I learnt from an early age that Arsenal Football Club never do things the easy way. The team, whoever is playing, seem to enjoy scaring the supporters half to death before finding a way to escape dismal failure. The Invincibles did this in April 2004 when they came from 2-1 down at half time to beat Liverpool 4-2, thanks mainly to a splendid Thierry Henry hat trick. Another recent example of the Gunners doing it the hard way is the victorious 2014 FA Cup final where we were 2-0 down within 10 minutes and it took extra time for Aaron Ramsey to score the winner. Like all of my fellow Gooners, I could not relax until full-time.
The trend has continued this season. The Premier League match against Burnley last Saturday should have been a comfortable victory on paper. In the end it was, but the 3-0 score-line maybe did not tell the full story. Alexis Sanchez did not break the deadlock until the 70th minute, and it seemed as if it would be another frustrating draw. The team did step it up in the final 20 minutes and probably could have won by more. Theo Walcott made his come back from injury (that has kept him side-lined for over 9 months) in the closing 10 minutes and looked sharp. I left the Emirates feeling positive for the future as I thought we had maybe turned a corner.
I still felt this way at half time against Anderlecht last night as we were 2-0 up and were well on our way to qualifying for the last 16. I grew even more confident when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made it 3-0 soon after the break. However, I could not have envisaged that the team would completely capitulate and throw away such a commanding lead. It was disgraceful and embarrassing but the fact is we are still five points ahead of the Belgians with only two games remaining, so in all probability, we’ll qualify. This is again a case of Arsenal making life difficult for themselves. If we had held on and won last night, the final two games would not have really mattered (we were never going to overturn Borussia Dortmund’s superior goal difference anyway).
Most of the blame for yesterday’s 3-3 draw has been attributed to Arsene Wenger and his tactical naivety but I feel this is unfair. One man alone cannot make a team win, draw or lose. I’m not a blind loyalist and will admit Wenger made a few mistakes including his decision to not bring on Walcott but to say Wenger is entirely at fault shows a lack of understanding. I agree with one particular part of Paul Merson’s post-match comments where he said that the players need to take the blame, because the team is made up of “international footballers” and “not little kids”. The manager can only take them to a certain point; the rest is down to the individual players and attitudes.
I just long for a comfortable result where we dominate a match fothe whole 90 minutes and the win is never in doubt. I have had enough of being put through the ringer.
By Glen Shorey