Is there a more pleasurable sound in football fandom than the howls of derision from pundits and experts as a decision goes against the team they all so obviously back?
On and on they droned about Leroy Sane’s looping cross which was ruled to have curled out of play before it was poked home by Raheem Sterling. Countless replays, comments, analysis, and angles were produced as they fretted and mourned over a decision not given.
It was doleful stuff as they collectively wept over Manchester City finding themselves robbed of what would surely have been a 6-0 win had the goal stood. At half-time, at full-time, probably into the wee hours of the night, they lamented the great injustice, wondering how pious City could have been so cruelly denied.
It was as tiring as it was hilarious.
For me, it took nothing away from what was the performance of 2017 from Arsenal – a victory that had all the hallmarks of a group of individuals coming together as a team in a way that they have so rarely done in this half of the season.
The big wins over West Ham and Southampton earlier in the year may have had more attacking flair and extravagance, but this win had something we have missed for so long. It had grit and determination by the bucketful.
I must confess, I thought it a gamble too bold when I heard Arsene would be persisting with the 3-5-2 in the build-up to the match. With the pace and cunning of Sane, David Silva, and Sterling, I feared the vast spaces in behind the Arsenal full backs would be exploited. In short, I feared another Bayern Munich.
The Gunners defied all expectation, however, producing the kind of collective effort and show of discipline that has been obvious by its absence in the last few months. They had clearly been drilled hard during the week leading up to the game and it showed for large sections of this FA Cup semi-final clash.
Sure, in the first half they were dominated by a City side that retained and won back possession quite superbly, but were they ever truly troubled or cut apart in that first 45 minutes?
In the second half they pushed up and were much more cohesive as a unit. In fact, they produced some very good chances indeed against a strong City side and were looking comfortable until the Blues moved into the lead.
I wasn’t sure if Arsenal had it in them to respond when they fell behind – as well as they had been playing – but credit to them, they continued on in the same vein and were richly rewarded for their endeavour.
Particularly pleasing was the positional awareness of the players as they continued to adapt and familiarise to their new system. They worked hard to follow their runners, get back behind the ball, and shift the ball quickly and decisively when possession was won back.
There were still moments of alarm, as you would expect against a side of City’s quality, but the Gunners acquitted themselves in a way that every fan would expect. They stood toe-to-toe with a quality opponent and held their own.
They might have made things easier for themselves late on as they let some superb positions and opportunities slip away, but it’s also true to say they rode their luck as City squandered some chances of their own.
It was performance worthy of an Arsenal team and had all the quality demanded of this talented squad. It had the levels of commitment and desire and work rate we have all longed for for months, since the wheels started to come off in January.
While this new system is by no means the miracle cure we have been searching for, yet it has at least given us a platform to be competitive again, and avoid the sort of confidence-crushing defeats we have oft been subjected to this season.
Credit to the manager for sticking to his guns, and credit to him for being bold enough to sit back and invite City to attack, luring them in to allow for swift counter attacks using his full backs. Tactically today, it was encouraging stuff.
Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
Sit this guy down and agree terms on a new deal. Even in our worst moments in February and March, Alex was putting in a shift for the team and it is no surprise he has taken quickly to the new setup. He is superb going forward and at last seems to be realising his potential. If he can add some defensive astuteness to his game, we will have a heck of a player on our hands. It was a big test for him today and he excelled.
He has had a real stinker of season in many ways, but these last two games he has at last started to find something like rhythm. His passing is still not as incisive as it could be, but he is growing in confidence and putting in the hard yards for the team. He has looked good alongside Granit Xhaka and, with luck, he will continue on his return to form in the weeks ahead. So far, this system seems to work for him.
It is easy to get carried away when a young player has a few good performances but this young man looks a real find. He continues to show maturity and composure in the back four that belie his tender years. This experience will be invaluable to him as he grows into the senior setup. He really does look to be a big part of our future. Fingers crossed he stays the course and learns from his peers.