When I think back to happier times, it seems impossible to believe that they could have existed.
Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and the demolition of Leicester City seems like a lifetime ago. The podcast that I recorded with Stephen and Matthew in the aftermath of that match feels like it was done not two nights ago, but in a different era. A happier, more innocent era. Sort of like America before the Kennedy assassination.
Like the dumbfounded Americans, standing dazed and confused in Dealey Plaza, Dallas in November 1963, we didn’t, couldn’t, have foreseen what was to come our way. How could we? Well, it turns out that, as with Lee Harvey Oswald (assuming you believe the official narrative), the man who would turn our dreams to nightmares was walking amongst us all along.
To think some people actually once believed David Ospina to be the answer to our goalkeeping situation.. it just beggars belief.
There’s no point in raking over the ground that led to Ospina claiming the #1 spot in the team in January this year because it’s irrelevant now. The fact remains that he was bigged up to be something he wasn’t purely on the basis that he wasn’t Wojciech Szczesny. Those of us who have written, in some cases extensively, on why we felt Ospina was a liability, an accident waiting to happen, will feel some measure of vindication this morning. However, it’s a vindication which comes with no comfort whatsoever.
The only comfort I could take from watching an Arsenal goalkeeper drop a corner over his own goalline is the prospect of him never donning the Arsenal shirt again.
In this context, I found it a little staggering that Arsène chose to defend Ospina, publicly at least, by comparing his mistake to Petr Cech’s debut. Petr Cech is a Premier League legend and Ospina is not. Nor will he ever be. Cech has been largely faultless since that debut performance and was the only barrier between us and a humiliating home defeat against one of the most average Liverpool sides of my lifetime.
And speaking of humiliating home defeats… well, we’ll get to it soon enough.
I suppose the point Arsène was making is that accidents can, and do, happen to anyone. I don’t suppose for one minute Ospina meant to drop the ball over his own line, but he nearly did it a week previously. A warning shot that went unheeded. Perhaps Le Boss had no option but to protect his #1 keeper from a calf injury and play the Colombian, but if he took this course of action voluntarily, it’s a worrying sign. What worries me more is the prospect of Cech getting a proper injury and us being treated to a series of Dopey performances from one of the Seven Dwarfs.
Anyway, it wasn’t just the Colombian’s error that cost Arsenal last night. I think we’ve all watched enough football to realise that. The die was cast perhaps as early as the opening ten minutes, when breaks led at lightning speed by Alexis resulted in chances spurned by both the Ox and Theo. It seems that the days of us blasting European opposition off the pitch before they’ve had a chance to even work out where they are are long gone.
As it was, we never really got the opportunity to break like that again as Olympiacos set up camp on the edge of their box, surrounded Mesut Özil whenever he got the ball and broke quite effectively. Let’s call it the Monaco blueprint. I mentioned this on Twitter last night, completely forgetting that Anderlecht had perhaps been the first team to properly shock the home crowd by scoring three goals in the last half hour of last season’s group game.
I wonder if, psychologically, that ridiculous draw last season has done something to our players when a European night comes calling. There must be something going on, because the mistakes just keep on coming and coming. The fortress that was the Emirates has been well and truly stormed. In retrospect, having watched Arsenal helter skelter around the pitch last night, my point on the podcast about it not really believing Arsenal were control of the game at Leicester feels strangely prescient.
In many ways, this game felt like an eerie rerun of the aforementioned Monaco game. An early chance gone begging and then… lots of nothing until the opposition take the lead with a deflected strike. Immediately, we get ourselves back into it – a lovely pass from Alexis to free Theo down the left and then…Ospina. I suppose that wasn’t part of the script. However, once we’d finally got the equaliser, having played a great spell of football, we then go and forget to defend.
Have these players learned absolutely nothing in their time at this club? It’s not like we’re wanting for lessons.
You knew then. It was like one of those games of FIFA where you concede against the run of play, work yourself into a frenzy just to equalise and then immediately let another goal in. Sometimes, there’s just no way back.
We tried, I can’t say that we didn’t, but we were undone by the fact that Olympiacos had an actual, real life goalkeeper in their team and we didn’t. Part of me wants to write this off as bad luck. To have conceded four own goals in five matches can mostly be considered unlucky, but as I’ve asked before: how many times can you be called unlucky before you are called something else?
I don’t know about this team anymore. They make you feel all warm and toasty one minute, then they pull the rug out from under you the next. Such is the perverse nature of the team that I almost expect them to turn up and batter United on Sunday, but I can’t imagine Louis van Gaal saw too much to give him a sleepless night last night.
Which isn’t something I can say about myself or, I should imagine, Arsène Wenger.
I wonder what he can change between now and Sunday, because it feels like something needs to be done. If Aaron Ramsey is to be restored to the centre, as his last couple of displays there have suggested he should be, then who does he replace? Is the fight now between Cazorla and Özil? Or does the manager take that gamble on a Cazorla/ Ramsey partnership?
I don’t know.
I do know that we’ve set all manner of unwelcome precedents in just two Champions League games this season. The first time we’ve lost our opening two matches since whenever the last time was, the first team to lose to Zagreb since the turn of the millennium, the first English team to lose at home to Olympiacos and, finally, the first to concede three goals to Greek opposition in England since before I was born.
Next up, in Europe at least, Bayern Munich. Anyone want to bet on which unique humiliation they will subject us to?
Me neither. Sleep tight, guys.