It's that boyo again
It's a fairly well known story that Alan Shearer celebrated his one career trophy with Blackburn Rovers by creosoting the fence. Since he retired his elbows from competitive action he's spent most of the time on the BBC creosoting Match Of The Day with some of the worst punditry you'll ever witness. During these barren Arsenal years Shearer has delighted in our failings. This season, with us playing well and getting results, he has been adamant that our team isn't up to it. He may still be proved right. However, he is quickly running out of reasons to write off The Arsenal as no-hopers. His smug grin would be at the top of the list to be wiped off should this side go and win the Premier League. When we lost to Villa we were gone. Having had our exceptional run Shearer has continually written us off as we "haven't beaten a top side yet". This was becoming one of those things that, simply because the media say or write about it a lot, was becoming a statement of fact. Even after we played Liverpool off the field on Saturday we still hadn't beaten a top side, apparently. I wonder what Shearer has to say after last night. I bet he's out there now, paintbrush in hand, creosoting for all he's worth with the tears of humiliation beginning to well up. Keep writing us off Shearer, you cretin.
And then there's Stewart Robson. My God he's been quiet of late, hasn't he? Younger readers might not know that Stewart Robson was a very good player for Arsenal in the early to mid 1980's in a very poor team. Robson came through the ranks at Arsenal to be a real first team player. Then George Graham made him one of the first out of the door in 1986. Ever since then he seems to have had a burning anger where Arsenal are concerned. This didn't, of course, stop him from accepting an Arsenal paid wage when he became a pundit and "analyst". However, his constant carping about the Arsenal team and, more particularly, the Manager saw him inevitably removed from his job at Arsenal. This made the vitriol in Robson's public comments even worse. When it comes to hating Theo Walcott he makes Chris Waddle seem like someone who actually rates him. Robson wouldn't let a week go past in Spring this year without being on Sky, or in the newspapers, having a pop at Arsene Wenger or Theo Walcott and generally slagging us off as a bad team. Where is he now? Well, you'll occasionally catch him commentating on the J-League on Eurosport, or some obscure international game on the same channel. The rest of the time he's sat in the convalescence home for bitter ex-players who can't get a voice because their only assessment is one of criticism. Lovely.
Right, enough having a pop at those who slag us off for a living. Let's get to the business of last night and one of THE great nights in Europe. My wife spotted my Dad on TV in the front row of the away end shortly before kick-off last night. For him and my brother I'm sure it is an "I was there" sort of night. Make no mistake, we went to one of the best sides in Europe, the top team in the top league in Europe, and we beat them. It wasn't that we outplayed them (at least not until the last 30 minutes) but we played with a spirit, a tenacity and a will to win that is starting to become a hallmark of a squad of players who seem to want to play for each other, and who want to play for The Arsenal.
In the first-half our performance was pretty woeful. We couldn't hold the ball for more than two passes and it kept coming back at us. The midfield couldn't get to grips with things at all. The shining lights were Rosicky, Mertesacker and Koscielny. Those three held us together to half-time with Mertesacker utterly imperious in defence. It almost doesn't matter that he's slow because he reads the game so well. The man is a leader and a communicator. Last night he was actually attacking the ball in the air and jumping his considerable height. What a difference it makes. If I have a criticism of the BFG it is that he still has a tendency to turn his back on shots and that is really not on. But that's a small gripe after a display like last night. King Koscielny shone alongside him. Tomas Rosicky, meanwhile, seemed the only player in front of the defence who was capable of putting in a decent tackle and also of holding the ball long enough to relieve any pressure. He rolled back the years again last night.
For the first 15 minutes of the second half we were getting battered. It really did seem a matter of time as the midfield was completely overrun, Kieran Gibbs was struggling to handle things down his side (though he had no support from Cazorla) and Wojciech Szczesny made two brilliant saves. The offside trap, however, worked for the first time since Tony Adams was running things and we got through it.
When we got the goal it should have been no surprise that Giroud and Ramsey combined to provide it. You can't overstate how good Giroud's header down was, under pressure, to allow Ramsey to fling himself goalwards. It looked like pandemonium in the away end. Ramsey goes from strength to strength and a goalscoring midfielder is absolute gold dust.
After we scored we were really in control until the final whistle. Ramsey could, maybe should, have made it two after more great work from Giroud. Mertesacker was a hair away from heading in as he flung himself at a Cazorla cross, before heading narrowly over with a delicate flick after another good delivery from Santi (I didn't agree with him being taken off just as he was starting to run the game, and neither did he judging by the look on his face - this is something to keep an eye on in the next few months). We should also have had a penalty when Weidenfeller morphed in to Harald Schumacher to take out Koscielny. As for Sky's claims that Dortmund should have had a penalty after another Lewandowski dive it really summed them up as a TV company (the foul on Koscielny was not mentioned in the post-game analysis - they would never have done that had it been Man Utd or Chelsea winning such a game. That cretin Stelling couldn't hide his disappointment at Arsenal's historic win. To his credit Gary Neville seemed embarrassed by the whole thing.
Something that struck me, as it did at our place, was that we couldn't deal with Dortmund's pressing game in the first hour or so. They play very much like Barcelona do (or did) when they don't have the ball. However, much like the way we did against Barcelona on more than one occasion, having got through that hour in touch with the opposition Arsenal took over the game. The fact is that the high energy pressing all over the pitch is brilliant and highly effective. However, it can't be sustained physically for 90 minutes. If you haven't got the game sewn up before the 60-70 minute mark you had better be ready to get run off the pitch in the last half-hour or so. By being resolute at the back the Arsenal team earned itself the right to play their own game. The goal meant Dortmund had to risk their shape a little and try and be a bit more expansive with the ball. They couldn't do it. It was a sign of just how good this Arsenal team is becoming right now.
There is still a long, long way to go. However, there is a growing feeling that this Arsenal team has "something" about it. I wrote a month or so ago about the feeling you get as a match going fan that you can't really describe, that tells you something different is happening. It might not end in a trophy, but it's going to be a lot of fun finding out. If we go to Old Trafford and come away with a result (I'd still take a draw) we will surely be written off and ignored no longer. That will bring about a different problem for the players as the expectation level will change. They will have to deal with that. For now they have the incentive of knowing that a win at Manchester United will just about put them out of the Premier League race this season, as well as sending out a stunning message that The Arsenal definitely mean business. That would be huge.