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Cooling The Reactor At The Emirates

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Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal FC survived the recent visit of title favourites Manchester City by drawing 1-1 at the Emirates.

Arsenal went into the match coming off an embarrassing loss to Chelsea and an underwhelming draw against Swansea City.

The club was in meltdown. 

A plume of negativity leapt up around Hornsey Road and billowed into the North London sky, encircled by media vultures and insipid bloggers who shrieked and called for the shutting down of Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal. 

Like the radioactive waters leaking from the Fukishima Daiichi power plant, confidence, belief, and consistency ebbed out of the Emirates into a sea of uncertainty.  Wenger was left questioning his influence on the players and his ability to foster continued team evolution. 

It was déjà vu all over again:  Bayern Munich had just eliminated Arsenal from the Champions League, and with Everton surging up the league table, finishing in the top four was looking at risk. 

Then they played the match verse City.

It was a match that featured Thomas Vermaelen standing in for the injured Laurent Koscielny, Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta paired as holding central midfielders, and a starting 11 that included Lukas Podolski ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

It was questionable play from Podolski that lead to the opening City goal.  Podolski was triangulating with Flamini and Arteta in a congested center of the park, when Flamini played a first time ball back to Podolski, the German international lost possession.  Flamini and Arteta were out of position and the back four had no cover.  The resulting break saw David Silva, somewhat fortuitously, bundle home the opening goal.

Thankfully, Arsenal didn’t go missing after conceding so early on.

Tomas Rosicky wouldn’t let them.  He had a fantastic first half, crafting a number of successful dribbles, forcing Yaya Toure into a yellow card offence in the process, and was Arsenal’s best player on the day.

It was a first half of equals, hard fought, played at high tempo, which showcased some of the world’s finest players, but the only difference was the Silva opener.

Arteta should have come off for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the interval however. 

Arsenal were at home and were out to prove that they weren’t pretenders, that those 128 days at the top of the Barclay’s Premier League didn’t happen by accident. Arsenal are strongest in their 4-2-3-1 formation, with both Flamini and Arteta paired together, but there was a noticeable lack of creativity and offensive potency in this 11.  Olivier Giroud has been exhausted for months.  Podolski, playing one of the three attacking midfield roles, never really does enough work for the team, or as Wenger puts it, ‘seems 100 percent there’ or present all the time, to be a 90 minute player.

Luckily, Santi Cazorla, in concert with Tomas Rosicky, kept tiring away creating half chances for his teammates.

One of the most significant moments in the match came after Rosicky was yellow carded for a foul on former Gunner Gael Clichy.  Cazorla quickly ran over, helped Rosicky up, and then drew his forehead near his own.  The Spanish international recited calming words of solidarity and unionization and the two veteran footballers looked one another in the eye as if to say ‘not on this day, today defeat is not an option.’

The Czech and the Spaniard pushed on. 

In the 53rd minute, after some nice combination play around the City penalty area, Poldi, to his credit, did contribute in a big way, by cutting a ball back toward the spine of the D.  Flamini ran onto the cross and swept home the equalizing goal.  It was a very good finish from the gritty Frenchman and it came at a crucial time for his club.  It further incited the London crowd and Arsenal continued to play their Manchester rivals with intensity and commitment.

Back in February, I wrote that I believed the resigning of Flamini was more important to Arsenal this season than the transfer of Mesut Ozil.  I stand by my statement.  Flamini’s role in the team during this campaign has been priceless.  Arteta has been particularly poor going on six weeks now.  He looks leggy, mentally dull, and off the boil.  Flamini, a junkyard dog with an insatiable hunger for 50-50’s, has shown time and time again to be one of Wenger’s most reliable selections during this season’s hunt for silverware.

An even match between the Citizens and the Gunners finished at a point a piece.

Vice-captain Mikel Arteta went on to say after the game that ‘belief had returned’ to Arsenal.  Wenger stated that the game verse City ‘has shown we can fight.’ 

Here’s the thing – a draw with City isn’t enough.

If the Gunners end up losing verse Everton this Sunday the render down will be back on. 

One draw at home does not stop the radioactive rot. 

Arsenal need to back up the statements they’ve made all week by beating Everton at home. 

Period. 

If that happens, I will join in on a full chorus of ‘belief restored.’  But until the final whistle blows at Goodison Park, with Arsenal securing three points, I’m not singing a note. 

Let’s welcome back Aaron Ramsey and give him 10-20 minutes to start the journey to regaining match fitness. 

But let’s not get carried away by earning a point at home, especially after the players had a monumental letdown on what was supposed to be their manager’s celebration of his 1,000th game in charge.  A good away win verse a well-coached, quality side, in a must win match.  That is the best remedy for cooling the reactor at the Emirates.

Cheers to the Professor and his players as they ponder a way to do just that.