Oh my, can you feel it? Yeah, it’s the feeling of #BigGameJoy. We don’t get it often, and it feels wild. The stench of smugness meant it was an elevator for one this morning. I really am enjoying the joy.
Undertone of the celebrations are muted though, after all, we’re Gooners. I watched the game in a nice pub in Willamsburg and my English Gooner Fam were still not sure we’d kill the game with 4 minutes to go.
I think what’s important here is to take the game for what it was. A great win and the end of a hoodoo. My concern, because I’m an Arsenal fan, is how far do we read into this?
Chelsea were a garbage side last year and it’s looking very much like they might be a garbage side this year. But look, we can’t call these big games a test then renege on that after. It was impressive for many reasons. Really impressive.
Reason One: Depth
Ok, tell me how many times over the last 10 years we could have dealt with an injury to a first team midfielder on fire (not my fire, but you get what I’m saying)? Coquelin dropping out of the side would have meant an aging star (Rosicky / Arteta / Kallstrom) or a child replacement (Denilson). We lose the Frenchman and replace him with Xhaka. We had enough depth to deal with losing Xhaka as well. We have three players who can play striker. We have 4 centre backs. We have cover. Good cover. Who’d have thunk it, fitting out your squad with enough players has benefits?
Reason 2: Commitment
Now look, I think the ‘Theo is a beast’, is a tired story that normally lasts until the weather turns cold. Stats for Prem starts and productivity indicate he’s the most productive midfielder / winger in the league over the last 3 years. He’s banged in 20+ goals for us before. But if there was ever a stat that proved context is needed with numbers, it’s that one. Anyway, his commitment is striking because he’s owning stats in areas he’s been critiqued for. Making more tackles in our opening 5 games than he did in the preceding 3 seasons? Pretty good if he can keep it up… and remember, Theo was the guy who said last season, ‘I saw that Sanchez works hard and thought, why can’t I?’, then tanked so hard we all wanted him gone.
Also, look at the players Wenger has brought in. Perez, a hard-working industrious Spanish Jamie Vardy. Xhaka, a hardworking class ball playing midfielder. Elneny, a powerhouse engine room of a midfielder. All players you need to keep the energy going. All workers. I mean, if Wenger had signed Mikki, we’d be the hardest working team in the league.
Challenge here is motivation. Can Wenger keep them working like they are now in February? Or after a shock defeat? Or when they get tired?
Reason 3: Tactics
We out-muscled and out-thought Chelsea. Conte, a master tactician said so after the game. We had smart pressing, we were first to every ball, thoughtful throughout, and strong. Really strong. That’s a evolution of our thinking. We’ve been here before though. We try something for a bit, it works, then Wenger reverts to type. If these moves are purposeful and not a reaction to a bad start, let’s see it all season. Let’s see it get smarter. Let’s see us elevate the way we strategise against massive teams.
So all in all, a lot to be positive about. Remember though, there was a lot to be positive about last season and we blew it. So don’t get too smug.
Champions League next. Basel. More on that tomorrow. Have a rip roaring day you joyful bastards.
P.S. Arsenal fans, you are weird and amazing.