Sit back, pour yourself a drink, and be prepared for a long post.
Sometimes I think of these post-match blogs like having a drink with me at the bar after the game. Living where I do, I have precious few friends to talk football with, so I write these posts in order to have the type of conversations that normal football fans get after every match. If I lived in London, I might not have ever taken up blogging and instead would have decompressed with my friends: pondering the complexity of a good bourbon we would talk about the players, the game, the referees, the fans, the manager, the stadium, Ethel the tea lady, and what the result means for the club as a whole.
But I don’t live in London, I live here, and this is the result.
I have been wondering about us as fans the last few weeks. There’s something odd about us Gooners but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It’s almost like an angry sense of entitlement mixed with tired resignation which are two things that shouldn’t go together, but they do. And in any 90 minutes of any game you can see people swing wildly from one to the other.
Yesterday, against Norwich, was another example of both emotions surfacing at various times in the game. In the first half, Arsenal huffed and puffed but Norwich simply sat back, kept their shape, and frustrated Arsenal. Gervinho was the man with the target on his forehead both from his teammates and the fans as he jinked and danced around the pitch like a marionette manipulated by a drunken puppeteer.
We keep hearing that Gervinho is a confidence player and I honestly think what we saw yesterday was a confident Gervinho — he does have 2 goals and 3 assists in his last 4 games. He wasn’t pulling moves off but he was trying audacious things; attacking Norwich’s two banks of four with his trademark jinking little dribbles, arms and legs akimbo. His dribbling and passing is completely unpredictable and defenders and even his teammates don’t know how to deal with it.
At one point, Gervinho was alone on the wing, there were no Arsenal players in the box and I thought to myself, “what’s he going to do here? Surely not cross because he’s only even tried 16 crosses all season and besides there’s no one in the box.” And then the drunken puppeteer controlling him thinks it would be funny if he hits what can only be described as one of the best crosses I’ve seen from an Arsenal player all season, to no one.
So, I think he was confident but even a confident Gervinho can’t force himself to have good touch. His very first touch of the game was a turnover, Sagna plays a good cross to him, he shields the defender well, and gets a foot on the ball, only to turn the ball over. It was a sign of things to come, as he would later make an incredible run, get the perfect ball from Cazorla, and as Bunn comes out, Gerv takes a heavy touch around the keeper and by the time he catches up to the ball he has no angle on the shot, so he does a shot/pass thing across the goal.
Should he have taken a better touch? Should he have passed it back to Giroud? Should Giroud have made a stronger following run? The answer really depends on your outlook.
Me? I’m resigned to Gervinho being Gervinho. He’s an interesting character who makes some incredibly astute runs, who has an unusual dribbling style, and who will sometimes open up teams like Norwich. He’s also one of the worst forwards I have ever seen play for Arsenal and he makes me long for Carlos Vela. He is both, he contains multitudes.
This is the point where someone always says that “people should remember the criticism of Ramsey, Diaby, etc etc.” and how “Ramsey has come good” or something of that nature. It’s true, Ramsey is playing very well. His work rate yesterday was top notch, his tackling was impeccable, and he didn’t complain even as he was even ignominiously shoved over to right back to make room for Ox in midfield. As Tim Stillman said, he’s a lot like Ray Parlour. Which makes me wonder how fans would receive Ray Parlour these days? Probably not very well.
But there is a crucial difference between Ramsey and Gervinho and that is that Gervinho is basically the finished article. He’s not going to suddenly become Drogba no matter how many songs we sing about him. Ramsey, on the other hand, has a few more years to come good and I’ve resigned to giving him the time to come good.
And in a way, my complaints about Gervinho are just my sense of entitlement. Borne from 7 years of the greatest football I’ve ever seen played and from the fact that Arsenal have a long history as winners, I feel like Arsenal deserve a forward like Falcao. But, knowing that we will never pay for a Falcao, I’m resigned to Gervinho and accept him for all of his inconsistencies. Wenger said once, “If you eat caviar every day it’s difficult to return to sausages”. Ain’t that the truth?
Similarly, the Arsenal defense. Everyone in the world knew that Norwich’s only offensive tactic was to get the ball into the Arsenal half, take a dive, and try to win a free kick so they could score off a header. When they did exactly that, I felt nothing. After all, we’ve seen it before. We play with all 11 men on all set plays, having no outlet to clear to, and we force our forwards to defend headers. We’ve been doing that for years now and the results have been exactly the same: some lump wins a header in the box and occasionally scores.
But then Arsenal decide that it’s time to play some football and Wenger hauls off Wilshere and Gervinho who were both struggling and puts on Theo and Podolski. Their injection of pace at the end of the game made Arsene Wenger’s starting XI selection make perfect sense. There were a lot of players returning from injury so why not give them 60 minutes to try to win the game and if they can’t do it, bring on the guy with bags of pace to run straight at Norwich’s tired legs and the guy with the finishing boots to put the game away.
Which is exactly what happened. Theo should have won a penalty with what was nearly his very first touch but referee Mike Jones, nor the linesman, called a foul. A few minutes later, however, the linesman had a clear view of Kamara hauling Giroud down by the shirt and waved for the penalty. We saw the exact same decision go against Arsenal when Koscielny was judged to have hauled down Dzeko by referee Mike Dean so it felt fair to me. Mike Jones, whose view was obstructed by the backs of the players finally made the right call and gave the penalty which Arteta smashed home. Norwich was in disbelief, Norwich manager Chris Hughton later called the decision “criminal” and I’m sure the FA will be pulling him up on charges any minute now.
Any. Minute. Now.
Wenger then changed the game again, this time bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain, another pacy player who ran straight at the Norwich defense. For the second goal, Ox picked up the ball outside the box, dribbled, played a one-two with Poldi, and then fired back across the box for Giroud to tap in (he’s claiming the goal anyway!).
Norwich was now forced to play a bit and they did have a good shot at goal which was saved by Fabianski. But with almost the next action Arsenal put the game away from a play that would make any fan from Norwich or Stoke proud: Fabianski lumped to Giroud, who flicked to Theo, who crossed to Podolski, who fired in. A wonderful goal which some people are claiming was offside. I didn’t see it. I still don’t.
Which brings me nicely to the final weird thing about us Arsenal fans, we do love a moan. You’re probably licking your lips in anticipation of writing your brilliant insight into how I’ve already moaned about Gervinho (which I didn’t, really) but you should save your breath. It’s not at all ironic that I’m moaning about how we like to moan while moaning. See, after the match we moaned about Arsenal’s first half play, we moaned about Tony Gale moaning about Arsenal, and some of us moaned about other Arsenal supporters moaning about the moaning. We are a moany lot and me having a moan about it is only par for the course.
But in the end we won. We’re in third place! Six points off second place! And yeah the other two teams have a game in hand (Man City and Chelsea) but let’s not forget the first 15 games this season, where Arsenal managed just 5 wins. FIVE. The worst run of form ever for an Arsene Wenger Arsenal team. If you had told me that on December 2nd, the day after Arsenal lost 2-0 at home to Swansea, I would have bitten your arm off and clubbed you with it.
So, pour another bourbon and let’s toast to the Arsenal. It’s been a hell of a ride this season and I’m sure it’s not over but getting there seems like it is sure going to be interesting.