There’s more in this side, somewhere

Arsenal 2-0 Everton

There should, ordinarily, be no reason at all why a 2-0 victory should not elicit a sense of complete wellbeing. So why did I leave the ground feeling a bit flat? I wasn’t the only one.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly, but the hangover element was certainly one aspect. We did get a reaction from Monaco as expected but it was, perhaps not surprisingly, far from the swashbuckling all-guns-blazing performance that the daydreamer in my head keeps yearning for.

It was, until the latter stages at least, pretty hard to get excited about. Part of that was Everton, who were subdued themselves. But we were one-paced for too much of the game. I do appreciate that this makes me sound like the neediest football fan of all time. I’m not, honestly I’m not, and I am obviously glad that we bounced back and that we’re sitting third, just four points off second. History will after all mark this down as three points.

But deep down, it’s hard to escape the feeling that we are capable of so much more, and that’s the frustrating thing for me at the moment. It feels like we are not realising our potential.

We started so slowly, and it immediately transmitted to the crowd, which – where I sit at least – was as flat as a pancake for the opening third of the game. It felt like a training match and the crowd couldn’t get going at all.

I don’t think the Emirates crowd’s default mode is silence – though there’s no disputing Arsenal is a quieter place than it used to be. In fact, there have been some raucous evenings in the Wengerbowl. I’ve had bruised ankles falling down between the seats, I’ve hugged and high-fived numerous strangers and I’ve shouted myself hoarse. One match I lost my brother completely after we’d scored a goal. He hurtled off down the aisle and I found him about five minutes later looking sheepish down by Gunnersaurus.

So it can be a cracking buzz.

But I do think that the crowd takes its lead from the team. How it races out the blocks, how it hustles and harries and how it springs forward at pace and with menace. We feed off the dynamism of the team, and for too many home matches this season, we’ve just not been that dynamic. We’ve had a cutting edge, but not as often as we’ve needed it.

Down our end, the biggest reaction was when Gabriel slid that perfectly-timed leg in to prevent Lukaku from firing a shot off. We were on our feet and giving it everything. But those moments were few and far between until the game stretched a bit towards the end.

It was the same against Leicester, and we were hopelessly timid away at our neighbours in N17. So while we’re doing pretty well on paper in the league, it feels like there are very much still some missing ingredients. Are we missing Ramsey, Wilshere and Arteta? Almost certainly.

Is there something more? It feels that way to me. We’ve been tinkering on how we play away from home, but I certainly don’t think we’ve nailed down the best way to play in our own backyard. We seem to play too narrowly, and are unsure whether to stick or twist going forward. We lack the ability to play with real tempo for long periods of time.

It’s been that kind of season to be honest. Some progress, but some regression. Still not quite right, but rarely calamitously bad.

As for the highlights, I thought Gabriel looked decent on his Premier League debut and it’s a huge relief to have that third centre-back we can bring in. We’re finally rotating in that position, and we’ve needed to.

James wonders on the Arsecast Extra whether Gibbs has not progressed enough, and perhaps he’s right. But it wasn’t that long ago that he was easily our first choice at left back. If it hadn’t been for injury then you never know – though I do agree that we need more end result from him. His injuries are a big factor though, in my view.

Ospina was excellent, Bellerin was good and the midfield worked hard without excelling. Rosicky’s cameo gave us the energy we needed to make it a less fretful finale.

But overall, we’re still searching for the elixir.

Groveward bound

First game at the Grove this season for me tonight – molto excitemento on my behalf.

Watching the Arsenal live on the telly is always a joy (and how most Arsenal fans around the globe watch the world’s finest team every week), and watching highlights shows is not bad either, seeing that they handily chop out the dull bits, but there’s still nothing quite like a live game to set the pulse racing. The little pre-match routines, meeting mates, the crackle of the atmosphere (sometimes less crackly, sometimes more), and the unbridled joy of scoring a goal. Yes, it’s a nice habit to have. A hard habit to break. An expensive habit to maintain.

Tonight’s atmosphere should be in the top 10% of Grovean atmospheres – it’s no secret that Celtic are marvellously vocal wherever they go. They’ve only got 3,000 seats to themselves, though I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more hoops dotted about the place and soaking the evening in outside the ground.

Pretty much all the blogs have echoed Wenger’s warning that complacency could be the death of us. Yes, we are in a good position, but all it takes is a moment of distraction for a goal to go in, and that could change the dynamic of the game. It’s not an insurmountable lead on paper, even if it really should be on grass.

We’ve had such a promising start to the season, but it could be unravelled in one fell swoop should we not approach the game in the right way. Quite why any professional footballer would ever approach a game other than in the right way is a mystery to me – and I don’t expect Arsenal to tonight.

I’m also interested in the results of the self-styled ‘Arsenalisation’ of the ground. Many of you are a step ahead of me on that front, having been to the Portsmouth game, and by and large the comments I’ve seen have been positive.

The fact is, it’s impossible to distill the essence of Highbury and spray it under the armpits at the Grove. As Wenger himself said, Highbury had an aura that had built up over 80-odd years. Horses had fallen down pits. Art deco stands had been erected. Titles and cups won. Highbury was impossibly grand, a bit rough round the edges in its latter days but one of England’s finest old grounds.

That’s not to say I don’t support what Arsenal are doing, because I do absolutely. When the ground opened it had more grey concrete than a car park, but it’s slowly been getting better and these latest moves are a step further in the right direction. When the clock is re-hung (inside the ground – whose idea was it not to do that in the first place?), and the ends are renamed accordingly, things will be better still.

One massive thing in Arsenal’s advantage is that we’re just a few hundred yards from the alma mater – so we’re still wandering down the same streets to get to the ground, still going to the same pubs. We’re still in Highbury.

But I can’t help but think that for a real aura, we might need to wait a while. It might take 10 years before it oozes history. It might take longer. We could do with winning a trophy – its first. But we’re getting there.