Unfortunately, an enduring lack of match fitness has forced me to be a little bit more discriminating about exhausting away days of late.
Yet with Mahrez, Vardy and the rest of Ranieri’s Foxes in such effervescent form, an encounter between two of the most entertaining outfits in the top flight was such a mouth-watering prospect that nothing was going to stop me from making it to the East Midlands.
Especially as we were travelling to Leicester with us Gooners still high on the intense surge of midweek euphoria, after Flamini almost singlehandedly surprised our own irritatingly noisy neighbours into stunned silence, by knocking Spurs out of the Cup last Wednesday night.
The powers that be might’ve subsequently attempted to right Mike Dean’s wrongs, but sadly this didn’t rectify the three points forfeited at the Bridge. Nevertheless, there’s nothing like a north London derby win to sugar the taste of more bitter Mourinho medicine.
Still, in spite of setting out with renewed optimism on a sunny Saturday, we weren’t so naïve as to be expecting an easy ride from Ranieri’s buoyant comeback kings. Nor did we receive one. In fact, the home side sprung such a vivacious ambush, the entire stadium was left scratching their heads at half-time, wondering how on earth the Gunners were a goal ahead of a rampant Leicester.
If proof was needed that we’d witnessed one helluva football match, it came afterwards as we mingled with the home fans. While we wallowed in the satisfaction of such gratifying entertainment and the 2-5 win, the locals admitted that there was absolutely no disgrace in having been beaten by “such wonderful football”.
If this had been a boxing match, both combatants would’ve been left black and blue, from standing in the middle of the ring and slugging it out for the entire 12 rounds, in the epitome of an “end to end” contest.
We should be grateful to Ranieri, because after Vardy’s opening wake-up call, the Tinkerman’s ambitious starting line-up, with Okazaki playing almost as a second striker, soon pressurised us into producing some of the slickest, counter-attacking football I’ve seen so far this season.
Alas, it seems two such fevered matches in four days was too much for Flamini’s ageing hamstrings and Wednesday night’s hero soon folded under such duress.
We have to hope that Arteta won’t be similarly tested with Olympiacos to come tomorrow, and that Coquelin can make a speedy return from injury, to prevent our worst fears being realised about our lack of defensive cover in midfield.
Mercifully, Arteta was aided by the withdrawal of the nippy Okazaki at half time and the home side’s inability to maintain such a frenetic pace. It was a great relief to see Alexis back in goalscoring business and as our Duracell Bunny wrapped up his hat-trick after the break, the Gunners wrestled full control of the game.
Theo is finally showing some signs of benefitting from the faith Arsène has demonstrated in sticking with him up front. With the incisive promptings of Özil and Cazorla suddenly finding their mark, the Gunners were transformed into a team that might be capable of setting the pace in the league. Surely if an average Man Utd can do it, anyone can?
Whether we can maintain a challenge on two fronts is another matter and as important as a win against the Greeks might be tomorrow, I’m far more concerned with confirming our Premiership credentials by serving notice on Man Utd next Sunday.
Hopefully, we can also demonstrate that the flourishing Memphis and Martial double act is nothing more than a flash in the pan.
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