The apathy evident in the large numbers of empty seats at the Arsenal on a lazy Sunday afternoon was perfectly summed up by the “also ran” half-time interviewee on the pitch.
As Bertie Mee’s first signing, Colin Addison’s name rang a bell, but with all of 28 performances in his single campaign for the Gunners in the 60s, it felt symptomatic of our season that, amidst the infinite ranks of ex-stars and world renowned celebrity Gooners, the club couldn’t find a less obscure candidate to drag out of his complimentary seat for this regular slot.
Sadly, Sunday’s encounter proved a disappointingly somnolent finale to such a fabulously dramatic week of football.
When I’d mistakenly assumed that the upshot of Dortmund’s surprise defeat at Anfield and the increasingly looming spectre of the Euro permutations that might end up depriving us of our customary consolation prize of a fourth place Champions League slot, would at the very least provide the motivation to prevent the Gunners spluttering over the finishing line, with our France- bound internationals all merely going through the motions.
I must admit that there was some relief in being a neutral, watching Thursday’s heart-stopping, “football…bloody hell” Jurgen Klopp love-in.
Yet having witnessed successive nights of televised football, in which City, United and Liverpool all managed to breathe some life back into an exciting end of season denouement, there was more than a little regret involved in being nothing more than an interested bystander.
So in some respects, from a straw clutching, glass half-full perspective, perhaps we should be grateful for Bolasie finding the back of the net for the first time since November, to result in the Eagles’ 81st-minute smash and grab, our meagre return of a single point from such a dominant display against Palace does at least inject some added spice into our remaining five outings.
Instead of chugging along on Spurs’ coattails, praying for the miracle that might result in them tripping up, suddenly we find ourselves playing to avoid the ignominious threat of the poisoned chalice that is Thursday night, Europa League football.
Yet after the Gunners have squandered 12 of the past 21 points that we’ve competed for, in this, the most unpredictable Premiership season to date, we really shouldn’t be surprised by any such eventuality.
In responding to the question in his Friday press conference as to why he’d selected Ospina against West Ham last weekend, Wenger explained that “if you look at his numbers, they are absolutely exceptional”.
Yet the psychological impact of omitting our more imposing No. 1 was not the sort of instinctive understanding to be gleaned from the data.
Similarly against Palace on Sunday, it felt as if this was a team playing in our manager’s analytical image, as if this match was going to be won not on the pitch, but on an Excel spreadsheet, with the Arsenal’s far superior “numbers”.
I’m sure we beat Palace hands down, in every respect statistically speaking, except the all-important one that counts.
We’ve seen it all before, against those sides that come to our place with such limited ambitions, with the Gunners waiting far too patiently for the weight of their superior ability to tell, as we try to pick the lock through the heart of the massed ranks of the opposition, without anyone assuming responsibility, or having the inspiration to attempt an alternative ploy.
Mind you, I can’t recall seeing a keeper lobbed by a header before and as the shortest player on the park, it was a pity that nearly all Alexis’ opportunities arrived on his bonce.
Yet the Chilean’s customary determination aside, Elneny appeared to be just about the only other player sufficiently motivated to try and make something happen.
While their team-mates were all waiting to notch up another win, according to the weight of their superior statistics
If our old dog has anything to learn from the Foxes remarkable campaign, it is that “the numbers” are far from the be all and end all.
But then, even Arsène’s staunchest advocates are beginning to wonder if a genuine appreciation of the less tangible, more intuitive aspects to the beautiful game are beyond our scientific prof’s purview.
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