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Thursday, 14 March 2013

When a win isn't a win - Gunners give us our pride back

I reckon he might be

Before the game last night I wanted to see some pride in the shirt. It’s something that has been sorely lacking in recent times from a lot of our players. By the end of the game they had certainly shown that and it was a mark of the performance that I felt unexpectedly gutted. Like most sane people I gave us no chance of getting through to the next round. I felt that anything that saw us avoid a humiliating thrashing would be decent, and a draw exceptional. To go out and come within touching distance of actually qualifying was just incredible. It was more like the Arsenal we have known in the past, but the glorious failure remains just that.
The back six were truly exceptional last night. For all Bayern Munich’s efforts at goal there was only one occasion where I would concede that they beat our defence and created an opportunity worthy of the name. When they did do that it was met with a storming effort by Carl Jenkinson to get his body in Robben’s path, and an outstanding save from a faultless Lukasz Fabianski. Those two, along with Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs and Arteta were superb. I know Arteta got some stick (and I was certainly screaming at my TV) for what he did in the closing minutes, but he had pretty much run himself to a standstill with his efforts in midfield. I felt at times that he was playing midfield on his own as Ramsey and Rosicky consistently gave the ball away with terrible passing. It is a supreme and tragic irony that it was our possession game, rather than our iffy defending, that was responsible for us not winning by the required margin.
The opposition was not given time on the ball in our half of the pitch. I thought Giroud tried very hard up front and was often the only player sprinting back to defend when Bayern tried to hit us on the counter. However, Cazorla and Walcott gave no protection to their full-backs. Philip Lahm was Bayern’s most effective player because he had the freedom of their right wing to double up on Kieran Gibbs. It was crying out for Rosicky to be taken off and for someone to come on to play properly wide on the left. When Gervinho was introduced we saw Lahm’s influence disappear and we got more on the front foot. How unlucky was the Ivorian after that sublime turn in the penalty area? If Giroud just had that little extra quality and proper goalscoring instinct he might well have been tapping it in to the empty net. I also thought that Oxlade-Chamberlain did well when he came on.
The performance of Carl Jenkinson was the absolute highlight for me. It was no coincidence that Arjen Robben moved to the other wing as he was getting no joy whatsoever out of Jenkinson. The moment in the first-half where he let Robben come on to him before just taking the ball off him was first rate defending. The Corporal also grew in to the attacking side in the second-half, with only Walcott’s wastefulness in possession stopping him being more of a tangible threat. As was the case before Christmas I can see no reason for Bacary Sagna to be recalled at right-back. There may be an argument for him to play alongside Koscielny or Mertesacker in the middle, but certainly not out wide. The youngster also spoke superbly after the game in his interview with the cretinous Geoff Shreeves. The look on Jenkinson’s face during it is really one of a fan as he glares at Sky’s microphone chimp.
Graham Souness is someone I’ve generally enjoyed listening to down the years. Last night he embarrassed himself. I was already sickened by the grinning of that clown Jeff Stelling (is there a bigger mirror watcher in television than this idiot?) who couldn’t even begin to mask his joy at our demise. Then Souness started saying that Arsenal hadn’t been good at all. Apparently our win was entirely due to Bayern Munich’s bad performance. He qualified this by stating that Manuel Neuer “didn’t have a save to make”. Given that Arsenal scored two goals I would say there were at least two occasions where he had a save to make. It comes to something when Jamie Redknapp is the one adding the sensible comments. By any standards it was an unbelievable display. To go and beat the team that many are fancying to challenge Barcelona and Real Madrid this season, the team that has been in two of the last three finals, the team that is running away with the genuinely strongest league in Europe is simply astounding. The only thing last night that was more astounding was Souness making out we were lucky.
When we got the second goal with five minutes to go I really thought we might just do it. The reaction of the players to Neuer’s antics showed a togetherness that has been largely absent. I loved Gary Neville’s “get in there boys” reaction to the scuffle. I hated Neville as a player, but he is the best pundit television has had in many a year. If we see that sort of hunger and effort across the remaining ten games then we will finish this season strongly. The players have now proved to themselves that they can win against top rate opposition. All season we’ve been pretty much swatted aside by good teams who have taken advantage of our timid approach. Last night was so much different. It’s something I hope Arsene Wenger can harness for the next two months. He has kept on and on about the potential in the team. I hope he also realises now that good, committed defending is the platform from which winning teams begin. It was without doubt the best defensive display from a Wenger side in a long time. Had the referee not been so outrageously biased towards the home team we might well have been going through (don’t ever tell me that football is not corrupt).
One final thing is to give mention to the travelling Gooners. In that massive stadium, full of German supporters not famed for their silence, the Arsenal boys were loud and proud. There were flags there from all over Europe, including good friends from Tirol Gooners and Gunners Bergamo. As my Dad pointed out to me there were none from Vietnam or Indonesia or Hong Kong. So let’s hear no more from Gazidis and co about the “thousands of loyal supporters” in those areas, and let’s hear a bit more about those on the doorstep who actually, genuinely, support the team. They make you as proud as the players did last night.


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