Now that was a game of football – one of the best Harry Potter nose-bicycles I have ever watched live. We did not win and we did not deserve to either, despite a very good goal being cancelled unjustly. However, our second half display was more than good enough to win the game after all, and this gives us plenty of hope for the season ahead.
We all know how expectations can ruin our enjoyment of the game. The loss against the Hammers has turned us in to grumpy, nervy supporters already with just three games of the season played, as we are treating every game now as a ‘must win’. This is unhealthy and, to be blunt, idiotic. It also does not help the team at all as they are already tense enough to realise their own ambition of going all the way to win the title. Take a chill pill rather than frantically indulging in criticising Wenger or the team; or, by all means, dream yourself champions by adding loads of super expensive players; but whatever you do, stay behind the team and try and enjoy the football on display.
I always feel privileged to watch our team at the home of football: what is better than watching a game live with the real Gunners right in front of you? I sat next to Pete who told me about his mate Simon being unable to come to the game due to him still recovering from a long illness that kept him many months in hospital. It made me realise once again how much we need to appreciate our health and being able to go to the game – one day it might not be possible any more. Get well soon, Simon. The stadium was packed to the rafter and it was a feast of white and red colours everywhere I looked: it promised to become a great game from the start.
When Pete told me the news that both the BFG and Koz would not be playing, I told him he was taking the urine. But soon I realised that we were indeed trying to defend our goal with the untested combo of Gabriel and Chambers…
The first half was for Liverpool. The combination of playing with no concerns – having won the first two games, they were doing well, and nobody expected them to win this difficult away game – and well prepared tactics, gave to Scousers wings. The essence of the first half, as well as the second half (but that is for later) was compactness and numbers where it matters; and this is where the ball happens to be.
Liverpool were a determined six-pack and we were wobbly all over the place in first 45 minutes. We could blame young Chambers for a lot of our trouble but that would be unfair on him to a large extent. Pool boxed us in in our own half and made sure that whoever had the ball had only risky options to release himself from it. We lacked movement (which Pete rightly pointed out several times), especially for springing a counter attack or breaking through the ranks in our own half; and Pool, it has to be said, played with great discipline. And when we had the ball our passing was not sharp enough and our ability to break free from the Pool pressure not strong enough: they constantly outnumbered us in relatively small areas. The result was continuous loss of possession and many good chances against us by the opponent. Coutinho, and the rejuvenated and very impressive Milner, bossed us between our ‘D’ and the half way line. They played some fabulous football at times, occasionally reminiscent of our own team in the early parts of the last decade.
We did manage to create some half-opportunities and were very unlucky with the Rambo goal being disallowed, but Liverpool could have been in-front by two or three in the first half. Luckily, fortune was on our side, as the sound of leather slapping metal poles was heard regularly, and Petr Cech was in world class form. I saw all his saves right below me, and especially the low dive save at close range from Benteke’s effort was out of this world. I knew, I felt, I sensed it in my bones it would go in but somehow the long in the teeth Cech anticipated the next semi-second action earlier than anybody else, including the stunned Belgian, thus keeping out a certain goal. We hung on and the second half could not come soon enough.
Wenger proved once again how much difference he can make during the break…. And without taking players off. The team looked transformed in the second half as we effectively reversed roles from the start. We now kept them in their own half by playing compact and not allowing them out of our collective grip. We matched their numbers, and sometimes outnumbered them, when we attacked Pool and tried to break through their ranks from the left, with Ozil, Alexis, Giroud, Santi, and occasionally Rambo applying constant pressure with intricate passing and penetrative balls. It was great to see this all in front of us, which makes a big difference when watching it on TV, as it looks so much harder to break a defence then most of us imagine.
I was convinced we would score sooner or later, as the Pool defence would surely buckle and our lack of sharpness in front of goal could surely not continue. It reminded me of a typical high-quality chess game, after say 15 moves each: you are attacking a solidly defended corner of the board and are amassing more and more pieces to break through the wall; but the opponent allocates their pieces there as well and the variables of risk and opportunity multiply rapidly… something has to give but who is going to buckle?
Just as I thought we would definitely score that goal before our time was up, Arsene surprised me with taking off Giroud and putting Theo in. I wanted Theo or Ox to join the ‘chess game’ as we could do with more pressure from the right, or somebody coming into the box to add an attacking variable from there, but not instead of Ollie. Ollie had missed a few good chances, but so did Alexis, and it was clear that they were very close to scoring a few times, and were very keen to make the breakthrough.
Once Giroud was off, the game changed dramatically. By removing OG from the chess game, we were no longer able to play our triangles and break through their ranks as we missed the linchpin. We effectively let them off the hook.
The game became open again and Pool even got a few decent counter opportunities to steal the game from us, which would have been very bitter. We also managed to create a few opportunities, but they were harder ones and the Pool defence and defensive midfielders were well prepared to deal with this. Theo is not super-sub material and, although he tried hard, he did not add much to our attack during his cameo.
I felt it was a missed opportunity and would have loved to ask Arsene why he did not take Coquelin off for Theo rather than OG as his first sub (Coquelin was replaced by the Ox not much later in the game..), and pile on the pressure even more to finally get our goal.
However, the way Wenger and the team turned the game round in the second half and the number of chances we created as a result of this, are very encouraging signs for this Gooner. The team and manager that beat Man City twice, Man United away and the Chavs at Wembley in the last twelve months, will come good this season; I have no doubt about this. Whether we will win the title remains to be seen but we definitely have all the qualities for it and that is all that matters to me.
Every game is a mini-journey, and why should we bother ourselves with worrying whether we can/will win the title at the end of the season? I confidently predict six points out of our next two games and that will put us right there with Citeh. But next up is Newcastle and I for one cannot wait to enjoy the next mini-journey. We are on the road to nowhere, come on inside! 🙂