A slight change of tack from my usual ramblings this week, but with a run of six Arsenal matches, and a planned trip to watch the O’s with Mrs Football Nerd, over the course of just over three weeks; I felt that it might prove intriguing to chronicle this period and to provide an insight into complete submersion in football watching.
As the completely and utterly beyond hope football obsessive that I am, I have actually been relishing the prospect of this run of games and looking forward to it more than any rational (sane?) person should. This is not because the upcoming games themselves are potentially headline match-ups, far from it in fact for most of these fixtures; but more to do with a simple need to be there, an addiction to going to football matches, as I defined it in the formative days of this blog (https://football-nerd.org/2016/04/01/the-addiction-of-going-to-football-matches/). The routine of regular football match attendance lends a certain structure and pattern to my life that, for reasons that probably shouldn’t be delved into too deeply, creates a weird kind of comfort.
So, with apologies to those not massively committed to, or even interested in, the frustrations of Arsenal’s infuriating inconsistencies of form and performance, what follows is a glimpse into the life of a football obsessive Gooner.
Match 1 – Arsenal vs Huddersfield Town, Wednesday 29th November 2017. KO: 19:45.
To get us underway on our odyssey we had the visit of a newly promoted team, Huddersfield Town, who hadn’t until this season featured in the top-flight since the year I was born (yes I really am that old!); a club that shares a reverence for the history and tradition instilled by a manager who is rightly still regarded as one of the game’s great innovators, a certain Herbert Chapman. To mark the occasion a half-and-half scarf featuring both clubs’ colours was draped around the neck of Chapman’s statue at the Clock End Bridge, a suitable nod towards our shared heritage.
Despite a lack of Premier League experience on the part of their manager and the majority of the squad, Huddersfield have surprisingly overachieved in their long-anticipated return to the big-time. Going into this game the Terriers found themselves nestled relatively comfortably in mid-table, having beaten Manchester United last month and coming ever so close to securing a draw against Pep Guardiola’s much vaunted Manchester City side just three days previously.
Surprisingly from an Arsenal point of view, Arsène Wenger opted for a full strength side, when the considered opinion had been that with United’s visit on the horizon, some rotation could be anticipated. Perhaps providing an indication of how the second string have largely failed to impress in recent performances.
There is a common held belief amongst Gooners that when facing teams that are prepared to sit deep and be defensively organised, an early goal is crucial. Record signing Alex Lacazette duly obliged just three minutes in with a cool finish after being set up by an exquisite backheel from Aaron Ramsey; the Welshman’s repertoire of fancy flicks and tricks for once actually producing a tangible result.
However rather than push on, the Gunners seemed to drop their level and eventually settled into the increasingly common casual, uncommitted level that the team seem to gravitate towards if they view their opposition as being beneath them. What we got for the remainder of the half was a catalogue of sloppy play, misplaced passes and careless concessions of possession that served only to invite Huddersfield into the game.
Giroud replaced Lacazette at the start of the second half, the latter having disappointingly picked up an injury, and we lifted slightly, at last managing to break out of the interminable sideways passing, so infuriatingly familiar to regular Emirates attenders, which had characterised our play before the break; and we managed to foster some sort of impetus, even if our best early chance of the half was spurned by Özil characteristically wasting time trying to tee himself up rather than simply putting his foot through the ball.
Giroud rattled the post from a tight angle but increasingly it felt that if a second goal was coming, it was going to be the visitors that equalized rather than us extending our lead; a fact that Pete, my mate in the neighbouring seat, and I sagely agreed upon. Oh how little we knew of what was to come!
Midway through the second half, having been peripheral for much of the game to that point, Özil sparked into life in spectacular fashion. Our much-maligned mercurial playmaker, deciding to give us a cameo performance that made the case for him to be offered a new contract on his terms far more effectively than any further round of negotiations will. In the space of just four minutes he was involved in three goals that reminded us all of just what sumptuous football he is capable of conjuring up, when the mood takes him.
For the first, he picked up the ball on the left, found Kolasinac on the touchline with a smart flick, collected the return, played a one-two with Alexis and rolled the ball square for Giroud to fire home at the near post; all within the blink of an eye.
Moments later, Ramsey sent him racing away down the right, the German’s first time right-footed (shock horror!) cross was weighted perfectly for Alexis to sweep home. To round off this lightning blitz, Özil helped himself to a goal, latching onto Ramsey’s slide rule through-ball and lifting it delicately over Lossl for 4-0.
There was time for a second for Giroud and a fifth overall late on, when Kolasinac set up the French striker with a driving run into the box. It was a result that flattered the Gunners given the overall performance but one that provided sufficient excitement, albeit in a condensed period, to warm the crowd on a cold evening.
That is now seven wins in seven home Premier League games so far this season, a positive no doubt, especially given some of our travails on the road this season; however next up at the Emirates are Manchester United, a team and a manager that we only seem capable of overcoming when they are not really interested. I for one will be reserving judgement on how our season might be shaping up until that one is out of the way.