Beating The Blues!

I doubt there is much I can add to the considerable mix of praise, awe, criticism, cynicism, sarcasm and other ‘-isms’ that have already crowded cyberspace and newsprints even before Mark Clattenburg blew the whistle at the Emirates Stadium on Monday night.

Christmas has come a bit late to North London but I am sure that none of the Gooners will be complaining about that. Two days late pales in comparison to a wait of more than 2 years. I remember November 30, 2008 in minute detail. It was the day I ‘inaugurated’ my prized Arsenal shirt – Number 4, Fabregas. It was also the last time (well, before yesterday) that we won against the mighty Blues. That it was at their stronghold of Stamford Bridge, was icing on the cake to say the least. A Robin Van Persie brace and a Johan Djourou own goal were responsible for our 2-1 victory. It took 2 years and almost a month for us to repeat that feat, albeit with a 3-1 scoreline. Both the above mentioned players were involved in yesterday’s win, and Djourou’s performance was especially heartening.

That is all in the past now. As is, to an extent, Monday’s win. Like I’ve said, a lot has been said and written about it already, and I’m not inclined to repeat or reiterate any of that. Or add more fuel to the fire. What I want to try and do is bring a little perspective and objectivity to the win, and what it means for the team we all love so much in the new year.

Let us go past all the accolades and the praise being heaped on Arsene Wenger’s “Boys” for defeating Carlo Ancelotti’s “Men”. Yes, they do indeed deserve it. Let’s put Chelsea’s current bad form aside for a minute. It is not possible to analyse or discuss Arsenal’s performance without taking their opponents into consideration. But let’s imagine we can. I’ll come to the effect of Chelsea’s perfomance in a bit.

With the exception of the sorely missed Thomas Vermaelen, it was after a long time that Le Prof was able to field a near full strength side. RVP still looks rusty in front of goal but it’s nothing that some more game time won’t fix. His footballing instincts and thinking and reflexes are as sharp as ever and it won’t take long for him to become his trademark lethal self. Fabregas showed why we miss our ‘El Capitan’ when he is absent, especially in the big games. His presence in the hole behind the lone striker was crucial and his passing visionary. And though it was only a glimpse of his potency, and Chelsea afforded him far too much space at times, that should not take anything away from the best game he has had in a long time. (Goal and assist were well deserved!)

Theo Walcott’s inclusion in place of the underperforming Andrei Arshavin was unexpected but hats off to him for not making Wenger regret the decision. I wouldn’t say his was a stellar performance, but if every start or sub yields a goal and an assist, I will take it for now! And statistically speaking, his well-struck goal showed presence of mind and good instincts, and was his 8th goal in 9 starts for Arsenal this season. Not bad for a guy who was brushed off for “not having a footballing brain.” Same goes for Arshavin. I am among the Arsenal fans who are equally rapturous and exasperated about this diminutive Russian. But if statistics are supposed to be a benchmark, then he is one of our best players of this season.

Defensively speaking, we are still leakier than a bucket with a million holes, and don’t inspire confidence at the best of times. The conceded goal was highly unnecessary and ensured that even a 2 goal cushion did not make me feel comfortable. However, I was pleased with the way we defended as a unit, and did not let the famous Chelsea ‘physicality’ overpower and overwhelm us as we have on numerous previous encounters. All ten players committed themselves to the task of defending when we didn’t have the ball, showed impressive hunger to intercept and tackle to restore possession, and generally showed no fear or hesitation in physical challenges. If I had to single out players, Johan Djourou put in a superb performance and completely paid off the faith put in him by Wenger on such a big occasion. Equally impressive was Alex Song. It is good for Arsenal that he can play as a proper defensive midfielder, and along with Jack Wilshere, add the necessary bite that was missing in our midfield. This stability, while helping our defence, also allows Fabregas and the two wingers more freedom and space to work their magic.

Okay, now brace yourselves. I am warning everyone beforehand that no blame can be rested upon my shoulders for spoiling or tarnishing the current upbeat mood surrounding the Emirates and all the Gooner community. Let me rush right into it without further fanfare or ominous background music.

Yes, Monday night’s win is something I am going to treasure. I couldn’t have got (and I am sure all Gooners will agree) a better holiday gift. It still feels surreal. A dream. If it is, it is a dream I sure don’t want to wake up from. Yet. The wait only made the victory sweeter. But I have never been one to be swept up in all the wonderful emotion of the moment for too long. Yes, it will definitely help boost our psyche and put some water over the ‘chokers in big games’ tag that we have been rightly saddled with for a while now. But yesterday was only one game. Three points that may turn out to be equally significant or insignificant at the end of a season that has just only reached its middle point. Consistency is what is going to matter. We have an average of two games per week for the next few and winning all of them will put us in the ‘potential title challengers’ category.

It definitely broke our ‘voodoo’ of games against Chelsea (Let’s hope this transfers to our game against Man Utd in the new year). But whether it was a turning point in the larger scheme of things, for this group of talented players remains to be seen. It pains me to say this but far too often have Arsenal threatened to be a team on the brink of greater things. Far too often have they had false starts, and flattered to deceive. And far too often have they been inconsistent and showed all the signs of a flawed genius, always a few small steps away from the pinnacle of greatness. It is definitely within reach.But it has been within reach for a few years now. “A team in transition” , “The team of the future”, “Wenger’s Young Guns” are tags we have been saddled with for far too long. It is time for us to finally live up to all the potential. Building a team takes time, and patience. We have had both of them. Now it looks like the boys are ready to finally become the men that they have shown the promise to be.

Is it yet another flash in the pan? Only time will tell. Will I keep believing in my team? Without a doubt. Good performances and 9 points in the away games against Wigan and Birmingham, followed by the visit of Manchester City to the Emirates, will be the best possible start to 2011. There are promises to keep and miles to go before they sleep.

Come on you Gunners!!!!

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