A good night for the Arsenal

Everton 0-1 Arsenal

Immediately after snaffling all three points against Newcastle by the whiskers on our Jimmy Hill, I was full of the joys of spring and confident that we could push on.

Then came a nine-day siesta and things wore off a bit. I looked over at Stamford Bridge, sniffed the pungent whiff of a mini revival, then looked at our fixtures and started fretting. Sorry, but that’s just the way I work, and besides – elephants never forget. I mean, have you seen us this season? I suspect you have.

“What we need”, I said to myself, “is three points at Goodison, with the other teams around us tripping up on their shoelaces”, before gruffling into my breakfast.

And Lo! It came to pass!

There was though, and remains, good reason for tempering my excitement: there’s a hell of a long way to go before this season can be stamped and filed away as a success. But if we make the Champions League – in third or fourth – then it will rank bang up there with anything. From staggering around punch drunk, riddled with injury and seemingly devoid of organisation, to finding the form, order, precision, spirit and passion needed to go on a run to confound the ghost of Collaps-o-Arsenal™, well that would be incredible. Not a trophy, of course, but an amazing achievement nonetheless.

Last night was another step in the right direction with a performance that was pure current Arsenal – part swashbuckling and part backs-to-the-wall defiance.

We started like a train, scoring early and missing a few other decent chances to make it 2-0. When Everton started getting back into things, I could not see one goal being anything like enough, but with a bit of luck and some refereeing going our way, it ended up being just that. If there is often a lot to admire about our forward play, then there is increasingly a lot to admire about our defensive resilience. Yes, we still make mistakes – we’ve had to come from behind to win four times in a row, after all – but you can’t overstate the effect that having a settled back four, playing in their correct positions, has had on us.

A while back I wheeled out a stat that I read in the Independent about the amount of defensive partnerships and centre-back pairings we’ve had this season – it was 26 different starting back four combinations in 47 matches, involving 14 different players and nine different centre back pairings – so to have now played the same back four for five matches is a rare pleasure. They are perhaps not surprisingly getting better and better with each passing match.

So a good night all round, and we find ourselves sitting in third. Staying there will be hard and you won’t find any gloating or over-confidence from me, but there is much to admire about the way we are trying to do it.

It’s one game at a time territory – bring on the Villa on Saturday.

From Russia with gloves

Arsenal

Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona

As Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons once said: Oh what a night.

I can’t remember anything like it at the Grove. The best match in the five years at the new ground? Definitely, indubitably, unarguably. It was unforgettable. I shouted myself hoarse and the Epic Bundle Counter went off the scale.

Pre-match, Arsenal had done their bit by placing a flag on each seat, and the sea of colour that met the players as they came out was a great sight. The more superstitious amongst us pointed out that flags were akin to ole-ing [ie, bound to lead to a calamitous Collaps-o-Arsenal], but by the end of the 90 minutes, that had been thoroughly disproved.

Boy, it was noisy too. The place can be as quiet as a churchmouse sometimes, as we all know, but last night there was at times a wall of sound. I’m not sure I sat down all game.

The game had it all, really. Barcelona were sublime at times in the first half, pinging passes with unnerving accuracy, creating space, lofting passes behind Clichy. Without the ball, as expected, they hunted in packs to get it back. With the ball, they hogged it. I wouldn’t say they gave us a lesson, that would be a bit harsh on us, but they showed why they are being spoken of as one of the finest club sides of all time. At times, it was a case of sitting back and admiring. We did have a few chances of our own in the first half – most notably one from van Persie – and the otherwise shackled Walcott set the cat amongst the pigeons once or twice with his pace, but it was Barca who broke the deadlock with a slick move and Dave Villa slotted it home. 0-1 at half-time and it could have been better, could have been worse.

In the second half, we came into our own. Wilshere and Fabregas got much more stuck in in the midfield, Barca started making a few errors, belief started growing. To be honest, the late stages of the game are so seared into my memory that the middle part of the second half is a bit of a blur. I’ll need to go back over it I think…

Anyway, the next thing I can remember The Clich lofted a ball over Barca’s defence, van Persie closed in on the keeper and readied a pass, I looked across in a panic as there was nobody there to tap it in… and van Persie shoots. Right through Valdes’s legs, and it’s 1-1. The place goes mad.

Our steam was up, the noise was pouring down from the terraces and we went for the jugular. Fabregas toed a delicious pass to Nasri, we all bellowed I don’t know what, Nasri cut it back to Arshavin and we all went bananas. Utterly, hilariously bananas.

The best five minutes you can imagine, and once we held on, a sensational result.

Last night was what it’s all about. Raw emotion, toughness, resilience, battling hard and winning against the odds.

Arsenal showed it all in buckets. Wilshere, Szczesny, Koscielny – all rookies at this level – came of age. But the whole team showed what they are about.

I can’t stop thinking about it. Absolutely superb.

I could babble on about it all day but life gets in the way. So on that basis, it’s over and out from me.

Some pics of the night on the Facebook page