Is there anything quite like a last-gasp winner in a football match? Is there anything as delicious as knowing your team has scored with so little time for the opposition to respond, that even though your club specialises in brain farts from time-to-time, you know there will be no way back for the opponent?
If there is I can’t think of any.
So yesterday’s game – which felt hard fought against a dogged and determined Burnley team who were very well drilled – went from begrudging acceptance of a draw to the thrill of victory. And it was wonderful.
Let’s address the games key incident first. It was a penalty. The Burnley player put his hands up on Ramsey, inside the box, and gave him an admittedly light nudge. But it was a nudge itself. We have fallen foul of it when Raheem Sterling did the same and all I heard from all corners of the press was how it was a penalty and Arsenal can have no complaints.
Much like we’d have had no cause for complaint had Barnes not been offside in the first half when Monreal gave an almost identical level of pushage on the Burnley forward. But the lino had his flag up and we were lucky.
Let’s also not pretend that Arsenal have been granted the freedom of Burnley from Lee Mason, who gave foul after foul on an Ashley Barnes who fell to the floor easily on each touch from an Arsenal defender, or the clear penalty that was not given to Bellerin when Brady slid in and got nothing of the ball and just the man inside the box.
So this morning I can’t be having any talk of a ‘big club bias’ I’m afraid. I can understand the frustration at having lost in the last few seconds, but it’s hard not to argue that Arsenal had been the better team in the second half and had a few dodgy decisions already go against them in this match alone.
But let’s rewind to the first half that saw an Özilless Arsenal get pinned back at times to an impressive Burnley side who fought hard and probably should have been in front by halftime. Gudmonssen – or however the devil you say his name – was a Cech save and post combo away from putting them in front and for large parts of the first half we found it difficult to find our rhythm. I’m pretty sure the number of times we strung more than five passes together in a row could be counted on one hand. Burnley were winning the second balls, battling hard and making life difficult for us.
But the second half was a different story. The Arsenal players began to exert more pressure on the ball and perhaps having realised that we were sitting too deep and inviting long diagonals, the manager/players realised that a higher press would be the best option and so it clearly showed after the halftime kick off.
Burnley didn’t have counter attacking pace in their front line and so it afforded our back three to push up closer towards the halfway line, which also resulted in Burnley’s long ball tactics going in behind for us to mop up and build possession again.
We saw more of Ramsey, of Bellerin and of Kolasinac in that second half and suddenly Xhaka, who for me had been a ghost in the first, began getting the ball and pinging it to players.
We created chances but Pope in Burnley’s goal was hardly massively troubled as we seemed to be intent on taking more pot shots from distance. When you’ve got Alexis and Rambo in your team though I guess that’s always going to happen.
But what didn’t happen yesterday was a good performance from Alexis. His name may be on the scoresheet from yesterday, but these are the kinds of performances that are really starting to wind me up, because he’s becoming demonstrably more critical of his teammates and there was at least one occasion when he had a go at a player on his own team for not getting on to a quite frankly terrible pass from the Chilean in the first place.
Perhaps he’s just making it easier for us when he buggers off to City in the summer??
Alex Iwobi showed us why he’s not anywhere near the level of Özil with a pretty bang average performance and for a guy who has so much ability with the ball at his feet, I’m starting to get worried that we’re going to see him decline unless he can arrest his form somehow. I don’t know how he does that exactly, but something needs to change if he wants to be a first team regular, because it ain’t happening for him at the moment.
But let’s not have the end to a blog after a weekend victory finishing on a negative. Defensively I thought we were ace. Mustafi looks like his injury has given him a chance to have a proper talking to and we’ve seen back-to-back performances that make you think that there’s a good defender in there after all. If he can keep that going then it will be quite some decision to keep him in the summer. I hope that proves to be the case.
So it’s a happy Monday and then in just over 50 odd hours we’re up again against a Huddersfield side who are no mugs.
Onwards and upwards.