I had a girl
She loved what she saw
She loved me so good
She made her daddy mad
My woman cried
She’s dead to me now
My woman ran off
And I can’t deny it
Jesus (Cheetos) and tequila
And I can’t deny it
Arsenal left Belgium with a sack full of goodies and all three points as the London team pipped Anderlecht at the death in a surprisingly equal match between two teams with vastly different resources and pedigrees.
Anderlecht came in to the match with nothing to lose. Widely seen as one of the minnows of Champions League play, the Belgians would need to put in a hard fought 90 minutes if they were going to get anything from an Arsenal team who spent as much money acquiring players this summer as the entire Anderlecht club is worth. To their great credit, Anderlecht not only gave Arsenal a fair but physical match, they also matched Arsenal skill for skill for the majority.
Anderlecht could easily feel hard done by considering the fact that Arsenal’s winning goal came moments after a deliberate handball by late sub and game winner, Lukas Podolski. I can tell you that had Arsenal conceded that goal under those exact circumstances with that exact handball preceding it, there would be smartly written letters of complaint filling UEFA’s mail slot tomorrow morning.
As it stands, these self-same arbiters of fairness will likely dismiss the handball as incidental, inconsequential, or (worse) something Arsenal “deserve” because it rights the ills they perceive Arsenal to have suffered. As if a handball allowed against a team like Anderlecht, who have done nothing wrong against Arsenal, somehow makes up for Everton’s lucky offside call in the Premier League.
In the end though Arsenal’s quality in depth, in depth against a tiny team like Anderlecht, won the day as Lukas Podolski found the ball near him and in an #aha moment, scored.
Gibbs had a fantastic match. Not only did he score the equalizer off a difficult volley from Chambers’ cross but he also made nine of twelve tackles for Arsenal defensively. Highlighting Gibbs’ astounding work rate both in going forward and in sprinting back. With Gibbs forward so often and yet still able to sprint back for a tackle deep in the Arsenal defense, I wondered what part sprints (sprints which Arsenal players do more than other teams by my perception) by Arsenal players play in Arsenal’s history of muscle injuries? Could it be that Arsenal’s system, playing so many forward at all times, constantly pressing for the win and being forced to sprint back on defense as they wildly try to catch up to the opposition’s counters, could that be the reason for so many of these stress injuries?
I don’t have an answer to that. I do know that those twelve Gibbs tackles show how concerted the Anderlecht effort was in targeting Nacho and Gibbs. Anderlecht attempted 36 dribbles and 10 of them were concentrated in Gibbs’ corner compared to just 6 in Chambers’ corner.
Anderlecht found a goal out of that effort when Dennis Praet dribbled around the Arsenal defense, pulled both Arsenal center backs out and then put in a cross right to the penalty spot. Calumn Chambers was caught between Najar and the ball for a second and that was all the Anderlecht man needed to score.
The Belgian side were right back at the Arsenal gates a few seconds later and they should have equalized when Anthony Vanden Borre struck the post from a dangerous position. Once again Najar was free down Gibbs’ side (he started the attack that he finished for their first goal) and once again played in Praet.
With Monreal playing left back again (there are no defensive midfielders covering the fullbacks on this Arsenal team) Najar was able to cross to Praet who literally caught Per flat footed. The young Praet heard die Fledermaus playing in his ear, waltzed past Per, and slid a ball to Vanden Borre who was wide open just outside the 6 yard box. Instead of coolly side footing into the goal, Vanden Borre opened up his sand wedge and hit a lob which struck the upright.
If the Belgians had scored the second, it could have been a body blow to the this Arsenal side. Both Anderlecht goals came after Arsenal left their foot off the gas as you can see from my twitter timeline which captured the sense of both boredom and shock:
There is a connection between this “boring Arsenal” and the “ohshit Arsenal”. This Arsenal team still think they are the possession-based team who used to be able to kill off games with a string of 100 “ole” passes, but when the central midfielders are pressed by the opposition forwards they cough the ball up too easily in dangerous areas and are often caught with their defenders in advance of the forwards. Many times in this game both of Arsenal’s wide defenders, Calumn Chambers and Keiran Gibbs, were in front of their forwards at the same time.
It’s a huge gamble to constantly send your fullbacks forward, and an even bigger gamble to send them both forward at the same time when your only cover is Mathieu Flamini pacing around the midfield. But however you look at it, the bet paid off.
Like a slot machine, if you feed enough quarters into its voracious maw it will eventually get too full and spit something back out. So too Gibbs’ station as the most forward player on the left. It should be noted that the gamble was “all in” as well, down to their last quarter, Arsenal’s right back, Calumn Chambers, put in the cross which Gibbs volleyed home.
My first trip to London I went to one of those casino/clubs. It was late. I was drunk. And naturally, I started losing heavily. I was down to my last few pounds and I wandered away from the Blackjack table and put the rest of my money on a single number in Roulette. The number came up and from that point on my night was all trumps. I went back over to the Blackjack table and proceeded to win back all my money plus enough money to pay for all my food for the week.
I left the casino with a fat wallet and full of cheer having gone from thinking I’ll be eating Cheetos the rest of the week to planning a steak dinner. That’s how gambling works: a little luck and you feel like you’re on top of the world.
Arsenal won the game at Anderlecht with some similar gambles. All in with Calumn Chambers and Gibbs and then a little lucky double down when Wenger subbed in Podolski who got away with some slight of hand to score the winner. To get all three points Arsenal needed professional and hard-working players on the pitch, and Alexis Sanchez continues to impress in that regard. A team high 4 key passes, all of them in dangerous areas and any one of which probably should have scored, finally got rewarded when Podolski scored.
In the end, Anderlecht matched Arsenal for ninety minutes. They didn’t play using negative tactics or ugly timewasting. They didn’t rely on the referee to bail them out and didn’t run around booting Arsenal players into Row Z. They don’t have an Oligarch spending more money than god on star players from abroad and instead they are a small team with a humble stadium filled to the rafters with exuberant fans singing “Come on Sporting Boys!” to the tune of Cum on Feel the Noize.
Yet Arsène’s roll of the dice paid off and after the match Arsenal fans pocketed their winnings and gleefully went off into the night in search of Cheetos and Tequila. They even had a little money left over to get Arsène a birthday cake.