Football is like a warm favorite coat. The one you’re happy to get out of the closet when summer turns to fall. As you unpack it from its summer home you note that one of the elbows has some wear that you didn’t notice last year but when you slip it on, it just feels right, and you don’t mind that it’s slightly more tattered.
Arsenal put on their warm fall jacket yesterday, running out to a 1-0 win over League 1 Doncaster Rovers. The game was familiar, in that Arsenal wasted a lot of chances and nearly let the minnow team back in. In one pocket there was even a $5 bill with Jack Wilshere’s phone number on it and the note “let’s get a drink some time!”
In what is now the most familiar of scenes at Arsenal, Wenger started with a weird lineup which included a defensive midfielder in the left back position and an attacking midfielder/forward in the right back position.
Doncaster tried to catch Arsenal out with the first kick of the game. Lumping the ball up, Chambers headed tamely to Rodney Kongolo – a bright young player on loan from Man City who would spend most of the night torturing one of Arsenal’s various midfielders cum fullbacks – Kongolo got a shot on goal from distance.
Arsenal responded – Calum Chambers, who hasn’t played for Arsenal in what seems like years, chipped a beautiful ball to Elneny who back heeled to Walcott. Walcott burst through the lines but his shot was smothered, #unluckyTheo – which could easily describe Walcott’s entire 10 year career at Arsenal.
Arsenal continued to press and Wilshere’s left-footed chip found Giroud for a bicycle kick which rattled the bar. If Doncaster wanted a fast start, Arsenal were happy to oblige and the Gunners pressed for an early goal.
Another familiar sight is how Arsenal’s midfielders are constantly making runs forward, in behind, and everywhere they possibly can. Wilshere was pretty static but Elneny was everywhere in the first half – making runs behind (for the Theo backheel), and delivering a cross for Giroud’s header in the 19th minute. He would run like this for the full 90 minutes, unleashed by Wenger to cause havoc but ensuring that Arsenal had that familiar “racetrack” openness to their midfield which so many of us have grown to love.
Alexis broke the deadlock – dropping deep to collect from (who else?) Elneny he immediately looked up and spotted a scooping run from Theo. He then dropped a dime on Walcott’s toe and the Englishman provided a nice finish. Difficult skill from all the players there and Doncaster can’t feel they defended too poorly – Alexis’ pass was fully 40 yards and was put on Walcott’s foot. You won’t see a more caviar pass all season. Walcott’s touch was just good enough and his finish as well.
As the half wound down, Arsenal showed a bit of weakness, Rodney Kongolo collected a poor Mertesacker clearance and played in Alfie May who fired into the side netting from an acute angle.
At half time Wenger subbed Chambers, who looked like he was having a good game. It was Holding who kept falling over and abandoning his position at center back which left Arsenal looking vulnerable. Wenger has subbed Holding at half time in his last two appearances, and Wenger claims to have subbed Chambers at halftime because of a hip injury. It would be perfectly Arsenal for Chambers to have picked up an injury, meaning that Center Back, which had 6 players at the start of the season, would be short staffed. Chambers’ replacement Josh da Silva did OK, I guess. Kind of harsh to criticize him since he’s not really a center back – he’s listed as a #10 on the official Arsenal web site. I think Wenger wanted him back there to help with passing but as it happened, he didn’t really do that either and Arsenal struggled in the second half keeping the ball and making swift attacking passes. Again, don’t blame da Silva, passing in a #10 position and in a #3 position are entirely different skillsets.
Still, Walcott should have made it 2-0 in the 48th minute, Arsenal broke after some sloppy defending nearly cost a goal. But Elneny found Jack who played a nice pass to Giroud, Walcott was wide open on the far side, held his run perfectly, and Giroud picked him out with yet another perfect cross. The keeper came out and Walcott had beat his defender so all he had to do was side step and pass the ball into the net. Instead he went for a chip with power and the keeper got an arm on it. Unlucky Theo, Theo Unlucky, would be hauled off with an injury in the 76th minute.
As the match wore down Arsenal found some fun things in each of the pockets of the jacket. Arsenal had a corner, Giroud tried a bicycle kick (because he doesn’t just do easy things like head it to a teammate) and Doncaster cleared the ball up to Reiss Nelson. Nelson made a meal of the clearance allowing Alfie May in behind him. This was actually vintage Arsenal: 9 men caught on a corner and the lone defender pulling a Clichy.
But Ainsley Maitland-Niles just chased May down from like 10 yards away and took the ball away from him. I loved May dropping to the ground, trying to haul AMN down with him and begging for the call. It was like finding a matchbook with that woman’s name on it. You remember, THAT woman. Why didn’t you call her? Why doesn’t Wenger just play Ainsley Maitland-Niles as a defensive midfielder? I dunno. Probably because.. DRUUUUUNK.*
Anyway, I also think Ainsley Maitland-Niles should be president of the United States because of that tackle and another, similar one, later in the game. He can’t be any worse than the psychopath we currently have.
Despite the few moments of heart palpitations, and it wouldn’t be a vintage Arsenal jacket without them, it was a good win. Next up, the tattered old jumper of West Bromwich Albion on Monday.
*From what I understand Arsene Wenger is never even tipsy and I believe he is virtually tee-total. I’m also not commenting on Wenger’s mental facilities. He seems bright and normal to me. This is just a joke, a distortion of reality. Relax.
PS: quick mention here on Jack Wilshere. He looked like a class footballer for about 40 minutes in the first half. After that, he reverted to his older self, losing the ball, dribbling into trouble, etc. Wenger put this down to fitness. Which seems like a decent excuse, except that he’s had a long time to work on his conditioning since returning from his injury in July. He returned to training on July 26th. That was the day he returned to full impact training. He had time before that to work on his stamina and has had almost two full months since then to work on his stamina. Fitness is Jack Wilshere’s achilles. The dot com is suggesting that Wilshere could push for a starting spot at Arsenal soon but if he can only compete for 40 minutes, I doubt it.