Arsenal’s 3-2 win at Ludogorets on Tuesday night secured qualification from the group stage of the Champions League.
Nice to be qualified with a minimum of fuss, huh?
In truth, I can’t talk about this one too much as I was otherwise engaged. I was watching John Carpenter’s The Thing at the BFI South Bank, if you must know. However, I have seen Mesut Özil’s wonderful winning goal. I also think that the circumstances of the win underline something that’s a little different about Arsenal this season.
Namely, our ability to dig ourselves out of trouble when things have gone… well, a little pear shaped. Make no mistake, being 2-0 down after fifteen minutes of an away match in the Champions League is the definition of things going pear.
No matter the quality of the opposition.
Somehow finding yourselves at 1-1 with half an hour left of a match you’ve dominated would also fit into that category.
And yes, I suppose there are questions to answer about how Arsenal have found themselves in that position, both on Tuesday and on Saturday. However, the important thing was how Arsenal responded to being in that position.
We can all see how bad that Sunderland side we played on Saturday was. I likened them to a park side. That said, it would have been very easy for Arsenal, having been denied a clear penalty only while conceding one just moments later, to lose their heads. particularly as Jermain Defoe stuck it away.
Any fears that we might have had about the needless concession of two, even three points were banished almost immediately. Having attempted to pass Sunderland into another lifetime, it was time for something else. Or someone else.
Someone we weren’t able to call on at home to Middlesbrough the previous week.
Les enfantes terribles
Enter Lord Olivier from stage right and, with his first two touches, he put Sunderland to the sword. The only other substitution I can think of from Arsène Wenger which has paid such rich dividends so immediately is this one.
It’s amusing to me to consider that there seems to be something of our former enfant terrible in Giroud. He’s clearly not every Arsenal fan’s cup of tea, but is a much better player than he’s given credit for being.
He scores goals on the pitch and, er, he (quick check with the Daily Cannon legal department…) gets himself into some scrapes off it. Okay, he scores a lot more goals than Bendtner did and I think you’re unlikely to find him, engaging in any type of auto auto-eroticism
I guess the main point of difference here, is that Giroud has enough character to bounce back from his difficulties and make positive contributions to the first team. Like he did on Saturday. Like he did in last season’s Champions League when, having got himself stupidly sent off in a previous match, he went onto deliver a hat-trick in our must win game in Athens.
And this goes back to what I was saying at the top.
The Arsenal first team now is full of players that have the experience and know how to experience a set back and recover from it. I guess we saw real evidence of that in the 2014 FA Cup Final!
What sets these guys apart from, say the team we had in 2011, is their mentality.
Okay, yes, they are also – man for man – probably more talented than their predecessors, but they’re also less likely to crack under pressure.
So, a potentially difficult last half hour in Sunderland becomes a stroll through the last twenty minutes; victory is snatched from the jaws of defeat in the Champions League.
It’s a nice feeling.
Speaking of Tuesday night, I don’t want to dwell on it too long, because I didn’t watch it, but I did just want to touch on some of the reactions to Özil’s winner.
In particular, one reaction.
This was, I think you’ll agree, a magical piece of football from someone making a real impact in the final third of the pitch now. And yet…
— Stan Collymore (@StanCollymore) November 1, 2016
Now, you may say to me, ‘Oh Paul, but what do you expect from Stan Collymore?’
I would say to you that I’ve always found Stan to be quite a considered pundit, apart from that time he appeared to offer Ian Wright out on Twitter.
But I find that reaction to this goal a bit weird. I mean, look at it!
— Arsenal FC (@Arsenal) November 2, 2016
So, it was scored against Ludogorets. So what?
Dennis Bergkamp is probably the most revered player to have played for Arsenal football club. Right?
People talk about his goal at Newcastle being the best goal that he ever scored – yes, Newcastle.
Admittedly a mightier proposition in 2002 than they are now.
However, the man himself regards number 35 in the video above as his favourite ever Arsenal goal. The eagle eyed amongst you will have spotted that it came against Leicester City.
Leicester were a decent team back then, but far from the team that are now defending the Premier League title.
Not that this matters to Dennis and nor should it.
Skill is skill, whoever you’ve executed it against.
Just as Dennis did something magical on that evening 19 years ago, so did Mesut last night. Stan Collymore should know better than making illogical, Scrooge-like, comments about the quality of the opposition.
Though perhaps in doing so, it’s easier to feed the perception that Özil, like his teammates, is a fair weather footballer; a flat track bully.
No matter that he has already scored goals against Manchester United, Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool in his time here. There is, unfortunately, only way for Özil and Arsenal to change the narrative.
You know what you have to do, lads.
Starting with Spurs on Sunday.