Football’s popularity is down, in part, to its appeal to the irascible, irrational portion of the human psyche.
All sports have this appeal, however none reflect so earnestly the short-tempered, short-sighted instincts of our species. Instincts which no amount of learning, yoga or mindfulness can shake off.
Put simply, you rarely see people get as excited about a table tennis match as they do about hearing Robbie Savage say something dumb.
That is why football fans can appear so fair-weather. One minute the sky is falling in. The next we’re talking about challenging for the title.
After a summer and start to the season that felt like the club was going to collapse under the weight of its own incompetence, yesterday’s performance, along with two new signings all but confirmed, have made it seem like anything is possible once again.
Let’s be under no illusions, Arsenal have started this season badly. This is partly to do with signings, but also a lack of preparedness when it comes to fitness and tactics. Even though we scored 3 against Liverpool, in our first two games the team never looked like it knew what it was supposed to be doing.
This could be to do with bedding in, but when you have a manager who constantly talks up the destabilising effect new players can have on a settled squad, and your one signing isn’t even in the starting XI, that’s a nonsense.
We only get 38 rolls of the dice to win the league. To forfeit two of them because we still haven’t cracked how to do pre-season following a major tournament, is unacceptable.
Yesterday, however, the penny dropped for the manager and the team. Granit Xhaka finally started in midfield in place of the limited Coquelin who was left to chew cardboard on the bench. The return of both Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil alongside the man from Granit meant our midfield had enough technique and positional awareness to dominate the game. It also meant our front three, and particularly Alexis Sanchez, had the service it needed to make an impact.
Arsenal rolled onto the pitch yesterday in their abominable “third kit” which is the visual equivalent of some glow sticks stuck to a piece of Velcro.
Despite the team being dressed like bright yellow bellends, things got off to a great start. Our makeshift striker, Alexis Sanchez, won a penalty early on after his diagonal run was picked out by Ozil, confusing the defender so much he tried to RKO him (from out of nowhere!!!). Little Cazorla’s penalty was comfortable enough.
Arsenal’s second resulted from some excellent approach play between Sanchez and Ozil. The ball was pinged out to Walcott on the right whose cross into the danger area was of the highest quality. Sanchez’s finish had a touch of the shins about it, but every goal’s a goal etc.
Sanchez was critical in Arsenal’s third as well. Drifting out to the left, the Chilean spotted Ozil as he glided through Watford’s defence like a Thomson’s gazelle and pinged the ball onto his head perfectly. A goal that was so well crafted, a bit of pee came out.
Incidentally, while it is great that Ozil and Sanchez have such a great understanding, they do really really like passing to each other. Kind of like when you were young and you would only pass to your mates, their bromance is as much an acknowledgment of their own abilities as it is a nod to the rest of the teams’ deficiencies.
The second half was less enjoyable. Watford pulled one back after the eggiest of goalmouth scrambles, Cech had to make a fair few saves and Watford brought on a lad called ‘Success’ in a desperate act of nominative determinism.
Wilshere, Gibbs and Elneny, all came on to steady the ship and we were able to play out the game with little incident.
It’s taken three games and a few shifts in personnel but the team is finally clicking.
Though it’s about to change, the back four looks settled. Koscielny is obviously the main man but Holding is looking like a great signing. What I like about him is his ability on the ball. In one passage of play yesterday, he brought the ball out from the back and picked Ozil out with a 50 yard pass which instantly led to a chance. Ball playing centrebacks are so important to a team like ours. I just hope his career trajectory is more like LK’s than big Cal’s who looks like he’s due a loan spell.
Speaking of being good on the ball, Xhaka was excellent yesterday. Like a peak Arteta in terms of his positioning and distribution, but with added energy and power and proper hamstrings. Sitting in front of the defence, the guy ran the show. As someone pointed out on Twitter yesterday, it will take a few weeks for teams to realise they need to mark him out of the game which should free up Ozil. Win win.
The final person I want to mention is Walcott whose confidence has been in the toilet for about 10 months. He looks like he’s getting back to somewhere near his best. He had energy and aggression and his assist for the second was pretty special. If he could learn to time his runs from the wing à la Pires and Ljungberg there’s no reason why he couldn’t make the right wing position his own again and start contributing with more goals.
Arsene all but confirmed the Mustafi and Perez signings post-match. James did a pretty comprehensive review of them yesterday so I won’t add much other than to say; Mustafi sounds like an excellent signing. I know nothing about Perez but he is the plan B (or possibly C) I’ve been moaning about us not having for years so at least we did have a back up.
There’s still some time left in the transfer window and I’m wondering if it might not be worth trying to pick up a few more players; James Rodriguez or Joe Hart?
Though it was completely shit to live through, it’s difficult to look at the players we have signed in this window and not agree that it has been a success, albeit a delayed one.
And so one, very good victory, and a couple of signings and now anything seems possible. I still think this season will be a fight between Pep and that snivelling sack of shit at Old Trafford for the title, but we need to see progress in terms of our PL points total, in Europe and, crucially, in our style of play before Simeone and Griezemann join us next season.
Right that’s it from me. You can follow me on Twitter @aldo_doel
Enjoy your bank holiday!