The one thing Arsene Wenger says every time we lose is “the team showed character” or “we had great mental strength”. If that character is Benny Hill, or the mental strength is that of a lemming who, when 4-0 up, jumps off a Newcastle cliff, then he’s probably right. But all too often he trots that out, and it means nothing because it’s often not true. It’s my one annoyance with the manger (I’m firmly in the Team Wenger camp, as regular Monday readers will know) that he spews this patently absurd line when the team don’t deserve it. Because I see them sitting in the dressing room thinking, “well I might have given the ball away, played them all onside, and then spooned it into my own net, but I’m mentally strong“. After Bolton when he said we had great mental strength I cried a little bit.
If there was one thing that this Arsenal team could do to prove they had a pair of bollocks between them, to prove that they did indeed have mental strength, beating Manchester United (the champions elect) with only 4 games left and essentially only pride to play for must rank high up in the “we do actually care” top 10. And wasn’t it fucking lovely?
Aside from my love of Wenger, regular Monday-ites will also know of my love of the team pressing game, defending from the front and working hard. It’s something that Arsenal don’t often seem to want to do, and yet something that Arsenal can turn to devastating effect when they do it. Chelsea? 3-1. Manchester United? 1-0. Both of those teams sit back and let us have the ball, let us run pass ourselves into the ground and then counter attack us the great effect. In both home games this season, we simply haven’t let them, when conceding possession we’ve regained it quickly and effectively. We played well defensively (starting from the front), not allowing ourselves to be broken on quickly, not over committing ourselves.
United were lacklustre yesterday, make no mistake, but a large part of that was down to Arsenal – Alex Song kept Rooney frustrated and isolated and between Ramsey, Wilshere and Song I don’t remember Anderson or Carrick really getting into the game at all. Our midfield hustled, hurried, pressured and pushed – Nasri and Walcott did exceptionally well in the first 45 and Arshavin continued Nasri’s hard work well in the second 45. It’s worth noting Arshavin’s positioning I think – He rarely ventured forward, instead sitting back mostly protecting Clichy, dealing out tackles like he’d spent the previous week watching Roy Keane DVD’s. Playing an enforcer type role on the wing can’t come naturally to the tiny Russian, but he put in 100% which is all anybody can really ask of him, especially as there is often the suspicion he gives a bit less than that. It was one of his better games in an Arsenal shirt. When the wide men of the front 3 play slightly further back (as they did for the majority of the match yesterday) it shows the strength of the formation. It helps flood numbers forward, but also helps flood the midfield. Several times yesterday United simply had no space and resorted to long balls over the top. Unfortunately, there is sometimes a touch of laziness in the team that means that we will get caught out stupidly by leaving our middle too empty.
The back four were immense, and whilst everybody must have panicked to see Squillaci jogging on to the pitch, it ended up making no difference at all. I can’t help but feel Squillaci has been hard done by this season. He’s been playing in a new league, for a large portion of time with an inexperienced ‘rookie’ in Koscielny, in front of Matty Almunia, whilst his midfield and forwards have largely ignored the concept of tackling and marking in front of him. Yesterday in front of a commanding keeper, behind a commanding midfield, alongside a quickly improving and confident Koscielny, Squillaci looked completely in control. Now that big Tom V is coming back, the defence of our team looks most solid. It’s a far cry from January when Arsenal had a “big problem at the back”. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but certainly to have only 3 teams concede less than you when your 1st choice defender has been out all season and your #2 Djourou has also been out for large periods… it’s really not that bad.
We could talk about the referee, but is there any point? I hate it when we usually discuss bad refereeing performances and are dismissed as bad losers. So it adds some weight that we can complain having won. The referee missed two penalties (one each) and a blatent red card (Vidic) for handling balls (*heh*) all after failing to spot Vidic’s obstruction on Wilshere. Oddly I can’t see any mention of Evra raising his hands to Jack Wilshere in the papers this morning. Never has Patrice Evra justified his song more. What a total cunt he really is.
Ferguson obviously has chosen to focus on how the not given penalty for Clichy raking Owens leg in the box will give Chelsea a big advantage. It will, and Clichy is a very lucky boy. I might actually have screamed my left lung out, how many times does Clichy have to cost us before he learns how to defend? But luckily fate was on our side, so it’s an injury I’ll save myself for another day. Owen didn’t help himself mind, munching the turf before contact was even properly applied. No wonder Clichy looked horrified, he must have wondered how the fuck his go-go-gadget leg had extended 7 inches to knock Owen down so early. What Ferguson forgets is that Vidic handling the ball in the area and getting a red card (and gifting us a penalty) would have given Chelsea an even bigger advantage. As Ferguson says, “It’s too big a game not to get the decisions right”. Hopefully United will feel so bad they’ll report their own player to the FA and voluntarily band him. Like fuck they will.
And whilst plenty of other stuff happened at the weekend, it feels good to be an Arsenal fan again even if it has taken a few weeks!