Have you ever in good faith offered to help a friend out and then gradually regretted it?
Well that was me yesterday evening, because with Rico not feeling too well with a migraine I offered gallantly to step into the breach to help out only to wonder what I’d let myself in for.
Fresh from a Liverpool schooling our rag tag bunch of superstars were faced with a crucial game to save their faltering season against a team that had already humbled both Leicester City and Glasgow Rangers. Now let’s be honest, Leicester are currently a much better team than Arsenal and Rangers are on the cusp of becoming Scottish champions so we can’t really disrespect Slavia Praha. Added to that is the traditional tedium of much of European football and there you have it, the prospect of a dull opening 45 minutes in which both Slavia and Arsenal didn’t disappoint in that department.
It was pretty uninspiring stuff in general, even if we did have Rob Holding doing a Charles Charlie Charles as he overlapped Saka down the wing to actually put in probably the best cross of the first half. Needless to say the gormless Arsenal shirts in the box reacted as if they had lead boots on and the ball flashed harmlessly across the area to safety.
Saka should have scored after wastefully placing his shot wide and Holding had a header that the Slavia keeper, who looked like the man in the iron mask, easily tipped over the bar and with that the first half petered out with a whimper.
The second half wasn’t much better. The standard of play was bang average in general and that’s being kind, but Lacazette did well to press and create a golden opportunity as he robbed a Slavia defender just inside their half, but as he bore down on the Slavia goal I couldn’t shake the feeling that he wasn’t going to score. Lacazette didn’t fail me as he somehow hit the woodwork. It was that type of game.
Eventually Arteta shook off his inertia and made a change, taking off the dreadful Willian and bringing on Martinelli with 20 minutes remaining. Gabby added some much needed energy and the team seemed to get a second wind before Arteta made the big switch! On came Elneny for the disappointing Partey, Aubameyang for the equally disappointing Lacazette and Pepe for the strangely lacklustre Saka.
Arsenal immediately began to move the ball quicker, Aubameyang missed a great chance stabbing his shot wide and then came the goal. The ball was played up to Auba who held it and played in Pepe who deftly lifted the ball past the man with the iron mask and into the net. It was a finish of quality and not in keeping with what had gone before – or with what was to follow.
Arteta immediately took off Smith Rowe bringing on the hapless Ceballos, it was as if it was a message to close ranks and hold onto what we had and Arsenal went full defensive mode. But instead of shutting the game down our players became edgy and nervous and Slavia sensed blood and went for it. Arsenal’s negative tactics led to Soares and Gabriel making a pigs ear of clearing the ball which led to a high ball into the box. More comedic defending led to an equaliser for Slavia and frankly that’s exactly what this Arsenal team deserved.
Don’t talk to me about game management because Arsenal couldn’t manage anything at the moment.