I was prepared to write a completely different article today.
Let’s rewind back to February 11, 2012. Sunderland was fighting valiantly at the Stadium of Light, drawing first blood at the 70th minute, only to have Aaron Ramsey respond with a goal of his own. The Black Cats were heading to a well-deserved draw, only to be cruelly smacked down by King Thierry, who connected with Andrey Arshavin’s brilliant cross. With the victory, Arsenal squeaked past Chelsea into fourth place in the Premier League.
Fast-forward to February 25. Both architects of the game-winning goal at Sunderland are now gone: Henry to New York, and Arshavin to St. Petersburg. Arsenal lost to AC Milan in convincing fashion (4-0), then to Sunderland in the FA Cup (2-0), effectively ending our hopes for silverware this season. It’s arguably the lowest point in Arsène Wenger’s career as Arsenal manager, and the Wenger haters are louder than ever. I was fearful of the North London derby, and was expecting to write a post-mortem today with a sermon about moneyball and financial fair play. Fortunately, I can save that article for another day.
February 26: I had to hit the snooze button a couple of times, before I could stagger out of bed. The walk to Champs Bar was a bit chilly, but the sun was bright. Good omen, perhaps? Once again, we were outnumbered by Man Utd fans, but we had plenty of occasions to make some noise.
The match didn’t start well; a horrendous defensive effort allowed Louis Saha to score at the fourth minute. Then, Adebayor scored on a penalty, thanks to a great dive by Gareth Bale. (I don’t fault the referee, as from his angle it must’ve looked like Szczesny tripped him up.) Down 0-2, it seemed that my worst fears would be realized. Stan Kroenke was probably thinking of “silently” leaving at half time.
Once again, Arsenal really showed their fighting spirit. We Canadians would call that penalty the “TSN Turning Point.” The Gunners channeled their anger constructively, and started to take back control of the game. Bacary Sagna started the comeback with a strong header of a cross from Arteta; then RVP took advantage of a bad Sp**s clearance to smash a left-footed curl past the diving goalkeeper. It was 2-2 at the half, and the sentiment at Champs was that we had a good chance of winning.
Moment of the match, and man of the match: in the second half, the Gunners kept the pressure on the Sp**s. Rosicky, who was fantastic all game, played a one-two with Sagna and deftly tapped in the third goal. The look of pure joy on his face as he did his celebratory sprint was priceless. I was really happy for him, and I expect we’ll see that photo a lot.
As Morgan mentioned in a previous episode of Premier Punditry, the inconsistent Theo Walcott had a lot to prove, and the Sp**s back four was a weakness. Morgan also predicted 7 goals in the game – nice one! Theo stepped up today, and for his first goal of the match he had to sprint all the way from the defensive zone, outrunning two opponents to receive a pass from RVP and chip the ball over the sprawling keeper. His second goal was a nice low strike at the far corner (assist from Alex Song). He received a nice standing ovation when he was replaced by The Ox at the 81st minute.
In the first match of the post-Arshavin era, Arsène put his faith in Yossi Benayoun and Tomas Rosicky. Both midfielders were effective, even if they didn’t register any assists on the stat sheet. Rosicky played the full game, and Benayoun wasn’t replaced until the 88th minute. With Arteta and Song in a supporting role, our midfield was strong. We had what I consider to be the ideal back four: Gibbs, Vermaelen, Koscielny and Sagna. With RVP and Walcott up front, and Szczesny anchoring the back, we actually had a strong starting XI. Could we be poised for another unbeaten run? Can we actually score 5 against AC Milan in the return leg?
St Totteringham’s Day update: we needed the three-goal difference to stay on top of Chelsea, who had beaten Bolton 3-0. We’re now 7 points from Tottenham, but we have three tough fixtures ahead of us: Liverpool at Anfield, the Champions League match, then Newcastle at the Emirates. Tottenham will face Man Utd at White Hart Lane, an FA Cup match, then Everton at Goodison Park. It’s back on!