Apologies for the headline, but it’s the best I can muster after a long week and what felt like an even longer game. It ought to have been comfortable enough. A largely dominant first half, ending with what should have been a simple Ramsey finish to a fabulous move, which was then followed by a second Rosicky goal at the start of the second half which should have put West Brom to bed. With no conciliatory cocoa.
But on went the handbrake, and sure enough the red card, which had felt like it was in the post once Webb had booked Rosicky and Rambo in the first half, instead went to Per for a bringing down Shane Long. No complaints about the decision, although I suppose I’d have prefered the player to have allowed the shot rather than get himself sent off trying to stop it. But I guess defenders can’t think like that, or they’d be constantly waving strikers through like senile doormen.
After that it wasn’t so much backs to the walls as arses to the floor of the plummeting elevator. At 2-1 I couldn’t see much scope for three Arsenal points, unless we somehow found a way to keep the ball or hit on the break. Neither of which seemed likely with Gervinho’s removal to allow Vermaelen on stripping the team of any pace, and Giroud holding the ball up with all the enthusiasm of a one-armed man asked to juggle uranium rods.
I’d have far more sympathy with the fizog-blessed Frenchman if he hadn’t attempted that shot in injury time. Striker’s instinct my arse. Everyone who’s read the Emergency Rearguard Manual knows standard operating procedure is take it into the corner and nurse it between your feet like an unruly baby penguin in a blizzard. Had we conceded from the resulting goal kick the manager would have been rightly furious.
But we didn’t concede. Instead the performance will be filed alongside Sunderland away as a gritty display of character. Which I guess it was, though I also can’t shake the nagging feeling that it should also serve as a reminder of the fine margins on which football, and therefore our collective mood, operates.
Or to put it another way: if either Lukaku or Long took what, really, were easy chances, we’d have dropped points. That they didn’t had little to do with our true grit or spartan spirit. They just shanked the shots. If that sounds ungrateful for the points, or miserly about the performance, it’s not intended to. But be under no illusion that if West Brom had equalised there would have been an inquest about how the game had been ‘thrown away’. The narrative swings in a second.
The story now, though, is of pressure being exerted on the other Champions League contenders. We’ve won five of our last six games, and that’s exactly the sort of form we need to be in if we’re going to finish fourth. (According to our podcast guesstimations, we can only afford to lose one game and draw another.) It’s going to be tight like Scrooge’s snare drum.
The one upside to being out of the cups is the long recovery time it affords the players. Equally, it gives our own shattered nerves some time to heal. During a game as tense as yesterday’s second half was, I find myself drawn to displacement activity – like filing paperwork – in order to distract myself. Yesterday, I stumbled across a letter from BUPA just as Fabianski opted for the unorthodox methodology of punching a striker flush in the face. There doesn’t appear to be any clause that covers goalkeeper-induced-coronary in my health coverage.
After Reading I wrote that the jury would remain out on Fab until a game in which he’d come under a lot of pressure. Now, I’m still not sure. The hesitancy to come off his line and claim high balls is still there, and has the effect of sucking the defence back towards him to fill the space. But I can’t fault him for not saving the penalty, so it’d be a surprise if Arsene opts to recall the other Pole.
A player who will have a shot at redemption is Vermaelen, who’ll now replace the suspended Mertesacker (only for one game, remember, as the red wasn’t for dangerous foul play) against Norwich next Saturday. Assuming we come through that match unscathed, the manager really will have a dilemma about who he picks at centre back. But that’s a worry – hopefully – for another day.
For now, we get to enjoy the points. At this stage of the season that really is all that matters. It’s ridiculous how precious they feel, and how they dictate our collective happiness for the next seven days, but there it is. The lion’s share of the credit yesterday has to go to Little Tom for his sharp reactions on both goals.
When Rosicky signed, I regarded him as the most exciting arrival since Bergkamp, largely due to years of using him as captain in my Pro Evo Master League side. That he hasn’t lived up to his potential is of course down to injuries, but at times I also had the sense, especially with Cesc in his pomp, and Nasri arriving to perform a similar role, that the Czech felt he was going to be marginalised.
Since those players left, when available and selected he seems to relish the chance to deliver a real contribution rather than just make up the numbers. If he can help drive us to fourth again, as he did alongside Yossi last year, it will be quite the Indian summer to his Arsenal career.
My issue with him has always been that for his talent he ought to have a showreel with more match winners on it. But yesterday he was a class act. Perhaps when your career is starting to wind down, you rediscover the love you first had for the game and cling even harder to it. Anyway, enough back of a cereal packet psychology from me. Well played Tomas. Turns out it also only takes a second to be a hero.
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