I never fail to be amazed by our seemingly infinite capacity to sell ourselves the starry-eyed promise of a different Arsenal narrative, but such is the masochistic curse of the travelling Gooner, writes Bernard Azulay.
Otherwise, if we actually resigned ourselves to being stuck in this eternal cycle of unfulfillment, there’d be nothing to persuade me to drag my aching bones out of my pit on a Saturday morning, to make the 350-mile round trip schlep to the north-west.
After having stepped back in time, for our cup outing to the surreal, but refreshingly civilized non-league surroundings of Gander Green Lane, where one can still smoke in the stands, queue up for a cuppa while keeping one eye on the match and even pop out to the pub for a half-time pint, the postponement of last weekend’s outing to Southampton (not to mention Spurs’ emphatic trouncing of the Potters) ensured that we were all impatiently slavering in anticipation of Saturday’s trip to the opposite end of the footballing spectrum.
I was optimistically hoping that a fortnight with their feet up might result in a revitalised ‘season starts here’ reboot. Yet the oppressive-looking storm clouds hanging over the towering new main stand, which lends Anfield something of a disjointed feel, were to prove portentous.
Our mood took a dramatic dip, as the terrace tom-toms transmitted the unfathomable news that our star turn Alexis Sanchez had been left on the bench and our enigmatic playmaker hadn’t even travelled, with Özil allegedly suffering from yet another bout of flu (doubtless the poor love is sweating it out on a beach in Dubai as I type).
Alexis’s frustrated watching remit was part of Wenger’s tactical masterplan to enable the Gunners to be more direct. Sadly Arsène’s tenuous grasp of reality was evident right from the off, since a team can’t play direct, or otherwise, without the ball at their feet.
With Sanchez pretty much solely responsible for this season’s rare sparks of electricity, without him the Arsenal seemed so pathetically uninspired that if we were a coronary patient, you’d be calling for the paddles.
It was hardly a surprise that Klopp got a reaction out of his troops on home turf, after their tepid defeat to Leicester, Yet while I’ve endured enough misery over the years at Anfield to know there’s no shame in losing to a Liverpool side that invariably turns up against top-six opposition, I simply can’t abide the fact that we threw this game away, whilst sleepwalking through the first half.
Sure the two-week furlough might not have done us any favours, but if players can’t get themselves suitably pumped for a match of this significance and at the very least, attempt to match the opposition’s intensity level, then it’s symptomatic of the lack of appetite of side that’s been getting away with merely going through the motions.
Wenger might be indignant at having his competency questioned in his dotage, but how can he expect otherwise on the basis that Alexis’s omission was madness on a grand scale? Firmino’s goal after only nine minutes merely confirmed our tortoise-like emergence from the starting blocks.
It couldn’t get much gloomier in our corner of the Anfield Road end behind that goal, as we suffered the infuriating sight of an Arsenal midfield ambling back, hardly busting a gut to recover their ground and the stark contrast with the opposition’s dynamic attacking zest.
Although Welbeck and Iwobi were both at fault for the Scousers’ second, I once again found myself focusing on the flatfooted mental and physical inertia of Xhaka. There’s a growing consensus that in Xhaka, Wenger has implanted in the corpus Arsenal an entirely superfluous, £35m appendix, albeit one that’s seemingly set to burst on a regular basis.
The only consolation about conceding a second was that at least it forced Wenger’s hand, as there was more conviction about Sanchez’s half-time warm up than the combined first-half efforts of his team-mates.
Much as it saddens me to admit it, in Sanchez’s shoes I’d want out, as the Chilean is so obviously a winner that it’s no wonder he’s grown increasingly intolerant of being surrounded by such mundane torpor.
At least we enjoyed a brief period of hope, as Liverpool anxiously withdrew into their shell after we pulled one back. I felt sure we’d be carved open, when Arsène went “all in” with 15 minutes left on the clock. But when Origi’s effort bounced harmlessly off the post, I wondered if we might end up escaping with a fluky point.
Depressingly, instead of mustering a “kitchen sink” push for an equaliser, much like our season to date, our afternoon fizzled out with a whimper, as Wijnaldum applied a deserved coup de grace.
Does Arsène’s increasingly antagonistic mood reflect his growing acceptance of the loss of Gooner good faith and the fact that he’s no longer only one good result away from getting the majority of us back onside? If so, I wish he’d announce his impending swansong instead of dragging his resignation out to the death.
It might be the only means of galvanising a unified effort to send the obdurate old bugger off with a bang.
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