Arsenal 3-1 Burnley
As I was heading to the game with my brother, crossing Highbury Fields, we saw a clown driving a car. He was in full clown regalia, including wig, make-up and huge red nose (though I assume he’d removed his oversized shoes by that stage, unless he had 2-foot wide clutch, brake and accelerator pedals as well).
At that stage, it seemed unlikely that we’d see anything more comedic before the day was out, but as it turned out we did – in the form of Nicklas Bendtner’s Incredible Goal-Missing Circus.
Now, had that kind of performance come mid-way through last season, you wouldn’t have been able to move for tuts and groans in the stands. But yesterday, the fans’ reaction to Bendtner’s afternoonus horribilus was one indication – the other I shall come to – that this season is very different from the last.
As gaping net after gaping net went unruffled, the groans (which were of amazement more than anything else) turned into chants. Bendtner merely got a rousing song. He immediately reciprocated with appreciation of his own, and was not long after subbed off to great applause.
It was just one of those days for him.
The other indication that things this year have changed in subtle ways was the immediate post-match actions of Emmanuel Eboue. He bounded over to our end of the ground on his own, leapt over the hoardings, took off his shirt and gave it to (I think) a young girl. It was a top gesture (no pun intended) and again, one that was responded to with huge applause.
Two players who had difficult seasons, now firmly back on track and enjoying what they do. How nice that is to see.
The game itself was great fun, but very Arsenal. We contrived to miss hatfuls of chances, let in a bad goal, conceded the initiative briefly when only 2-1 up and only made it secure right at the death.
The two most noteworthy performances – aside from Bendtner’s, of course – came from Nasri and Walcott. Both players have had their own critics this season, but pulled performances out the hat that threw their form out the window. Nasri was my man of the match – direct, probing and dangerous. Walcott though was not far behind, with a second half of real quality culminating in an excellent goal. It says a lot that a player who was already being airbrushed out of some people’s final 23 for the World Cup suddenly catapulted himself back into the frame in just 45 minutes. On that form, he’d make it easily; the trick now is to keep it up.
Pre-match, the banners and the songs for Ramsey were class, as expected. As for the first 45 minutes, they started well but fizzled out. The thing that struck me most for the first 30 minutes – in fact, until Diaby came on – was that there were almost no tackles of note at all. It felt like a pre-season match. Not surprising I suppose given the last 10 days, just as Walcott’s reaction to a hard but fair tackle by a Burnley player was not surprising either.
The only stain on things was of course the injury to Fabregas. We’re far from a one-man team but someone like him – head and shoulders above most of his peers – will be missed in any side, so clearly we face an anxious wait to see whether he will make Tuesday.
Anyone got any magic plasters?