Fourth circle of hell / Seventh heaven

Reading 5-7 Arsenal

I can think of a few bonkers results in this competition over the years – winning 6-2 at Liverpool courtesy of the Beast being one – but in all my years watching Arsenal I can’t ever recall anything with as much bouncebackability as this.

If you’d stumbled upon my Twitter timeline after 45 minutes you’d have marked my card as a depressive. I had motored into sarcasm overdrive, wondering whether we could have a trophy for getting to the third round of the FA Cup and comparing Reading’s impressive Robson-Kanu unfavourably with a hybrid Arsenal player called Stepanovs-Helder. We had been outplayed, outfought and all over the place. “We want our Arsenal back”, sang the massed ranks of masochists in the away end. Then Theo scuttled through to an Arshavin pass and it was 4-1.

Can you throw a dead man a lifeline?

I asked on Twitter.

The start of the second half suggested the answer was no. Reading began it like they left off but then Arsenal edged back into the game and Wenger brought Eisfeld and Giroud on at about 60 minutes. For him to bring subs on at 60 minutes is almost unheard of. It suggests apocalypse. I have scoured the records and the only other time he has dipped into the bench this early (when not forced to by injury) was when JFK was shot.

Theo corner, Giroud header, 4-2. ‘La, la la la-la-la-la, Girooooooud’ sang the increasingly less miserable legions.

Oh no. It’s the hope that kills you. 4-2.

I wrote. And the game from a fan’s perspective had in one nod of a Frenchman’s head moved into the next phase: Nerves. Where previously there was a grizzly acceptance there were now the small shoots of hope. Football has a lot to answer for.

We looked like a different team. Energetic, incisive, determined. Why the polar opposites? It’s very Arsenal isn’t it and I couldn’t begin to tell you. Anyway, Old Father Time was scything away at the long grass and it was 89 minutes in. Theo corner, Koscielny header, 4-3. I didn’t tweet at this point, I think mostly because I had just fallen off the sofa.

And then in the 96th minute, fashionably later than the four minutes allotted (maybe because Reading has subbed in injury time? I neither know nor care at this point), Theo stabbed a shot past Federici, and over the line it went. Except the lino didn’t give it, so Corporal Jenkinson hoovered up the rebound to be sure. Arsenal.com gives it to Jenkinson, but Theo had the match ball. I’m not sure whether they can rule it was Theo’s after the event, though it was – but I’m not sure. Either way, out came the Twitter and things had all gone a bit Caps Lock.

BLOODY HELL AND DAMNATION! 4-4.

The amazing turnaround was reaching its dénouement, and extra time belonged to Marouane Chamakh. Yes, I know what I just wrote.

Chamakh! I repeat, Chamakh!

I said after his first. In the end he nabbed two – both from outside the box – to counter Reading’s fifth and it was game over. Delighted for him to be honest, because players who don’t play struggle, as he has done, and this might give him and Wenger pause for thought.

Now look, I’ve missed half the talking points and I’ve largely skated over a first half that made me weep, but that’s alright. Theo was excellent, Giroud and Eisfeld made a difference, Arshavin reminded us of his passing radar and Arsenal dug deep to register a famous win.

It doesn’t matter whether this is the lowest of all in Wenger’s list of trophies (one of which isn’t even a trophy), it’s all about winning. Football is about momentum and morale and confidence, and last night will be the kind of shot in the arm the club needs. Imagine if we’d limped out 4-0, and then remember who we play on Saturday. Though Wenger did of course omit most of our first XI, I’m not sure he has the luxury of choice these days. Let’s go for this: Let’s go for everything. Why would you not?

Feels good, anyway.

Incidentally: The fourth circle of hell according to Dante’s Inferno is reserved for the ‘miserly and spendthrift’. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

The week that flu by

It’s been a week alright chez Lower. Pretty much as soon as I had put the League Cup final post to bed I began to feel a tad squiffy, something I initially feared might be related to my demolition of the restorative post-defeat sirloin late on Sunday night.

I feared the very worst: a meat intolerance. For a brief second I envisaged with horror a future of quorn and egg breakfasts and tofu and chip suppers, so imagine my relief when I discovered it was nothing of the sort, and in fact all I had was the common-or-garden flu [Latin: influenzus wembleyus].

And with flu is where I have remained ever since. Mrs Lower’s got it, I’ve got it, the little Lowers have had it. I even painted a cross on my door to warn the man who delivered my food shop.

Wednesday came and my ticket to the game was foresaken (as, I noticed, many thousands of others appeared to have been – was there a mass outbreak of influenzus wembleyus?)

