Goals are fun. And many goals are fun. And when your team ‘goaled’ like wot we did, as The Management said the other day in a rare footballing faux pas, football can be fun too.
It’s true that there was about a ten minute window after Golovin (wasn’t he one of the leaders of the Orc Clans in the Lord of the Rings?) had brought CSKA level from what turned out to be a very good free kick, that I must confess, there were more worried faces in the crowd than there should have been. But thankfully that worry didn’t last because:
- Arsenal were very good
- CSKA were really not.
And I always hate that. It’s very difficult as a fan to put a truly objective view on any Arsenal performance, but I thought Arsenal were as good as CSKA we’re average.
On our side we had the type of Arsenal performance you usually see when Arsenal have a bit of confidence and swagger about them; quick passing, one-touch football, going forward finding pockets of space to get in behind the back line – particularly in the wide positions. Both Bellerin and Monreal got opportunities but more than that we saw Mesut Özil in his silky best.
Ramsey gets the plaudits for the most delicious of flicks for his second goal, but I thought Mesut Özil was by far the best player on the pitch, his performance having everything. There were flicks, tricks, assists, drive, control, poise. Everything. It was one of the nights that he was simply irresistible to watch and as the colloquialism goes:
“That’s why they pay him the big bucks”.
He was up for it and from the start you could tell he was going to have one of those games in which everything flowed through him and nearly everything paid off. There was one moment in the second half here he stepped over the ball and in doing so wrong-footed two CSKA players, to then spin around and get on to his own dummy and I like many around me, gave out an audible gasp of delight as he did. It’s times like that when we should all just appreciate that we get to watch him play for our team and it’s nights like last night I’m glad I see it in the flesh.
But although Özil was the massive shiny diamond on a sparkly crown, there were plenty of other players who blinged last night.
I thought Mustafi and Koscielny looked shaky at one point at the beginning of the first half and the hoof into the sky by Mustafi which saw Koscielny act a little over zealously for their free kick and subsequent goal, but afterwards they were calm enough and steadied themselves. Although again I wonder – given the basketball nature of the game – whether or not my mind is being clouded by the fact that going forward we were irresistible and CSKA didn’t take what few chances they were gifted.
In front of them Ramsey was superb. All energy, all action, two goals and an example to us all of a classic Ramsey performance. It was lovely. That second goal though…what vision, what a touch, a very Ramsey touch and he does love these little flicks and tricks. Sometimes it comes off like last night, sometimes it doesn’t, but when he’s in a mood like he was last night then we are an infinitely better team. I know a few who say Ramsey is only at his best when he’s had four or five games at 100% fitness and that is clearly the worry with his injury record, but games like last night make you pray we can keep him fit between now and the end of the season, because we look much better with him in the team. He covers so much ground, he’s always an option and his engine is phenomenal. I hope we see more of this because he was also excellent against Stoke.
And besides Ramsey I thought Xhaka did well too. There was one moment in the second half where he decided to play right wing for some reason, but overall he was disciplined and kept us ticking over.
In front of those two was Mesut looking grand as I’ve already mentioned and Mkhi did well although didn’t shine as brightly as some of the others. At the top of the tree was Lacazette who just doesn’t miss penalties and even notched a very impressive second goal to really make this tie feel like we’re on the verge of qualification. It was the type of finish that you don’t appreciate until you’ve watched it a few times. Very close control, ok his weaker foot, yet the composure and accuracy showed why we had to show Lyon a heck of a lot of gold dabloons to secure his signature. It’s easy to get swept up in the new signing excitement of Aubameyang, but Lacazette is a quality player too and I think a few of us had forgotten that in the mire that has been this season.
We have to be confident now, because when you look at CSKA, they really didn’t offer very much at all. They created a few chances but like Milan, it felt to me like they blazed a heck of a lot of chances over. And that’s probably why they are in this competition. It’s Europe’s second competition and unlike the Champions League you don’t get punished for the chances that you give away.
But you can say that about us because in the second half we should have put so much distance between us and the Russians that they’d have called off the second leg and saved everyone the visa queues. Ramsey off the post, Lacazette just wide, Mkhi with a shot dragged wide, Iwobi with a chance, plus a scruffy old Welbeck chance; we just couldn’t get that fifth.
But when you’re lamenting a 4-1 victory for not being better, it’s difficult to find too much to be angry about, because I think ultimately you have to revel in what is a very good first leg performance.
The only slightly concerning parts of the evening for me was Mkhi going off for an injury, but also Jack’s performance, because he really wasn’t great. On a night in which the team sparkled Jack got left behind and I thought he was poor. Misplaced passes, not always on the end of the right ball, I thought he hindered us at times and that is sad to say. As the season draws to its inevitable conclusion you can’t help but feel its Jack’s Arsenal career also heading in that direction, but rather than it being a bang it feels like a little more of a whimper. I’m just not sure what additional value he adds. You look at every other Arsenal player yesterday and they all did something different, something well, but Jack didn’t really catch the eye at anything.
But today is not a day to be down. The team did the business, confidence and momentum is with us, so what we need to do that with that is to get the win against Southampton on Sunday and keep this winning streak going.
Up the Arsenal.