This season may be the death of me.
I don’t suppose we Arsenal fans are, by any means, the only set of fans who feel like our team have been put on this planet for the sole purpose of being extremely hazardous for our health. However, it is our team, our beloved, brilliant team who have scored three last minute winners in the last six weeks.
Those winners have given us six extra points and are the difference between being five points ahead of Manchester City and one behind. With an incredibly tricky April starting to loom on the horizon, your writer is counting absolutely no chickens regarding the wider significance of Reiss Nelson’s incredibly struck last minute winner.
However, what this latest of late winner highlights is a relentlessness about Arsenal that means visiting teams are going to have to play incredibly well and work very hard to get anything out of the Emirates. And our away form largely means that the same is true, even on our travels.
And on that note, if I may briefly rewind a couple of weeks to Villa Park and another half time deficit. I had made the usually fatal (for Arsenal, at least) decision to watch the game with Uncle Stevie and my younger cousins, James and Josh. At half time, Stevie was not a happy man. I said, and I swear this is true, “We’re gonna win 4-2, don’t worry about it”.
And I meant it.
Okay, so that breezy prediction was borne out of Unai Emery’s well known psychological difficulties in protecting a half time lead, but there is something about this Arsenal team that is different to so many teams we have had to watch since 2004. A fact borne out by the fact that we are top of the charts in recovering points from losing positions this season and 2nd in converting a winning position into 3 points.
And so it proved in Birmingham. I feel certain Jorginho’s shot bouncing into the net off the bar and then, hilariously, off Emi Martinez’s bonce messed with the Argentinian so much that he took leave of his senses, and so his goal; leaving the way clear for one of the funniest Arsenal goals scored since Kanu sat Jacques Songo’o down without touching the ball 23 years ago. Fabio Vieira providing the pass for Martinelli to race away, raise his arms in celebration and then tap the ball into an empty net.
We didn’t get quite as much help at the weekend. I know there’s been a lot of talk elsewhere about the refereeing, with particular reference to the various penalty shouts we had. To be honest with you, my view is that none of the handballs were sufficiently clear cut to warrant an intervention and I wasn’t sure about the one on Tomiyasu either. What was aggravating was realising Bournemouth’s first goal shouldn’t have stood as some of their players were in our half at kick off.
I realise I haven’t written since the VAR controversy against Brentford that cost us 2 points and Lee Mason his job (good), but again, how could this have been missed? Seeing as Bournemouth scored after 9 seconds, you wouldn’t have had to go too far back to check it.
Anyway. The belief that Mikel Arteta has instilled in this team and, if not then entire fanbase, then certainly a large part of it was being seriously tested at 2-0 down after an hour. And yet as I sat watching a stream via a Skype call with my mates Nige & Chris, I never thought, “Oh well, that’s it.”
Okay, that’s not true, maybe I did, for a second. But I never thought of going to do something else either – which, given the quality of the stream – was an achievement in itself.
Thomas got the rescue mission with a close range finish from a Smith Rowe headed assist. Emile, on as sub himself, then made way for Reiss Nelson who very quickly sent a cross in from the left wing, which Benny White White White crashed home, the ref’s watch denying Neto’s attempts to keep the ball in play.
Twenty minutes left and wave upon wave of red and white pressure. Could we do it, could we do it, could we..?
In the last minute of six added on, the ball finds its way to Zinchenko. He makes space for a shot from the left, it’s deflected just wide? What, having watched it back repeatedly, looks like an offside Ben White is inches away from tapping the ball home – and then, this is also true, our stream cut out…
In the seconds it took Nige to reboot it, I found myself thinking, “I wonder if we’ve scored”. Genuinely.
The stream comes back up and the first thing we see is William Saliba booting the corner flag in what appears to be celebration, the next shot of entirety of Arsenal’s first team squad and staff on the pitch give the game away. We have missed what a Spanish speaking commentator correctly referred to as a “locura”, a madness – an absolute rocket from the edge of the box, from Reiss Nelson’s wrong foot.
Thank God for the five subs rule.
We are no longer just three points ahead of Manchester City, but five again. Incredible, but also – okay, if I use the word “inevitable”, you’re going to roll your eyes, “Whatever, Paul” – what if I said “believable”? Would you believe me then?
I don’t know whether we are going to win the league or not. I described myself as 45% confident to Gabs, Kev & Jimmy in the pub later on Saturday evening, but what is extremely obvious to anyone with Arsenal at their heart and, maybe now to the rest of the world, is that Mikel Arteta has given us our belief back, he has given us a group of players we can look at and support and love, in the knowledge that they are going to fight and fight and… let’s just see where that takes us.
I see the FA are “investigating” the scenes that took place on the final whistle. Killjoys. Let’s not have any emotion in sport, let’s let the Richard Keys of this world run things and make it all as joyless as possible. Seriously though, it seems as though it’ll be fairly open and shut – if we got fined for that FA Cup penalty appeal, the entire Arsenal staff ending up on the pitch shouldn’t take too long to sort out.
I say, let them fine us. Hammer us, hit us as hard as you possibly began, because all you’re doing is feeding into the mentality that Mikel Arteta is building at Arsenal. This is Arsenal Football Club – we had a good few years of “neutrals” (is anyone ever really neutral when it comes to football?) enjoying la révolution before Arsène became insufferable, but we’re not supposed to be liked.
We don’t care.