Before one delves in to the why’s and wherefore’s of yesterday’s victory against Cologne, I suppose the most important thing to note is that Arsenal did indeed get the victory we needed, in the end.
But by golly, wasn’t it hard going for us, eh?
The night started off pretty grim before kick off anyway, as Cologne fans overran the streets of London and when I saw reports of £20,000 fans walking the streets, I thought there was some media hyperbole going on as usual.
Then I saw it with my own eyes. There were everywhere. And they got in to the stadium everywhere too. The official announcement for the delayed kick off for an hour was that there was a turnstile malfunction but news travels fast these days and it became clear that the fans had infiltrated sections of the home support, with club officials trying to work out what to do.
By the time kick off came about pretty much all of the clock end was full of Cologne fans, as well as the upper stands too, which made for a fair bit of noise. Our home support from my side tried their best to counter early in the game and those people who bemoan us as a cheering collective should acknowledge the effort in my opinion.
But it doesn’t help when what we’re served up with on the pitch is utter tosh. Certainly for that first half it was.
The manager named a side which everyone thought was a reversion back to 4-3-2-1. We had Monreal, Mertesacker, Holding and Bellerin. Then Maitland-Niles, Elneny and Iwobi, with Alexis and Theo supporting Giroud. Or so we thought. What we’d failed to factor in was Arsène’s plans for this season of playing players out of position, so Maitland-Niles played left wing back with Monreal as the third centre half, and Elneny and Iwobi in the middle. And in that first half we looked disjointed.
I will say this though, I don’t think the players out of position were particularly culpable for the first half display, because all over the pitch we just looked lacklustre. So when Ospina shinned the ball to the Cologne striker outside of the box, for him to chip him for the first goal, part of me wasn’t surprised. Flares went off and in my corner there was that familiar feeling of failure.
We never really looked like scoring in that first half either. I don’t remember their ‘keeper being tested and the sideways football and anonymity of some of the players in red shirts began to look obvious. Walcott was mastering his art of hiding in plain sight and at one point I just looked at him for 30 seconds as we had the ball and began to move forward with it. He made a slight dart in field, then a ‘run’ which was more than a jog (just) into the two Cologne centre backs, so he was marked and the ball came back. That, and offsides, was pretty much all we saw if Walcott all night.
Alexis was also shocking, but his performance will be masked by a sumptuous finish, that makes you realise just how valuable a player like him with his ‘x-factor’ is worth to any football team, but other than that goal he gave the ball away and misplaced passes more than I can remember.
But he still contributed heavily towards the victory and so in the cold light of day you have to say he did his job. As did all of the players, but particularly impressive – once again – was Sead Kolasinac. He scored the first with a rage volley that was brilliant and I feel like he is getting the love more and more each week. He’s a cracking footballer and when he’s in the team you can tell we’re instantly better. Let’s hope he stays fit all season because he’s great to watch.
On the other side Bellerin also stepped up with a nifty little scrappy goal and when you just want to consign an average performance to history, the best thing you can hope for on a night like last night, is a goal like that which effectively puts the game to bed.
A quick word for Rob Holding, who struggled and got hooked at half time, and I have to say I’m hoping that Arsène doesn’t break him like he’s broken other young talents. He needs something because his confidence seems quite low at the moment and he’s making sloppy mistakes, bit hopefully he can keep his chin up because with Mertesacker gone at the end of the season and Koscielny’s legs seemingly permanently hanging on by a single thread, he’ll be called on more and more. Especially as Chambers looks to be on the permanent naughty step.
The football we played yesterday wasn’t really that much fun and watching Arsenal isn’t as much fun any more, but a win is a win is a win. If we play the most boring game on Sunday but still pick up a point I’d be over the moon. My worry is that we’ll get the same level of performance against an infinitely better Chelski team, but that’s a worry for the weekend, because for now we just need to be relieved that we got what was required: the win and first three points in the Europa League.
Catch you all tomorrow.