So, right, just another yawn-inducing North London Derby, eh?
Before we get into anything else, I'm indescribably proud of the lads and the manager today. After the meek capitulations of the last few weeks, all any of us could have asked for was a response, and we got one in spades. The temptation is to ask why they can't do this every match, though I get that these are humans and not every game is a NLD at the sharp end of the season. Still, heart and character were required on this occasion and thankfully the boys finally remembered where they had left it.
I specifically say the manager as well because, as much as he's gotten wrong in the last several matches, he got everything right today. Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny together in the middle is the solid base that we've all be screaming for, and I want to see a lot more of it. Aaron Ramsey was shifted out right where he belongs, and Danny Welbeck was given a start up top.
The personnel were right, but the first 20 minutes or so were a bloody ordeal. You have to hand it to the nearest and dearest, they wanted this one bad and they came flying out of the traps. They hunted in packs and pressured Arsenal off the ball like a bunch of hyperactive greyhounds. It felt like someone was grating on my exposed nerve endings with a brillo pad. It was fucking horrible, if I'm being honest.
How easily their lot could have been in the lead, too. If you read Arsenal Twitter all week, you'd have come away thinking that David Ospina was worse than Helen Keller's blinder sister. I mean, this guy who had a brilliant World Cup, maybe an even better Copa America, and I'm reading dumbasses all week acting like we were just going to stick a "Beware of Dog" sign in our 6-yard box and hope for the best. Prannets. Anyway, Kyle Walker's cross was met by that odious pig Erik Lamela, who had ghosted past the world's ugliest statue, Gabriel. Somehow, Ospina stretched as far as he could and fingertipped it away. Brilliant, brilliant save. Top class.
Meanwhile. Michael Oliver was running around carding anything he could in a red shirt. A quick word about him - he's normally the best England's got, in my estimation. What I imagine happened is that he couldn't quite decide whether to be lenient or to take firm control, got his wires crossed, and couldn't find his consistency from then on. Coquelin's handball was kind of dumb, but he was clearly fouled before that. The eventual second yellow for our man was soft as fuck, but somehow Eric Dier didn't walk for the most obvious second yellow you'll ever see. Lamela provokes Alexis, Alexis gets the card. It was astonishing. It was 10-on-12 out there.
Finally, as the first half neared its end, the Arsenal started getting back into the game. Hugo Lloris had to come astronomical units out of his area to head a long ball away, while Danny Welbeck harried and fought and snapped at anything in a white shirt. My god, he was something else today...how his former employers could do with a player like that, huh? Anyway, Dat Guy switched fields out to Bellerin, who fired it back in. The chance looked lost, but somehow Ramsey managed this reverse back-flick thing to guide it past the keeper and in. Cue bedlam in the pub.
That got us to halftime. I had expected the home lot to release the hounds in the second half, but it oddly wasn't happening. We were as comfortable as you can get in a derby, right up until that second yellow for Coq. Of course, of COURSE, we went to pieces and they got two quick ones. It was almost three, were it not for Ospina magically keeping a shot millimeters away from going fully over the line.
The first was off a corner. Gabriel did well to block the first shot, but wretchedly stood and watched as the weirdly-monikered Toby Alderweireld sliced home the loose ball. Nanoseconds later, the Brazilian repeated the feat as Harry Kane (admittedly brilliantly) curled an impossible shot around Ospina, off the post and in. My god, he's such a liability.
Needless to say, we were all reeling - the players, the supporters, everyone. Well, that is, except the manager. I'm always the first to slate him when he gets it wrong, but today he was calm when the rest of us were losing our minds. I think I get what he was doing, now. I suspect that he didn't want to change things around too soon after we fell apart and lost the two goals, and I also suspect that he saw their lot tiring a bit and perhaps also becoming a bit complacent after going ahead.
I don't think it's a coincidence that when Arsene finally pulled the trigger and put on Olivier Giroud, Lloris was picking the ball out of his net a minute later. It felt like their guys were still readjusting defensively when Bellerin caught them sleeping with a magical through-ball. Alexis ran onto it, and held off both his markers and his nerve to equalize. By the way, Lloris is one of the better keepers you'll see but he was horrendous there - he got his angles wrong in the first place and even beyond that he should have got a hand to the shot anyway. Zero complaints on my end, however.
A point was the first priority once that one went in, but in the end we could have gone on and won it. There were some nervy moments in the back (specifically Gabriel's close shave with what would have been the own-goal of the millennium), but credit to our guys, they held the line when they had to. Ramsey was put through late on but was run down by Alderweireld, and Lloris was able to parry a free kick by Alexis.
Honors even in the end - which is probably fair - but we're left to wonder what may have happened were the referee even remotely consistent. While I think the title is probably unrealistic still, it was nice to see something of the old Arsenal back. Besides, if we can't bring it home, I'm perfectly OK with Operation Make Leicester Win It.
So, a breath before the games truly come thick and fast - the Hull replay, either West Brom or the FA Cup quarterfinal, Cuntalona away, and then Everton. A daunting task, but if the lads can just keep hold of a little of what motivated them today, who knows? Predicting anything about this season has proven to be a mug's game, so all we can do is enjoy it the best we can...even better if it ruins the collective day of our nearest and dearest.
Man of the Match: He's a little man, but he was fucking immense today. Take a bow, David Ospina.