Well I guess that went as well as can be expected. I mean you can’t really grumble at a three-nil away victory rendering the next leg a would-be dead rubber, although with a the Arsenal I guess it’s always got a caveat…
But still, the job was done and on a surface which was false, in temperatures that were ‘nippy’, the players that were on the pitch delivered and did it to the extent that we should be able to start thinking about how to keep the top brass at Arsenal out of the squad next Thursday in prep for the League Cup Final a few days later.
I’m loathed to chastise the manager too much this Friday morn, not least because as a Chelski-supporting work colleague said in the London pub (horrible and surrounded by wanker-bankers and music instead of commentary, by the way) we watched the game in said, Arsenal couldn’t win in this scenario.
To his words “you’re playing fishermen, anything less than 3-0 is a bit of a disgrace”.
Whilst there’s the inevitable bit of rival fan banter laced amongst those words, I kind of get it and after the opening exchanges of the game you could see why; Arsenal dominated ball, territory and nothing summed up the gulf in class more than a mistimed header from the left full back that somehow miraculously didn’t go out for a corner because the fake pitch slowed it down and the corner flag helped. And that was before we’d even got the two early goals.
In truth this did always feel like a case of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ but if I’m honest with you right now, our away form is such, that a nice comfortable session where our players dominate possession, shots, control and goals is a-ok with me. With probably the best team in Europe up in the League Cup next Sunday, any way in which we can glean any confidence works well.
we were helped though because their ‘keeper – bless him – had a sickener of an evening. The first and third goals will be giving him nightmares for weeks. A shot that he got down well to was parried in the opposite direction to the way he dived (quite some feat) and it was that man Nacho who was poaching in and around the six yard box. What. A. Guy. It’s like he’s some sort of Arsenal appreciation Hulk. Every time we all wax lyrical about how good he is, he gets better and whilst there are one or two outside of our fan base who will argue he’s a little underrated, I don’t know many gooners who don’t rate him. Highly.
The second goal was a little unlucky but you could argue that Mkhi drilled the ball into the right place, but the third goal was another one where he won’t want to watch too many times again. Yes Mesut drilled it low and hard, but having been a ‘keeper myself I know you’re always taught to keep your body strong and as much of it behind the ball. It just sort of squeezed under him and that was that in terms of the match.
Thereafter we just controlled I thought. We popped the ball around, looked comfortable, but apart from what feels like the almost inevitable penalty scare – miraculously saved somehow and I’d forgotten that ‘keepers could do that – we were only troubled once that I can remember and that was a fine save from Little Dave O.
Danny Welbeck described the result afterwards as a ‘professional’ display and there’s no doubt that it felt like that, although I would have hoped we’d see more from him than we did. Perhaps it’s because it was a 3G pitch and he wanted to reserve himself a little bit for fear of injury, which I kind of understand, but I’d have hoped he’d be popping up in spaces a little more than he did.
I also thought the midfield coped well although this was not a night in which someone like Maitland-Niles is going to be tested to his limit so perhaps, like many, we should reserve judgement. It’s very difficult to try to examine individual player performances in the main though because we just don’t know if the players were playing within themselves for fear of injury, or whether it was just the quality of opposition not testing them, so we just needed to do what was required and move on to the next game.
Like Arsène said afterwards – “job done”.
Now we have a whole week off and I hope he gives some players plenty of rest time to recuperate because I want to see a fresh faced Arsenal team next Thursday, followed by a fresh first team Sunday after next.
Catch you all in the non-Arsenal weekend that is tomorrow.