Arsenal beat Galatasaray 4-1 in Istanbul in a match so surreal that it was the Dali Atomicus of football matches. In 1948, Salvador Dali and Philippe Halsman collaborated to create a photograph of a flying Dali — eyes wide and grinning madly –, three flying cats, a bucket of water curving improbably, and other floating props. It is an image meant to unsettle the viewer. And so are Arsenal at the moment.
Arsenal started the season with a defensive deficiency in having only six defenders and with another season of failed attempts to bring in a ball-winning midfielder the club so badly need. This was Arsene Wenger metaphorically juggling cats. And then along come the fans who have abandoned all notions of respect and decency and lay in wait at the train station to ambush the manager with verbal abuse. A bucket of cold water dumped over Wenger’s head.
I’m not telling you any secrets when I say that football is all about highs and lows. If you’ve been around any sport you already know. Even Manchester United, who improbably won everything during Fergie’s tenure, bumped back down to reality last season and have struggled mightily to start this. Chelsea have spent over a billion pounds in the last 10 years and they had their ups and downs as well: winning the Champions League with the ugliest team in the history of the sport and finishing 6th in the League to prove it.
But while all the other teams went through rough patches, Arsenal have remained remarkably consistent, finishing between first and fourth in the Premier League for 18 years. Moreover, why would Wenger radically change his team and his philosophy this season? Remember that Arsenal were top of the table for the vast majority of last season and won the FA Cup. Wenger’s philosophy has always been to keep going and build slowly. So, if Arsenal picked up just a few points here and there and changed their tactic against the top four rivals it would be reasonable for Wenger to expect that his team would improve.
But instead of building on the successes of last year, this Arsene Wenger side is less consistent than I’ve ever seen them and the results show it: three clean sheets against Dortmund, West Brom, and Southampton, followed by a fearful performance against Stoke, followed by a rampaging performance against Galatasaray. And it’s starting to look like the normal highs and lows of football are catching up with Arsenal.
Ramsey probably epitomizes that inconsistency more than any other player this season. Ramsey has dropped in all major stats categories except shots, and especially shots from distance. Ramsey has been adjusting to his new teammates and as a result looks like he lacks a little bit of confidence. His shots are rushed and it shows, he’s already taken as many shots outside the box this season as he did all of last season.
Naturally, that means Ramsey should shoot more from distance, should shoot from further out, should shoot from further out, off the volley, and score.
Wenger echoed my sentiments about Ramsey’s goal when he stated flatly
When he took the shot, I thought that is maybe not the best of ideas but the way it went in was absolutely unbelievable. His confidence is linked with results and goals scored and that helps.
It wasn’t the best of ideas. It was a gambler’s goal and he hit the jackpot. But it went in and everyone loves to see a goal like that. Wondergoals are part of the highs and lows of football and I think it’s about time Arsenal scored a wondergoal rather than concede one.
Perhaps that goal will boost his confidence. I would think the earlier goal he scored, where he had the audacity to attempt a fake shot before coolly slotting home under the keeper’s arms would boost confidence more but perhaps the once in a lifetime nature of his wondergoal is the elixir he really needs.
It wasn’t just that Ramsey strike which made the game surreal. I had to watch the vine of the goal several times before I noticed that Joel Campbell took the corner. Or how about the fact that Debuchy started his first game since the knee injury. Or that Bellerin started at left back. Or that Podolski scored a brace and even made a ‘tackle’ which started the counter which led to Ramsey’s first goal.
All surreal scenes. All cats flying in the air. All Wenger grinning madly. All fans throwing cold water on each other and the manager. All Dali Atomicus. All Arsenal Atomicus.
And this weekend, Arsenal have to face a resurgent Newcastle team. More ups and downs. But hopefully, we stick to surrealist art and this weekend’s match doesn’t turn into Edvard Munch’s Scream.