Life comes at you fast. And football comes at you faster. Bear with me on this today – it might be a long ol’ blog, because there’s so much to unpick from yesterday and the last week in general.
One week ago I was sat here tapping away at my computer, penning some thoughts about the absolute robbery that was an incorrect VAR decision that has – rightfully – now cost Lee Mason his job, finally. I was feeling frustration one week ago.
Then in midweek I was feeling low. We’d lost Thomas Partey to injury, we’d shot ourselves in the foot against Man City, we were off the top of the table and we’d handed them all the impetus they needed to go on and win the league. We were in a rut, were struggling to break down low block teams and had Man City now breathing down our necks. And I’ll admit that it hit me. I got myself off social media, decided not to blog for a few days, just focused on work and friends and other things in life that bring me more happiness. But the football blackout was tough. It was like a drug. It was gnawing away at me and so when I reinstalled all my football apps and started to listen to the Arsenal podcasts ahead of the game yesterday, the worry started to creep back in. This was a lunchtime kick off against an Unai Emery side who would be tough to break down, hit us on the counter and make it a really uncomfortable afternoon, I thought.
So when they went one-nil up after five minutes, naturally I felt the worst. I thought we were going to get all of the same problems rear their ugly heads: low block, overload in wide areas, deep lying defenders, bodies flying in front of the ball, etc, etc, etc. And we weren’t helping ourselves. Our passing was slightly off in the first half, Zinchenko and Xhaka in particular I thought looked a little wasteful in possession, we slowed the game down to walking pace at times and it looked like it was going to be ‘one of those games’. Villa had their noses in front and they would put on the defensive display of the season, whereas our title charge was going to take another dent.
Saka rifling the ball in to make it 1-1 helped to alleviate that fear, even if it was only for about 15 minutes. It was a superb strike from our main man; a man kicked all over the park and yet bizarrely punished when yet another nasty challenge comes in on his ankles. Arteta talked a little bit about how he has to deal with it because that’s the way he plays, but those ankles need to have some kind of Mithril attached around them, because eventually they will succumb with the battering he takes without protection from the referees.
But he dragged us level and even though we were poor, we still found ourselves in it and with a chance to take control. Except we didn’t. We continued to labour and so almost inevitably, Villa went ahead through only their second real venture forward in the game. I have to tell you I really don’t rate Coutinho. I think he’s one of the most overrated players of the last 10 years, yet just because he’s stepped up with the occasional impressive goal, he’s seen as this fantastic player. Yesterday was a prime example of that. The Villa goal was actually an impressively worked one with him on the end of it, but as a perfect example of what he does, he got on the end of it, but did little else all game. Other than a sly foul on Saka that should have earned him a card.
So, Villa back in front at half time, Arsenal needing to do something different, because our title charge was fading fast. Arteta sent the boys out early and he sent out a different team. We began to find Odegaard more and he began to dictate the play, having being pretty anonymous throughout. Trossard had a difficult afternoon up against Cash but what was needed was a direct runner, so Martinelli came on for him and I think it gave Villa more problems to think about. But Odegaard popping up in those pockets of space also helped. He fed Eddie who should have scored, he was involved in the build up to the third goal (I’ll come to that in a sec), he was looking like the player we had seen all season but not so much in recent games. Eddie also hit the top of the bar and in the first 15 minutes of the second half you could sense we were getting closer. Step forward Zinchenko – much better in the second half – to drill the ball past Martinez to bring us level. Great goal. Really well worked and you could tell that this was something Arsenal had worked on because as often as we could we took short corners. Villa had obviously set themselves up as a big team to deal with that aerial threat in the box and we just ignored that route and Zinchenko found acres of space to pick his spot.
We’re level, we’ve got 30 minutes to get the winner, we’re fashioning chances. Step forward Emi Martinez, the master of Sh*thousery and a guy who made a name for himself doing it in the last World Cup.
Ball swung into the box with nobody around? Goes down for a minute having collected the ball in his arms.
Goal kick? Takes a minute to lump it long.
Has the ball in his hands to drill the ball long? Takes over 30 seconds each time.
I swear he must have taken about five or six minutes of added time just himself. So when the board went up for another six minutes of injury time, I would imagine that he was chuckling inside to himself as to how he had gotten away with it. He was pointlessly booked on 85 minutes yesterday; a token refereeing gesture that we see in the league every single week that really the refs should do something about but never do. It is maddening and if they could start applying those World Cup stoppages to our domestic game, we’d soon avoid that kind of gamesmanship.
So the absolute sweetest of poetic justice for our stoppage time third goal cannot be understated enough I don’t think. As usual it was us who were driving forward. It was The Arsenal who wanted to win the game. It was The Arsenal who DESERVED to win this game. Martinez had wasted so much time and thought it had helped his team, but in the end he was a key reason as to why they lost. Jorginho’s strike from the edge of the box was worthy of being a match winner. He might feel slightly aggrieved this morning that he hasn’t opened his scoring account because the strike deserved it. But I have to say as a fan I am absolutely delighted that it goes down as a Martinez OG.
Up yours Emi – that’s what you get for your sh*thousery.
Real Chris Kirkland and Thierry Henry vibes with that one, I have to tell you.
So it’s 3-2, we’re now into defending mode for the final minutes and my nerves are shot. The emotion of scoring a potential winner that could be cancelled by a scabby Villa goal from a corner is too much to take. And what’s this now? Martinez is coming forward for the corner? Well that’s it, isn’t it? That’s what is going to happen. He’s going to score and get his undeserved redemption.
Nope, nope, noppeity-nope. Far from it. The clearance on the corner was good, Fabio Vieira was sensible in driving diagonally away from the goal, then suddenly from the corner of his eyes appears a springing Martinelli. All you’ve got to do is find him and he’s tapping in to the net.
HE DOES! Martinez is all the way up the pitch! Gabby is tapping in to an empty net!!
That goal was so delicious. The Fabio Vieira pass and then celebrating before he’d even scored as Martinelli raced on to it. Martinelli outstretched arms in celebration as he tapped the ball into an empty net. Martinez halfway up the pitch we the proverbial egg on his face. Then afterwards the Unai Emery interview in which his manager was clearly incredibly unimpressed with his antics – the time wasting as well as going up for a corner. “He knows now” said Emery afterwards. Oh I bet he does.
And we’re back on top of the league by two points, because City drew yesterday against Forest. I’ve seen the highlights and they absolutely battered Forest and should have probably sauntered to a two or three-goal victory. But as I said at the top of the blog – football comes at you fast. We all know that after the week we’ve all just had.
Catch you all tomorrow.