For those who have not been lucky enough to go to an evening home game, I can tell you the stadium is absolutely magnificent in the evening darkness – both on the outside and inside. It shines, everything is squeaky clean and you have a feeling – especially when you are packed away right towards the back, under the gigantic roof of the North Bank – that you are ‘spectating’ the game in an enormous cinema.
I walked towards the stadium from the Highbury and Islington tube stadium, after meeting a few friends in the home-supporters-dedicated Arsenal pub ‘The White Swan’. It was great to see so many people playing football, jogging, playing netball, doing yoga, etc in the park on the way to the ground. On evenings like these London is simply irresistible. It is just great that our new stadium fits so well – so naturally – into the area, as if it has always been there; as if a gigantic spaceship has squeezed itself cosily into the warm nest of the good part of North London (go and visit the also ‘recently’ build Sunderland and Mansour City grounds for example, and you know what I mean).
Arsenal started with good intentions but it became quickly clear that this would not be an easy evening for us. It just hung there in the air. You could sense it throughout the whole stadium and the early – far too easy – goal by Bony turned this collective fear soon enough into stone cold reality. Bony’s opener was the sort of goal you expected us to score against inferior opposition a long time ago: a simple cross into the box and the striker outruns and out-jumps the defender: 1 – 0. It belonged to a different, pre-millennium era; yet we had it inflicted on us by Swansea yesterday.
The fans stayed behind the team and sent out encouragement, and the players tried their best to get back into it. But our attacking efforts looked laboured and lacked invention and movement, and everyone had to dig very, very deep to somehow make things happen. Just before we scored the equaliser in the second part of the second half, I was asking myself why we were no longer using the left wing. The pattern of our attacks was continuously the same: try to break through the middle with complicated 1-2-3s, and if we cannot get through, give the ball to Sagna.
Swansea were quite happy for the Frenchman to have it on their left: he will either cross it into the box where there is only Giroud to deal with (and there were far too few runs into the box by our midfielders), or he will play it back to one of the midfielders; who will once again try to break through the very well set up central defensive wall of the Jacks…
Luckily, within just 66 seconds, first Gibbs and then Podolski were finally able to breach the wall from the left for our two goals (which I saw right in front of me, luckily), and the supporters at last woke from their collective slumber. There was a real sense of relief and renewed hope throughout the ground. Unfortunately, this did not last long; as the team did not seem to know whether to attack for the third or sit back to protect the slender lead, the fans grew uneasy again very quickly. There was a real lack of leadership during this period on and off the pitch, and the substitutions did not help much either.
The cruel O.G. by Flamini sealed our faith, and the last bit of hope that we could still challenge for the title this season disappeared into the cold North London night for good.
There was no lack of trying or hunger in the team, but what we did lack was freshness (especially Giroud looked like a spent force), imagination and self-belief. We played one-dimensional, predictable football, and as a team we just could not break the spell we were under.
The question I asked myself during the game was: How many of these players will play next season, if say we added a quality DM and CF/LW in the summer and everybody is fit?
The back four and GK will be pretty similar, with only Koscielny replacing TV5. But in midfield and attack we would not see many of yesterday night’s starters back, I reckon. All of them: Arteta, Flamini, Ox, Rosicky, Cazorla and Giroud will still have a place in our squad and they can all add value to our team; but with so many key players injured, collectively, they were just not able to reach the required level to deservedly beat Swansea.
Fatigue and low self-confidence will have played a role in this, but a lack of collective quality was also apparent. Of all these players, Ox has great potential to develop into a first team regular, but the rest will very likely become back up players or have to fight for their place. And as long as they do not have to play all at the same time, this is absolutely fine.
Theo would have added pressure and thrust on the right. Ozil and Wilshere would have added composure, thrust and invention through the middle and from the wings, and Ramsey’s box to box engine is missed more than anything else right now.
But it seems all of these players are not available for Saturday’s encounter with the Northern Oilers and Wenger and Bould will have to work their magic to somehow get this team ready for battle. Maybe KK, who did some nice stuff when he came on, will hold the key….
Let’s all flock to Cornwall on Saturday to position ourselves behind GLIC’s sofa. 😛
But as always, let’s keep the faith and support the team till the end.