Writing about yesterday’s game feels like turning a magnifying glass on the runny aftermath of a jalapeno-laden dinner. Actually, scratch that: there was about as much spice in that encounter as there is introspective literature on Wayne Rooney’s Kindle. It was a battle between Arsene Wenger’s intractable, highbrow artiste who always ends up making the same sculpture and Jose Mourinho’s foul-mouthed, reactive engineer who knows a different wire combination to jack each car. Although this Arsenal sculpture was curvier than previous iterations – blessed with the midfield riches of Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, and Arteta behind the speed of Walcott and the scrap of Giroud – it ultimately showed up short against Mourinho’s deliberate and pragmatic (some would say cynical) decision-making.
Ramires was asked to cut in from the wing and crowd the midfield, with Lampard and Mikel acting as a pivot to stifle Ozil’s movement and deny him space. Luiz was left on the bench, with the more conventional pairing of Cahill and Terry being asked to deal with Giroud’s Gallic battling. All these restrictive tweaks, coupled with Arsenal’s cautious start after last week’s bollocking against Man City, ensured that it was a game of attrition and few chances. The best opportunity of the first half fell to Frank Lampard who volleyed against the Arsenal bar; Giroud responded in kind by swerving the ball wide of Cech’s post in the 80th minute. Mourinho’s substitutions made his team even more negative, and Arsene’s substitutions…well, weren’t even made. All in all, it was the Mournful Monday to counter all the Super Sundays and Showtime Saturdays that Sky Sports never fails to shower its jism over.
…was bizarrely consistent or plain bizarre, depending on how you tilt your glass. Even taking the slippery surface into account, both Mikel and Ramires could easily have seen cards of a different colour, and however much I love Rosicky’s energetic gliding and sliding, he should realistically have been booked well before he eventually was. As for Willian’s trip on Walcott, although it might look like a slip from Theo to some, Dean had prime seats to the event and will be disappointed to have missed that.
And that’s the most impartial assessment that this humble blog can give. It’s very easy to take a stand that the referee is the lovechild of Satan and a porcupine who sacrifices altar-girls under the light of the full moon, but the weather was truly horrendous yesterday, apparent even to a fairweather telly-viewer like me, and the decent thing to do in these cases is to afford the ref a bit of leeway in his calls and overall interpretation of the game.
Except football fans aren’t decent, so let’s impale him on an electric cactus and airdrop him on the Moon. I’ll bring the rocket fuel.
…is very much up for grabs, but far tighter than it seemed a few weeks ago. Only the most optimistic of Arsenal fans would have expected their lead to sustain after a trio of gruelling matches against Everton, City, and Chelsea, but two points from three games represents an underwhelming return for a team that was hitherto churning out results and churning up the opposition like an efficient farm harvester.
On one hand, we’re level on points with leaders Liverpool and have a manageable, if congested, set of fixtures up ahead, positive results from which should see us top the table into the New Year. January sees the return of Lukas Podolski, the German Prince with custom-made cannon feet, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the American footballer caught in the wrong sport. And now that Wenger has spent more than four pence ha’penny on a player, maybe he likes the feeling and will dip into the coffers to fund the search for that elusive Giroud-partnering striker.
On the other hand, I honestly pray that this isn’t the start of the annual Christmas derailing that past Arsenal avatars have so lovingly perfected (the last two seasons notwithstanding). Many players are showing signs of tiring, Ramsey is nearing the end of his purple patch, Man City are steamrolling everyone and their mother at the Etihad, other teams will buy in January, and there are sinister rumblings within the realms of Mordor that might just be Man United getting their act together.
But at least we’re scrapping away at the top rather than hanging to coattails and bungling away at the edge of European qualification. Whichever way the cookie eventually crumbles, it promises to be exciting.
Unlike this match. This match was shit.