Ahh man am I hungover.
I got to Highbury & Islington tube station at around 12.35 – about an hour earlier than I normally do – so I could watch the City versus Liverpool game. What a waste of time that was. I hope the Scousers are that rubbish when they play us, although I think we already know the answer to that one, because they definitely won’t be. But I went along to the pub to catch some of the game anyway and sat there and endured a City performance that made their recent history rivals look like a bunch of school kids, before beveraging myself up ahead of our game at home to Leeds.
“Just do your job, Arsenal, don’t worry about anything else”
That was the mantra pre game and that was the concern: that Arsenal would slip up against an opponent who – at home – they should beat. After all, this season we’ve all been talking about the scars we all still have from seasons past; even last season we fell away in the top four race and this one has even more pressure associated with it. There’s a title up for grabs this time, for Christ’s sake.
But I am projecting my own fears, my own biases and my own worries on to a current crop of Arsenal players who are showing every week that they are capable of handling the pressure of a title race. Yesterday was no exception and whilst the first third of the match was fraught with slight concern that it could be ‘one of those days’, as soon as we got the penalty for the first goal you knew we were on our way in North London on a Saturday.
It was a penalty. I had a few lads around me messaging their mates who told them it was soft, which I kind of understand, but when I watched the replays on match of the day in the evening later that night, you can see that Ayling’s boots catch Gabriel Jesus and when there is contact like that, the player goes down and the ref points to the spot, there’s always going to be one outcome. Not even VAR could properly have a sniff at it.
So to Gabriel Jesus the responsibility fell and his very cool penalty down the middle sent us on our way to another three points. He of all people will have been relieved to get on the scoresheet and now we can tick off that barren run goalscoring drought that a few pundits and fans had talked about, is now a thing of the past. He was to double his tally for the day in the second half with another assist for our Belgian maestro Trossard and you can’t help but think how important those two goals might be for his confidence going in to a run of absolutely critical games for our season in the next month. He was only to last an hour yesterday, but it was a good day at the office for our Brazilian and now we can look ahead to that Liverpool game next Sunday and hope that he can deliver more goals for us now that this particular monkey is off his back.
Let’s give some flowers to Trossard too for the assist for goal number three of the game yesterday. He played well I thought, particularly in the second half and his balance and ability to shift his weight so quickly left and right enables him to find space against defenders and pick out passes that others would not be able to. He’s already got seven assists for us since signing and he is proving to be such an important cog in our machine. He’s been that influential and good that Arteta felt comfortable leaving Saka on the bench from the start yesterday and whilst I thought he was a little quieter in the first half, in the second half he – as well as the rest of the Arsenal team – really turned on the afterburners to pull away from Leeds.
Benjamin ‘Benny Blanco’ White also got himself on the scoresheet with a goal that took a few seconds for me to process that it’d gone in when it rippled the net. I love a goal that goes in off the bar but given the proximity to the goal White was, I think next time I’d prefer it if he could just side foot it right in the middle of the goal. Let’s also give some props to Martinelli for the assist too; it looked like a really good ball to find him and pick him out, but it was only on the replays that you can see what a fine assist it was.
Leeds did cause us to have a few minutes of wobbles with their – somewhat fortunate (took two deflections) – goal, but the fact that we restored our lead just eight minutes after they scored through another Granit Xhaka goal was certainly welcome relief from my perspective.
We looked good. We looked like a side who are fighting for the title. We won our 23rd game of the season and we maintain the eight point lead over City with nine more of those cup finals to go. This was a game that we were expected to win, but the fact that we were able to do it without too much nail-biting during the game is pleasing. By matching City’s scoreline against Liverpool we also managed to keep pace with them on the goal different front too, which is useful, because it feels like we might need that when we get to the last few games.
I’m still not ready to declare us favourites though. Yesterday was a game we should have won and we did. Next weekend we will go to a Liverpool side that will look very different to the appalling display they put on at the Etihad over lunch. We always lose against Liverpool and I’m expecting the same next Sunday, so that eight point lead will probably be cut to five. The buffer will quickly disappear with the way that City are playing right now, but we just need to focus on what we can do as a team, then see what happens elsewhere as a bonus.
For now though it is ‘as you were’ at the top of the league and for that we can be happy.
Catch you all tomorrow.