On Monday, Valentines, my true love gave to me an Arsenal beer mug. Here's what it looked like yesterday:
I know! I know! A bit much, innit? And why not? A few hours prior I had just about lost my voice, struggling from effects of fighting winter crud, and my mind, when Arshavin netted the winner for Arsenal over the mighty Barcelona.
A week and a half earlier was that horror show against Newcastle. I was already feeling better by that evening when Wolves (of all teams) ended United's unbeaten run (if you're addicted to crack, still nothing will do but the Invincibles). But regardless, all the talk were that Arsenal's "brittle", "perennial underachievers" had crumbled yet again. I was glad to see their no nonsense attitude against Wolves the next week and I remember thinking to myself "if they work this hard on Wednesday, even Barça will have trouble coping with them). My words turned prophetic last night. Yes Barça was Barça, absolute masters on the ball, but despite long periods of domination (people tend to forget we had spells of our own), they succumbed to our combination of slick passing and directness. Now Newcastle is forgotten in the euphoria, and rightly so.
The players are the first to admit that it's far from over. Even a 1 goal lead can feel like a slim margin at the Camp Nou. Just ask Real Madrid. Barça are still favorites to go through and all I can hope for is an upset (though such a hope is far from unreasonable). But that is a matter for three week's time. For now, it's just time to bask in one of the most enjoyable illustrations ever of "Wenger knows". How do I mean?
Jack Wilshere. How often has the English media derided Wenger's attitude towards English players? How often has Wenger replied that if he were to find a local player with the quality he'd be happy to work with him. Now you can't open your eyes without seeing headlines of how Wilshere is the future of England. And yes. This came from training in the English system. Wenger doesn't care about nationality. He knows how he wants his players to play, and he's not looking to pay over the odds to compromise on that. He'd rather produce a Wilshere his own damn self. And soon after making his full England debut to great praise, young Jack, impossibly young Jack, completely PWNed a Barcelona midfield including 3 of the best players in the world. He was just astonishing last night. Immaculate. What a future in store for that young lad. England, what's that you mean to say to Wenger? I think it's "Thank you". And with Walcott around, and J.E.T., Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Sanchez Watt and more to come, I think you'd just better get used to saying that again and again.
(Image credit: Gunnerblog)
CF4. The media seems to trip over themselves to consign Fabregas to a move to the Camp Nou any minute now. Yes even Cesc expressed such desires over the summer, and some of my fellow fans got rather silly in that response. Wenger said that Cesc is committed to winning with Arsenal, and many scoffed. It might have been a blessing to draw to his supposed home club, even if it means doom for us in this Champion's League campaign, because everyone needed to see how badly Cesc wanted Arsenal to win. After the game he warmly embraced his many Catalan friends, but during the 90 minutes, he was an intense leader from the front of the Red and White cause.
Le philosophy. Part of the drama over Cesc to Barcelona has been that the Catalan giant is hoping to get him on the cheap. They can't afford the sorts of enormous splurges they're used to. Financial realities have caught up to them, as so many other clubs. Arsenal's squad was assembled for a fraction of the cost fo their opponents, with our own big spending on Arshavin and Nasri looking like a joke against the fees for players such as David Villa and Alves. We're full of the young fruit of our academy, while many of Barça's best are nearer the end than the start of their careers. Barça are still the juggernaut of Europe, but they represent a fading regime, and Arsenal shows the way forward for football within global realities. Wenger has known this for years, and his fiscally prudent, philosophically coherent master plan is over a decade in the making. He's received a lot of criticism from the impatient, and he deserves the vindication of last night.
Koscielny. This poor bloke has received a lot of criticism this year, and people forget that he has dealt admirably with a meteoric rise. Just 2 seasons ago he was playing in Ligue Deux! And last night he played the most successful recent team in Europe, chock full of World Cup winners. And he took the best player in the world, Lionel Messi, and put him firmly in his pocket. I've heard some people say Messi had an off day. Bollocks! Watch very carefully what happened 95% of the time when Messi encountered Koscielny. It was a great day for the latter more than a poor day for the former. And yes, credit Wenger's vision for spotting that potential and snagging him for almost nothing, as he did with Vermaelen a year earlier.
I could go on and on and on (believing in the young Polish goalkeepers, playing the recently much-maligned Arshavin, gambling on Nasri's hamstring, leaving Song on for a while to learn how to simmer down when on a yellow...), but screw that. I just want to keep basking in what might have been the most thrilling single victory I've enjoyed as an Arsenal fan. What was I listening to last night as I drank that Arsenal flavored beer? Oh yeah, you proper Gunners won't need too many guesses. Enjoy the afterglow!