I love to say ‘Graziano Pelle’. Such words call to mind Mediterranean cheese or the prayers one might offer while genuflecting at the foot of Pele’s statue. The magic—olfactory or otherwise—native to his name is matched only by the supernatural high jinks conjured by his club. To what unique form of devil worship does Southampton owe such imperious form?
Weren’t they robbed of all their key players? Didn’t they sell the greatest manager of all time to Tottenham? Wasn’t Scheiderlin supposed to sulk his way into a rut?
Well done to them. They wanted it more than us, fielded the right team, and rightfully took full advantage of a naïve back line, and a rusty midfield. Indeed, I think most disappointing is not the result itself (more on this in a moment) but rather that players we’d expect to lead the way on a night like this decided that, instead of participating in a football match, they would get out their Ouija boards and call on the spirit of Alexander Hleb.
“Oh, Hleb,” they intoned, while opposition players bustled around them, “teach us your decision-making!” “Shall we dribble into blind alleys and feed the hungry shoes of an opposition defender?” The planchette inclined ever more to “Yes.” Yes, yes, yes!
You can forgive Rosicky, perhaps. After all, he once played with Hleb, and tonight he seemed intent on offering a testimonial to his erstwhile Belarusian counterpart. I wish Rosicky’s display could be put down solely to a lack of playing time, but for years now his effort has resembled a frantic waiter whose tables have all been seated at once. Can he ever again complain at a lack of playing time?
I should be fairer in my criticism: Wilshere was no better, and he has fewer excuses. And Sanchez, too, rarely picked out a teammate, despite picking out the top corner of the Southampton goal. It was a strange team and a strange night: Coquelin was our most experienced player on the back line! Chambers was discombobulated throughout! Bellerin our man of the match! Podolski was mentioned! Diaby is alive!
Speaking of Diaby, I thought he had a decent game. He was the 1 in the middle of the 4-1-4-1 tonight, and for much of the earlier portions of the game, everything went through him, and he looked both exciting and understandably raw. Will he be the surprise of the season? Is he the incarnation of Patrick Vieira? Does Dan Smith work in a call centre? More importantly, can we speak of Diaby without fighting? I suspect not.
The bigger question is whether you care about the league cup. Did you think it a ‘blessing in disguise’ that we were dumped out of it?
Arsenal seem to be in the unenviable position of not having a realistic chance of winning the most prestigious of competitions, while also being too proud to take seriously the competitions we have the most chance of winning. This has been our problem for some time, largely because we usually just qualify for the most elite competitions, all the while tacitly accepting we’re in them to make up the numbers (including financially). For several years, we have been at a crossroads with respect to expectations.
In other words, the league cup is a lightning rod for our ambivalence. It has, traditionally, spoken to our hopes for the future while at the same time reminded us that such an idealized future is the cause of present penury. That is, the league cup ambitions now have a musty feel, the mandate of an older order. We’re richer now. We can exit the league cup with a dignity derived from loftier ambitions, which weren’t available to us before.
And yet, we’re not quite there. We are caught between two epochs. And the degree to which that’s true is the degree to which you watched our defeat and felt both frustration and relief.