Thursday, April 25, 2024

Arsenal 2-1 Sp*rs: Dramatic derby win crowns an excellent week

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Hahahahaha. Oh man, I wish we’d been able to be there and see that live.

Nevertheless, it’s still a very enjoyable feeling to wake up on a Monday morning having won the derby, coming from behind in the process, and having witnessed Jose Mourinho’s post-game tears (metaphorical ones). The saltiness. If you could bottle it, you could season seven trillion bags of crisps.

There was pre-game drama when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who was due to start, arrived late and was dropped to the bench. I still don’t really understand why Mikel Arteta made it that public, but in the end it doesn’t matter. What matters is we won, they lost, Mourinho’s tears etc etc.

We played well. As expected they sat off and offered little going forward. Emile Smith Rowe cracked the underside of the bar with a great effort from distance, before Alexandre Lacazette spurned a glorious chance to put us ahead after brilliant work from the young midfielder. The Frenchman had a poor first half, and that was miss was compounded when Sp*rs went ahead.

They’d lost Son to a hamstring injury, and they brought on Erik Lamela, a player so irritating he is the human equivalent of a pubic rash. He quickly got involved in some aggro with Granit Xhaka, so when he miskicked the opening goal through the legs of Thomas Partey and beyond Bernd Leno, it was particularly vexatious. Jamie Redknapp tried to say it was one of the best goals ever in the Premier League, and after Roy Keane made him cry last week, Sky’s producers were keen to humour him so went with that narrative too.

What nonsense. I could pick hundreds of goals better than one. Thousands actually. And even if we imagine for one second that it was a good goal, it wasn’t.

Then we hit the woodwork again, Cedric showing good strength and desire to get there after Lacazette’s bizarre step-over in the box. Far be it for me to tell him what to do, but kicking the ball towards the goal is something I like to see from my strikers when they’re just a few yards out.

That’s probably why, having brutalised Matt Doherty down our left, Kieran Tierney chose to pick out Martin Odegaard in the box. The Norwegian didn’t leave the ball. Instead, he kicked it towards the goal with his foot, and it deflected off some lumpen centre-half and into the net beyond Llloris. 1-1. A touch of fortune? Perhaps, but the endeavour we showed to create the chance paid off, and the Norwegian’s second goal in a week will go a long way to endear him to Arsenal fans. That it was part of an excellent all-round performance too won’t hurt.

We made a half-time change, Nicolas Pepe replacing the injured Bukayo Saka who, while quiet, again took some punishment. Lamela fouled Smith Rowe and didn’t get a card as the referee allowed Sp*rs to make countless fouls without punishment. It sounds odd considering they ended up with ten men, but it was a theme throughout. I mean, look at this below – it barely got a mention when it happened late in the game, while Xhaka – not the most subtle player, I realise – got booked for his first foul.

The England captaincy offers some protection, as we know, but that’s ridiculous. On retirement Kane’s ability to inflict violence without any kind of punishment or consequences will see him have a thriving career in consultancy for police forces the world over who are looking to up their game. Still, it’s good to be able to point this out on the back of a win so it doesn’t sound like sour grapes. He’s a thug who, thankfully, hasn’t seriously injured somebody yet, but it’s not for the lack of trying.

Then Pepe produced a brilliant pass for Lacazette, giving him a chance to shoot with his left foot. I suppose it sums up his day that he miskicked wildly at it, but as he did Davinson Sanchez came hurtling in and took him out as the ball was skewed well wide. Mourinho thought it wasn’t a penalty. It was. Jermaine Jenas on Match of the Day was bereft as he tried to argue it wasn’t a penalty. It was.

Pick a day of the week. It’s a penalty every one of them. I’m not just saying this because it was for us. The eye-test that I apply to penalty decisions was well and truly passed. Imagine David Luiz clattering someone like that (he didn’t, obviously, and he was good yesterday). I don’t think we’d be arguing it wasn’t a spot kick; instead arguing about which one of us was going to drive him into the woods, tie him to a tree, and leave him there.

Lacazette, who had been poor, slotted home an excellent penalty under some serious pressure. I have to admit I wasn’t that confident based on his performance, but when the time came, he made it un-saveable even if Lloris had gone the right way, but he didn’t. 2-1.

Red card drama followed. Lamela got an overdue booking for a foul on Thomas Partey, and his inability not to be a snide prick saw him get a second yellow for throwing an arm into Kieran Tierney’s face. There was no question about the sending off, even Mourinho on the sideline knew it was as blatant as it gets, and when you give a referee who has kept his cards in his pocket all day no choice, you can’t argue.

So 11 v 10, and it should have been comfortable. Except it wasn’t. Willian replaced Smith Rowe and all of a sudden we panicked. It never looked like we had an extra man. Kane headed in from a free kick but was offside. Lucas Moura sprang to life and caused us all kinds of problems. Kane hit the post with a free kick, and as my stomach flipped over and the ball broke for Sanchez to fire home the rebound into an empty net, Gabriel produced a wonderful piece of defending to keep us ahead.

Leno decided then was the time to start pumping it long when we could have used the extra man to just keep possession. It wasn’t lost on Mikel Arteta who acknowledged afterwards how poorly we managed the game post-red card, so at least that’s something we might learn from if it happens again. I also realise it wouldn’t be Arsenal without causing our hearts some problems, but maybe next time … and I’m just throwing this out there … don’t? Thanks.

Anyway, as terrifying as those closing stages were, they shouldn’t overshadow what was a fantastic win. Arteta said:

I loved the way the team reacted, with the courage they continued to play with, the belief that I was sensing from the touchline. Hopefully it will increase the level of confidence in the team and the belief that we can play really well against any opponent, that we can beat big teams as well, and to maintain this together with the same belief.

We know that we have to put together four or five wins in a row to give ourselves any chance of looking up in the table but we are ready for a fight.

On an individual basis, I really liked Emile Smith Rowe yesterday. He’s such a smart player and his ability to combine with everyone is a real boon to this side. I mentioned Odegaard previously, but the calm, security with which he and Smith Rowe played was really important to the win, and while it’s wrong to refer to the rest as the supporting cast, they were backed up really well by almost everyone else. It was a very solid team effort.

It caps what has been an excellent week for us. I don’t know what the odds were that we’d produce a good win away from home in the Europa League, and a North London derby win, but after the mistakes we’ve made of late, I’d say they were longer than you might expect. We have to build on it, produce consistency and all the rest, but for right now, on this Monday morning, we should allow ourselves to enjoy it. Bask a little, like some kind of shark who, in nature and nomenclature, is the master of the concept.

Think about the sad faces of Lamela; of Mourinho; of Jenas – whose face got so red he looked like a whoopee cushion; of Kane; and smile. Laugh even. Just enjoy it as much as possible, because even though we couldn’t be there, there’s still a lot to love about the winning of a game like this.

Right. It will be a goodly morning as James and I record an Arsecast Extra for you this morning. As ever if you have questions or topics for discussion, send to @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

Pod should be out before lunch, until then, bask your socks off.

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