As Ferris Bueller once sagely noted, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
On Saturday Arsenal recovered a goal deficit and went on to beat Stoke City reasonably comfortably. We also had the Champions League draw to look forward to, with only a 1/7 chance of drawing Bayern Munich. Surely the fates would favour us this time, surely they would?
You all know what happened next.
Bayern confirmed their seat reservations for London sometime after 11am on Monday. A day later, Arsenal – unbeaten since the opening day of the season – travelled to Everton, who were on a pretty wretched run, hoping to go top of the table.
And… well, you all know what happened next.
Life moves pretty fast, indeed.
I’m not inclined to go overboard here. Even though the manner of defeat was immensely frustrating. Even though we lost, having taken the early lead and reduced a usually raucous Goodison Park to a frustrated murmur. Even though we appeared not to turn up for the second half.
We should have had a penalty at the end there, we know that. We know that Mesut Özil should have done much better with the second half chance he had at 1-1. The feeling I was left with from the game was that we had things too easy in the first half. When Everton actually decided to have a go, we had no answer. A couple of things didn’t go our way, but I don’t think anyone can argue that the result was a fair one.
The kurse of Koeman strikes
akain (that’s too much, isn’t it?) again.
Lest anyone think I’m serious about a Koeman curse, I don’t think it’s that. I do think that he has proven able to counter Arsène Wenger’s approach to matches time and again. In 12 matches against Arsenal, Koeman has tasted defeat twice. That’s a record almost as good as the Not So Special One’s, on a fraction of the budget. Being well aware of that record, I was not particularly confident of victory, but that doesn’t make the defeat any easier to take. Our opening 20 minutes on Tuesday night, a shimmering memory that now feels like a trick of the mind. A Goodison Park mirage.
I suppose a reality check is no bad thing ahead of the weekend’s trip to Manchester.
However, I’d prefer it if we went there, tails up and confident. The worrying thing about Tuesday night was how completely we seemed to lose our way midway through the second half. It seems to me that, in away games recently, we’ve been able to wear our opponents out with our passing and movement. Yet, last night, I think it was us left looking tired. Central midfield almost appeared to not exist in the last quarter of the game.
With that in mind, you wonder what changes Arsène will make on Sunday.
Despite last night’s setback, I think Arsenal will go to Manchester with a more than decent chance of taking three points from City. As long as we don’t try to coast through the game. Not, I imagine, that there’s much chance of that happening.
Looking at our league title aspirations more long range (stop laughing at the back there!), I must confess that I am a little concerned. The year 2017 is going to be very hard travelling indeed. A highway to hell, perhaps.
February kicks off a sequence of three away games from which, in the corresponding fixtures last season, we took one point. That’s Chelsea, Southampton and Liverpool, in case you were wondering. A home game with Hull City and the first leg against Bayern Munich (also away) provides the light entertainment in between Chelsea and Southampton.
I know we’re better this season, anyone can tell it. The away record this year has been brilliant, and credit to the manager and the team for that. However, the potential for carnage in that four week period is huge. By the same token, our final two away games of the season are at Spurs and Stoke. Would you want Arsenal to go to either of those grounds needing anything from them? No? Well, if we want to win the title, we’ll almost certainly need… something. Wins, probably. And you can bet your bottom dollar that both those outfits will be busting a gut, and probably some of our limbs, to stop us from doing so.
Imagine Stoke denying us the Premier League title – oh, the infamy!
No wins at Spurs since, well, I can’t even remember. Three Point Lane is, for us, no more. We all know about Stoke and our record there. Even allowing for the improved solidity and more professional outlook of the team, you can’t confidently predict two wins out of two there.
Look, this is getting very hypothetical. I know that. It’s just… recent history suggests that Arsenal struggle in all of the places I have just mentioned. Inexplicably so, in the case of Stoke who are – and I’ll be charitable here – crap. I don’t necessarily expect Arsenal to lose all of these games, but I’m not sure not losing will be enough.
One thing seems obvious, to stand any chance of winning this season’s Premier League, any chance at all, we have to become killers at home. No more dropping points to teams like Middlesbrough. Can we do it?
I think we’ll have to.