February 5, 2012
Oh yeah. I’d forgotten how good that feels.
I’d forgotten what it’s like to just enjoy a football match. Without worrying that your heart could cave in at any given time through the stress of desperately trying to cling on to a one goal lead.
Arsenal took Blackburn apart yesterday. Well, obviously. Admittedly Blackburn didn’t provide a whole load of resistance to that. They kind of loosened all their own nuts and bolts and then sat back and watched it happen. But no matter. We’ve played poor sides before and failed to destroy them. We’ve played poor sides recently and managed to lose to them. Not yesterday.
Yesterday we were ruthless. Yesterday we had eight shots on target and scored with seven of them. It was the antithesis of the recent tendency to squander chances. After the Bolton game I suggested they might consider working on their shooting in training. I can only conclude that Arsene Wenger is an avid reader of this blog (he likes it especially when I take his quotes slightly out of context for comic effect. He thinks that’s brilliant).
Theo Walcott proved that for all the technical limitations to his play he can still be a devastatingly effective footballer. He may not have the tricks and skills of Lionel Messi but then neither did Thierry Henry. What he does have is pace. Lots and lots of pace. And if he utilises it like he did yesterday then no full back would want to play against him.
He provided the first, Francis Coquelin, excellent as surprise cover at right back, flicking a deft ball which Theo calmly centred to give RVP the easiest finish of his life from three yards out. To prove it wasn’t a fluke, he did the exact same thing again for our second, this time making a great run onto Alex Song’s defence splitter and squaring from the same position again to RVP.
In between the two we’d managed to concede an equaliser from Pedersen’s well struck free kick. For the briefest moment it looked like another case of Arsenal dominating play but succumbing to a single chance and then falling apart. We didn’t fall apart. We had The Ox.
The boy was breathtaking yesterday. You know a player is something special when you’re sitting there constantly mouthing ‘Feed the Ox, feed the Ox, feed the Ox’. I just love watching him on the ball. I hope he’s not due any growth spurts because at the moment he’s got that exquisite balance that the all the greats have. He’s got a perfect low centre of gravity. He’s like a Weeble! He’s capable of putting a defender on his arse by running past them full tilt and then with a shift of his feet going in the complete other direction. It’s extraordinary.
But what’s really exciting about him is his end product. Good dribblers are rare but you find them. Gervinho’s a good dribbler but in the box he tends to panic. The Ox doesn’t. His run for our third was perfect. He read RVP’s intention before Robin had even decided he was going to hit a first time reverse ball into the box. The first touch was a stretch but he did enough to control the ball and stay on his feet, collecting himself to knock the ball past Robinson and coolly slot home. Pace, timing, skill and balance. Brilliant.
Clearly sensing that Blackburn would be on the end of a mammoth tonking, Gael Givet decided that he’d rather not take part and launched himself two footed at Robin Van Persie sending the Dutchman… well… flying. He knocked him about ten feet in the air and it was a good thing too. If his studs had caught in the turf both of his ankles could have snapped in two. It was a horrific challenge and a deserved red card.
To his credit there were no arguments from Givet. He stayed on the pitch to check that Robin was okay as the crowd collectively held its breath and on leaving the pitch you could see him apologise to Arsene Wenger. It doesn’t excuse the challenge and maybe I can say this only because RVP got up and carried on but it was almost enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. What a lovely (hatchet) man.
From then on there really wasn’t any doubt about the result. Second half Blackburn’s laissez-faire attitude to defending Robin’s corner gave Mikel Arteta a free shot from the edge of the area which he gratefully dispatched. Then a surging run from Theo took him into the penalty box. Again he didn’t rush or panic, just dribbled in front of the terrified defenders and fed the ball to Oxlade. His first touch with the left set himself up to slot home with the right. Theo had his third assist. The Ox had his second goal. Arsenal had their fifth. Life was looking sweet.
Robin completed his hat-trick, this time turning in a great cross from Coquelin and then turned provider again with moments to go. Thierry Henry, on for The Ox, caught Hanley in possession. In days gone by his pace would have sent him into the box and that would be that. No longer. But he still had the wherewithal to find Van Persie’s overlapping run. Robin could have got his fourth but unselfishly fed it back to Henry to slot home. It was reminiscent of an Invincibles goal. Two great players toying with a beleaguered defence (‘You have this one’ ‘No you have it. I’ve already got three’) before eventually putting them out of their misery.
7-1. Easy then. And hard to find fault with that. But one thing niggled. We were 4-1 up after 51 minutes and cruising against ten men. We were 5-1 up two minutes later and even though today is the anniversary of the 4-4 against Newcastle even we could’t have thrown that lead away. Wasn’t that a good opportunity to give Robin a rest? Le Boss had been talking beforehand about resting him. He’s played too much football. What better chance than when the three points were already in the bag? I don’t know what the deal is with Park Chu-Young but if he’s not going to get a game when we’re 5 goals up and our captain’s in dire need of some time out I can’t envisage any time when he might feasibly play.
Still, I won’t dwell on it.
Don’t want to kill my buzz. It’s been a while.
If you could just leave quietly. Turn off the lights on your way out.