. It’s impossible not to feel pangs of what might have been. Clearly, there’s no guarantee we’d have beaten them – they’re a better team than the relegated Birmingham one we failed to overcome, and nor have we improved since then, but it’d have been exciting to give it a go. Although obviously with the week having gone the way it has, both for Arsenal and me, perhaps it’s for the best…
So, that’s that then. Not a great performance. At times, when the players are visibly low on confidence, it seems like they’ve swapped the give-and-go for the give-and-stop. Nonetheless, they just about did enough to deserve all three points. More will be required at the Lane next week, before which we hope to have up a new podcast.