It’s been a lingering question about Arsenal for a number of years – are they just a collection of idiots, incapable of following basic instructions when they take to the football pitch? On Saturday we got a resounding answer – no!
You can’t blame Arsenal fans for wondering what’s up with their team. It’s been a long time since they had any confidence ahead of any match that they wouldn’t do something monumentally stupid, no matter the competition or opposition. Arsenal don’t tend to shoot themselves in the foot as much as they blow their whole leg off.
Arsenal own goals, for example, are a perfect illustration of this. They smack them off each other’s faces before bouncing it off the arse of another and past the keeper. Occasionally, they like to kick the ball into their own face, just to mix it up. In general, this is how Arsenal have defended for half a decade, if not longer, and there seemed no sign of it changing under Unai Emery.
Although Arsenal enjoyed a 22-game unbeaten run this season, there were very real concerns that neither Emery nor the players knew what they were doing as we waited for Chelsea to rock up at Ashburton Grove this weekend.
There seemed to be no plan from the manager or no player in the squad capable of executing it. It is a familiar problem, one Arsene Wenger got us so friendly with during his final few years at the club that we will expect a top table invitation when it finally gets married.
But against Chelsea, as against Spurs, Arsenal did something remarkable. They set out with a clear gameplan and then, and this is the important bit, followed it without doing anything even remotely idiotic.
Praise be to Jebus.
Speaking after the match, Maurizio Sarri accused his players of being ‘very difficult to motivate’. “I’m really angry about the approach that we adopted today,” Sarri said. “It’s an approach we can’t really accept.” These are comments I longed to hear from an Arsenal manager after any one of a hundred shambolic displays were the team were found wanting in all departments, from the heart and desire that are so key to English football to basic footballing intelligence. Instead, Arsenal made a Chelsea manager have to say them.
What a world.
There was also something strangely cathartic watching an Arsenal side outmuscle a Chelsea one, the little wimpy kid finally standing up to the playground bully. If one thing more than any other has changed within this Arsenal team it is they are no longer a bunch of whispy whizzkids. They have steel, they have bite, they have discovered the word ‘shithousery’. Arsenal win fouls, they go over, they get in the ref’s face.
In short, they played like they cared.
Of course, it’s impossible to say they didn’t care before, but it seemed like it. All too often Arsenal turned up, trotted out and then just didn’t really bother to do anything else. You just have to look to last weekend’s game against West Ham for a recent example.
There is, of course, now the concern that Arsenal are a side that only gets up for the visits of top six sides, like Wolves but less Brexity, but after years of being humiliated by the same teams, I’ll take it…especially as the next game is against Manchester United.
This article was first written for Paddy Power