A 3-3 champions league home draw to the plucky and tenacious Anderlecht is worthy of some comment. In fact, it’s worthy of plenty of comment, but not the lethargic witch-hunt we as Arsenal fans are becoming accustomed to.
Last nights match was a shock more than anything. 3 goals to the good and cruising. Suddenly a rather good equaliser and the game is over. Shock. Horror. Anger. Heads must roll! Wenger out!
Ohhh chill out already.
I watched the game from the Clock End last night, block 127, row 15, and yes I will agree the result was a bit of a shock.
But it was a great game of football to watch, and credit where it’s due, Anderlecht just didn’t give up. Many a team would have folded at 3 goals down and resorted to damage limitation, but this is the Champions League- Europe’s finest 32 teams of the past season that are there on merit.
Woe-be-tide should anyone who gets complacent while there is still time on the clock.
And that’s exactly what we did. Arsenal played with style and pace for 59 minutes and like myself, my buddy sitting next to me and possibly the majority of fans at the Emirate last night, we got way to comfortable.
That’s why the result is so much of a shock. It was unexpected because of our collective arrogance as a team and supporters.
But last night result didn’t only show up flaws in our attitude to these games. It also demonstrated much about Arsenal as a team and the characters in the team, which may give us some mindful insight into how we are developing.
In the first half, the team was on fire.
Lively, full of running and with bite in the tackle. They certainly weren’t going to let the bunch of Belgian youngsters get one over on us in our castle.
Players closed down, harried, tackled back, played some fantastic passes, dressed with flair and skill and were generally very unpleasant for Anderlecht to play against. Two goals to the good at half time epitomized that. When The Ox added that beautiful third, it looked like it was going to be a rout.
Anderlecht were gesticulating, displeased at how there were being bossed about and trudged back to the centre spot to kick off on about 60 minutes.
But there was problem; Our Captain was injured.
My buddy had noticed his awkward movement as our players jogged back after celebrating our third goal. Arteta had made his way to the byline and signalled to the referee for a substitution. He was denied and waved back onto the pitch.
It appeared that Anderlecht noticed this…suddenly there was a chink in the Arsenal armor that could be exploited, and that just what they did.
With Arteta suddenly not mobile, and his almost constant harassment of the opposition curtailed, Anderlecht simply cruised thorough our midfield.
Arteta left the game and the on pitch attitude changed. We had lost our driving force.
Between the two of us, sat up in that chilly second tier, we noticed several behaviors that affected the game…could any of these be reason to why we lost the critical first half focus ?
Alexis is good, but he’s not the leader.
Watching the game live is a totally different experience from watching on TV.
The atmosphere, the broader view point, the ability to watch an individuals body language and the way they interact with others in the team is one of the biggest benefits, if you are so inclined to observe.
When Welbeck won us the penalty in the first half, Alexis was first to pick up the ball. He had claimed the spot kick. He’s the man of the moment, right? Our leading scorer.
But he isn’t the penalty taker, and he isn’t the one to make the decisions.
Our captain calmly walked from his own half, and with little or no reaction, took the ball from Alexis for the penalty. No argument or gesticulation. The captain had spoken, and bagged a very cool 500th goal for the Emirates.
We were privy to a very brief view of the Arsenal hierarchy and where the buck stops and that the influence Arteta has over out team is possibly a lot grander that you may realise.
Per didn’t have his mind on the captains role.
As Arteta walked off the pitch (body language was pissed) he handed the armband to our vice captain, Mertesacker.
Our Big German has fulfilled the captaincy duties with aplomb on previous occasions, providing exemplary leadership in the absence of the club captain, but against Anderlecht, the leadership appeared to vanish with Mikel.
From the stands it looked as if he was unprepared for the change, almost as if it was so unexpected he couldn’t alter his focus from what was a strong defensive display until that point. Where Mikel organised and directed, Big Per was unfortunately too intent on keeping an Anderlecht side at bay, and it appeared to affect the performance of the rest of the team, particularly our forward players.
Perhaps it was the lack of match focus that he mentioned in an interview previously?
Even so, loosing that first line of defense that Welbeck, Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade Chamberline provided so adequately in the first half, had a profound effect on our back line as Anderlecht came at us.
Alexis runs out of steam….sometimes.
Alexis has had his fair share of favours from the fans and pundits so far this season, but last night, for the last most important 20 minutes, he disappeared.
Yes, I said it.
For the first hour our wonderful Chilean was a whirling dervish of orange boots, and it was glorious to watch. But that tenacity vanished as the win slipped away from Arsenal.
I remember scoffing at an article in the summer that mentioned he sometimes disappeared from games while at Barcelona, but last night was an example of what I chose to ignore, watching on as our £35 million wonder tormented opposition teams.
It was almost as if he wasn’t being encouraged to get stuck in any more. The same cold be said for many of the others too.
3-3 and Ramsey is going for the glory.
In added time, we were awarded a free kick outside the Anderlecht box. It’s position was similar to where Santi scored that belter for us in the FA cup, yet despite having Sanchez, Cazorla and even Podolski on the pitch – all very capable freekick takers from that distance – Ramsey ballooned it over.
Why was Ramsey allowed to take that free kick? It was a golden opportunity to get the lead back and spare the blushes. Again, from where we were sitting, nobody made a decision. Per was in his own half, and both Sanchez and Santi walked away from the ball.
It appeared that our decision making at this point had totally taken a back seat and the focus were solely on the glory of the winning goal.
Our team is still has a delicate balance.
Arsenal were a hamstring away from walking that game and possibly scoring more.
Arteta’s injury affected the performance and strategy of the team more that we may realise or care to observe.
If that hamstring had remained strong, I figure the game would have been a whole different story.
Because, our team is still in a delicate, developing state.
In the match program, the Captain himself wrote about how the early season injuries are making it difficult for the team to settle and find that continuity and form that is so important, and he very correct.
For the first 60 minutes of that game, Mikel was the conductor. He was everywhere. He berated lapses of concentration and organised his team. He lead by example and put in an exemplary performance. The players around him obviously fed off this and also played a very good game until his departure.
Take a look at his passing range compared to his replacement, Flamini, and the currently out-of-form Ramsey.
In 60 minutes, he hit a 95% pass rate, missing 4, meaning he made 76 successful passes. In comparison, Ramsey made just 81 passes over the 90 minutes giving the ball away 9 times.
Statistically speaking, Arteta was our the man of the match, and in only 60 minutes of play.
Take that kind of performance out of any team, and it’s going to suffer.
A team cannot function fluidly if one of the key components goes missing, and that’s exactly what happened last night, exasperated by our (the team AND the fans) complacent attitude.
Of course, you could argue that players shouldn’t need to be encouraged or told what to do, but captaining a football team is more than that. It’s about retaining the correct focus and direction. Arsenal, like any team are vulnerable to collapse should the right switch be flicked.
Arteta’s hamstring flicked that switch on Tuesday evening in the rain and unfortunately for us we missed out on the 3 points by about 6 minutes.
Having commented on all of that, a point is better than nothing and I am certain that all the team will respond.
That’s the characters they are as we have seen in the past.