In the cold light of the new day, I can say with a degree of comfort that in the end, that was an enjoyable football match.
It didn’t start that well though, did it?
I mean I don’t really know what Arsène was thinking about when he decided to opt for four at the back from the kick off and see if he could have a go at Chelski. We’ve got a pretty decent record against that horrible lot since we’ve had a back three with wing backs, but you could see from the first XI on the team sheet, that Arsène wanted to see if he could roll the dice and see if the team would react with a positive performance.
On one hand I kind of get it. We’ve had a load of draws against them, we’ve just smashed Palace with a similar set up, so perhaps he thought he was putting two and two together to make four. But the reality was that it didn’t make four. In fact it made waaay less than four because as Moses hugged the right hand touchline it pinned Iwobi back and pushed him into essentially a wing back position. Added to that was the fact that Willian, Hazard and Pedro all rotated in the centre of the park, meant that Nacho felt the need to tuck in. In essence, we were forced into the wrong formation with the wrong players who made our lives more difficult.
So perhaps it was no surprise we went one down.
The ball to Hazard was good, but it was pretty routine and Mustafi and Koscielny, along with our two central midfielders, will probably have another look at that and wince at their contribution. You simply can’t give a quality player like Hazard that amount of space.
With Nacho tucking in Iwobi was left rudderless and had an abysmal first half. He didn’t track Moses, he didn’t push forward enough, he didn’t really do anything.
That we scored before halftime feels fortuitous, particularly with the way the goal came about. A ricochet from Monreal to Rudiger and in past Caballero. Fortune favours the brave I guess. And few come as brave as Nacho Monreal, who is once again having an outstanding season. What a player. Mr Consistent, has adapted his game so well, has become one of the first names on the team sheet. It’s hard not to love him. A lot.
So at halftime the questions were whether we could really stand to watch another poor first half like that in the second. After all, Arsène isn’t really known for his tactical halftime shifts, is he?
But credit where it is due, Arsène recognised the problem and dealt with it, dropping Elneny deeper, which pushed Nacho wide left and suddenly Moses was shackled. It also freed up Iwobi who had a much better second half and really should have put the game to bed when put through by the once again majestic Özil.
But before that we had what was to be the match winner and wouldn’t you just know it, it came from the much maligned Granit Xhaka, gambling in the box following some good work from Lacazette and I must say it felt satisfying. The goal had a touch of fortune about it too but having seen Didier Drogba scab us on at least three occasions in the past, I have to say I didn’t mind one bit that we had our slice of the good stuff.
The match then felt to me as if it turned into a bit of a carbon copy of the final, didn’t it? Chelski started to push forward and spaces opened up and we probably should have put the game to bed but in the end didn’t manage it.
So what are my overriding emotions of another final and another surprising performance from The Arsenal?
happiness of course. We may not have the team good enough to sustain a successful league campaign but the players and team as whole know how to get us to Wembley. It’s a fourth Wembley date in five years (in proper competitions) and it’s hard not to be pleased that even in this most turgid of seasons we still get a day out. There are a few teams – including one round the corner from us – that would probably love as many days out as we’ve had.
I’m not expecting us to turn over the Pep machine next month but, really, who cares? This season that three weeks ago was potentially disappearing down the swanny now has a cup final in it.
Catch you all tomorrow.