There’s a weird thing that happens to people right before they go into rehab, they like to go on a binge. It’s not that unusual a phenomena. A lot of people who drink frequently take January off from drinking and right before they do their “Drynuary” they will often have a big night out. I’ve had a number of friends who will set a date to change their diet – you know, “I’m doing whole 30” – and on the night before they will want to eat a bunch of ice cream or whatever it is that they think they are going to miss for the next 30 days. Their “drug of choice.”
Now imagine that, but only more. I had a friend who was scheduled for a court ordered rehab back in the 90s. He called me up a few nights before his due date and wanted to go out. I still don’t know why I went out with him, but I did – well for one night. When I woke up the next morning, he was still up.
He showed up to rehab the next day, drunk, high, and from what his girlfriend told me, without any pants. I guess she and some of our friends just kind of pushed him out the door of the car and drove off. He actually stayed sober after rehab. I spoke with him recently. He’s got a wife and a kid and is doing about as well as any of us middle-aged men are doing.
After writing all that and thinking about my youth, the friends I lost, maybe this metaphor is too dark for Arsenal. Instead of rolling up to the steps of rehab pantless, drunk, and high Arsenal are just getting ready to start a “whole 900” – three years of dietary change – and we are just having one or two (or five) last slices of Wenger pie.
We had the farewell bash at the Emirates, where everyone gorged on a five-goal feast. And then just three days later we got beat by Leicester. And beat in a way that was like all of the failings of Arsene Wenger’s teams all rolled into one.
There was the crazy corner defending which led to the first goal. Arsenal were scrambling to clear their lines and after several failed attempts, eventually Leicester got a cross in, won a header, and the ball fell kindly to Iheanacho. It wasn’t quite reminiscent of the days when teams would send their giant lump of a defender up to just throw defenders to the ground, but it was the sort of set-play defending that we’ve become accustomed to where the team seems to panic if they can’t clear the first ball.
Then there was the red card for Mavropanos. Throughout Wenger’s tenure as Arsenal manager, his defenders have had a propensity to pick up red cards in their first season. Oleg Luzhny got one in his first season, Cygan got one, Senderos got one in his first full season at Arsenal, Vermaelen, and Koscielny as well. It’s just the demands of Arsene’s defensive system. He plays a high line, gives team space, and defenders are expected to control massive amounts of space. So, if they make a mistake it’s often the case that they are giving up a “last man foul”.
Mavropanos’ foul shouldn’t have been a red card. He wasn’t the last man and I even have doubts that it was much of a foul. Dinos sure did a great job of hiding it if it was a pull. But you know there’s always been a suspicion that Arsene’s Arsenal are targeted for special treatment by the refs. And so we can add that to the buffet from last night as well: a soft as cotton red card and Leicester were also awarded a soft penalty.
That penalty came from a tackle that didn’t need to be made which is, again, another weird feature of Wenger’s football. Wayne Rooney dived to win a penalty and end Arsenal’s 49 game unbeaten run but Campbell stuck out his leg. I’ve seen this happen so many times that they have collectively become a blur over the last 18 years. Clichy at Birmingham, in the 95th minute of the match in which Taylor broke Eduardo’s leg, is one of the last ones that sticks out. Bellerin’s kick on Hazard this season is another, but only because it is so fresh. These penalties given against Arsenal because one of the players attempts a defensive play in the box and the opposition exaggerates contact. It feels like this play has been on a nonstop loop in my head since 2005.
And of course, you couldn’t have all of that without the brave (nearly) comeback. Down 1-0 and down to 10 men, Arsenal kept attacking and after a few minutes of shaky football, Maitland-Niles – a young player being played out of position, yet ANOTHER feature of Wenger football – shoved past his marker and got in a perfect cross to Aubameyang who scored.
This was all so very Wenger; Arsenal conceding off a corner, the fullbacks bombing forward and getting Arsenal back into the game, the team leaving the center backs exposed as they abandoned the midfield and the wide areas to control possession in the opposition third, the opposition getting multiple great shots from all of the open space at the back, Arsenal conceding a soft penalty, Arsenal getting a soft red card.
It really feels like we trying to jam the entirety of Wenger’s career into the last three games and I have to admit that I’m so full that I’m looking forward to a summer off.
There’s just one more weekend before rehab.