If you’re familiar with The Mighty Boosh you’ll be aware that Noel Fielding occasionally refers to himself as “The Confuser.” By which he means that – with his long hair, slight frame, fine features, girly make-up and androgynous dress style – he confuses nominally ‘straight’ men. They can see he’s a bloke, but he’s also sort of attractive.
That’s Arsenal this season.
After a comfortable win over Bournemouth we sit top of the league, yet barely 48 hours ago we stank the place out at St Mary’s. Confusing.
We conquered Manchester City in a display dripping with discipline, concentration and effort; we lost to West Brom. Confusing.
We went away to Olympiacos in search of an unlikely win and pulled it off. We went to Norwich for what should have been a regulation victory and dropped two points. Confusing.
What are we?
Sexy title challengers?
Or just a bloke with a dress on?
Watching the way Mesut Ozil bestrode the turf yesterday – gliding like Bergkamp on ice – it was easy to believe we are sexy champions-in-waiting.
I know it was “only” Bournemouth but they have been in fine form including recent victories over relegation strugglers Chelsea and mid-table muddlers Manchester United.
Bournemouth may be the retirement capital of England, but their team arrived with a spring in their step and a belief that they could get a result at The Home of Football. Their fans felt it too – and for the first quarter of the match regaled us at length with the witty “is this a library” chant. Clever of them to think that one up.
During that first quarter it was obvious that the hammering at Southampton was still on the players’ minds, even though Arsene Wenger had made four changes (Gabriel, Chambers, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs in for Koscielny, Flamini, Campbell and Monreal).
With nerves still a bit frazzled we turned the ball over unnecessarily, our passing was sloppy and we had the same sluggishness in attack that blunted our efforts at Saints.
Gradually, however, we worked our way into the game, mainly thanks to Ozil’s roaming brilliance and Ramsey’s industry.
And when our German genius whipped in a perfect corner for Gabriel to power onto and head home the nerves were well and truly settled and we started to enjoy ourselves.
We could have scored three more in the first half just from corners – all of them delivered with unerring accuracy by Ozil (who now remembers our constant complaint about corners never beating the first man?).
The closest was a header that pinged off the bar straight at Mertesacker and rebounded off the big German’s schnozzle to fly just the wrong side of the post.
Other chances were created (notably for Walcott, who had one of his “Oh Theo!” days) and we went in at half time with that feeling so familiar to us fans: that we were good value for our lead but it was only one goal and would we come to regret the missed chances?
In the second half Bournemouth had a go at getting in the game, creating a couple of half chances, but we continued to create better ones almost always thanks to slide-rule passes from Ozil. That bloke has an internal sense of geometry that would make Euclid weep with envy.
Our second goal was a thing of beauty. Starting on the right hand side in our own half, we moved the ball quickly between Ozil, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil finally laying it on for Giroud on the edge of the Bournemouth penalty area. Giroud did one of those little back flicks he loves so much. Ozil had continued his run into the six yard box and finished first time with complete control. I love it when classy players pass the ball into the net.
By now the library had shifted to the away supporters’ end and it was the see-sawing rivalry of “We’re the North Bank… We’re the Clock End…” that echoed around the stadium.
From 2-0 onwards we were always comfortable and could have scored two or three more before the final whistle.
Some overview thoughts:
- It was pleasing to see Calum Chambers have a solid game in central midfield. A couple of days ago I got a text from my 23-year-old son saying “Chambers is the worst player in our squad.” I’m not sure what prompted Sam to say that, but I begged to differ and I think yesterday showed the potential he has.
- In the pre-match comments I referred to Oxlade-Chamberlain as a liability. I believe I was justified based on the mistakes he has made this season that always seem to lead to goals conceded. But yesterday I thought he had a very good game – always trying to take people on and make things happen. His final decision making wasn’t always up to scratch but, for me, it was his best outing for a very long time.
- Gabriel: took his chance extremely well. I loved the way he attacked Ozil’s corners and his defending was fierce. He’s going to be an Arsenal legend in time.
- Mesut got one assist and one goal. I can’t remember the stat for the number of clear goal scoring chances he created in the game. I believe it was 237. I have always been a monotheist (Dennis is God, and he sent his only son Cesc to save us) but Mesut is turning me into a polytheist. There’s now room for more than one God in my heaven.
- Congratulations to Helmet for breaking David James’s clean sheet record. Is that just a Premier League record or does it also include the old First Division? If so, surely there must have been an awful lot of sheets covered by Seaman?
- I’m doing player ratings below. I know not everyone likes a ‘player rating’ so, instead of marks out of 10, I am awarding them famous footballing name associations based solely on yesterday’s performance. Read on and you’ll get the picture. You may even have alternative suggestions of your own, in which case you know what to do…
Petr Cech: David Seaman
Hector Bellerin: Ashley Cole
Per Mertesacker: Bobby Moore
Gabriel: Martin Keown
Kieran Gibbs: Nacho Monreal
Calum Chambers: Gilberto Silva
Aaron Ramsey: Micky Thomas
Mesut Ozil: Dennis Bergkamp
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Jose Antonio Reyes
Theo Walcott: Glenn Helder
Olivier Giroud: Lee Chapman