And even had I been fighting and steak-eating fit, I wouldn’t have been able to make the Sunderland game thanks to a long-standing childcare bottleneck. Now look, kids are nice and all that so don’t let me put you off dabbling in parenthood yourselves, but looking after them at the expense of a home game? There should be a law against it.

So inadvertently, I have become the van Persie of season ticket holders. I’ve had a stop-start season, with a recent good run of games, but will not now be seen within the confines of the Grove until Blackburn on 2nd April.

Wednesday’s 5-0 against Orient was probably as restorative a result as you could ask for after Sunday’s debacle, with the added bonus of four of the goals coming from van Persie’s stand-ins. It’s much easier to move on by getting a win under the belt so soon afterwards, so in that respect this replay was a blessing in disguise.

My overall thoughts, surveying the past week, are unchanged. For all our ability we remain a peculiarly frustrating team. Capable of bouts of excellence, we are also incapable of eradicating the occasional collapses/freezes from our repertoire. As many people have said, It feels like only Arsenal could have lost that game in the way it was lost last Sunday. Just as it felt like only Arsenal could have drawn 4-4 having been 4-0 up and only Arsenal could lose 3-2 at home to their bitterest rivals having played them off the park and been two goals to the good after 45 minutes.

And yet here we are, in early March, fighting for the league title. Given the way our season has panned out, we can expect a few hiccups between now and the end – but the same will be true for all the others sides in the top four.

It is true that should we win all eleven games ahead, we will be champions. But to do that would require us to go on the kind of run that has so far eluded us (our longest winning streak in the league so far this season is three games). But that is the challenge.

What’s certain is that Sunderland must not be one of the hiccups. Barcelona must be out of mind, memories of Birmingham banished.

A win would take us to within a point of the top.

Wish I could be there…

Guardian squad sheet
BBC preview

Last day thoughts and my last word on losses

Some thoughts on winning

Yes, winning – you remember it. It’s what I’m confident will happen on Sunday. A combination of hot Spuds breath down our necks, Fulham’s pressing engagement in Hamburg and it being a home fixture ought to be enough to lift the players from their black dog days and ensure the season ends on an even keel.

Our injury list, far from shortening, remains stubbornly lengthy though. Denilson, Bendtner, Rosicky and Song join Almunia, Fabregas, Gallas, Ramsey and Vermaelen on the sidelines. Clichy is a doubt.

We do suddenly have a bit more depth in defence though, with Gibbs and Djourou fit and presumably eager to contribute in some way before the summer kicks in.

Gibbs is still young, but nevertheless I wonder, when the World Cup squad is announced and he is not in it, whether he will consider it a chance missed. I do honestly think that he could have made the left-back backup place his own had he not had his foot broken against Standard Liege. It’s rank bad luck.

Djourou too will no doubt be keen to play at least a few minutes of Premier League football this season. He’s not kicked a ball in anger. In fact, he’s such a forgotten man he’s not even on the squad stat page.

Personally, I’d be happy to play both of them – though given the sudden importance of the match, I’d be surprised if more than one of them started, and not very surprised if neither did.

Some thoughts about losing

I don’t want to dwell on the negative, but as downers in your heads go, this one has been a belter.

Wenger: “Since we have gone out of the Champions League there was a little downer in our heads, but we have enough pride and quality to finish the season well and to secure the third place.”

I do understand how a shattering 6-3 aggregate defeat can badly affect morale, but you’d think four games is a long time to wallow. One thing that the current team has been accused of is failing to bounce back fast enough after a disappointing result – the above Champions League and its subsequent games being the prime example. After all, one of the signs of a strong side is the ability to rustle up a win after a defeat.

There’s one thing thinking we take too long to recover, but what’s the reality?

Well, we’ve lost nine league games this season, and it’s very interesting to note that not one of them has been an isolated defeat.

Our first league defeat, away at Man Utd on 29th August, was followed by a loss at Man City.

Our third league loss, away at Sunderland on 21st November was followed by reversals against Chelsea and Manchester City (OK, League Cup), albeit with a home win against Standard Liege sandwiched in between.

We then went on a decent unbeaten league run, losing none for almost two months.

However, when we lost again at home to Man Utd on 31st January, we followed it with a defeat at Chelsea.

Then there’s the final, freshest of these funks, two consecutive losses against the Spuds and Wigan, followed with a nil-nil bore draw and another loss at Blackburn.

Now of course, these losing streaks were often against very strong sides, with many of these tricky matches strung one after the other in a peculiarity of the fixture list.

But it’s striking nonetheless.