27 August 2014

Arse 1-0 Beşiktaş Scylla and Charybdis

Phew. I don't think I've ever enjoyed a match less than I "enjoyed" this one. For most of the first half, I gritted my teeth against the possibility that Beşiktaş might find an early goal, seizing not just a lead but the away-goals advantage: had they scored, we would need two to win, as a 1-1 draw would see them through. Then, for the third match in a row (and fourth goal out of our last five), a stoppage-time score saved the day. I don't know if my heart can take this kind of abuse. Yes, it was Alexis opening his Arsenal account in a timely fashion, reminiscent in many ways of Wengerball at its best, but the result, gilt-edged as it is, still begs key questions.

As to the match itself, it seemed all too often as if we dared ourselves not to win even while knowing that a draw could be enough to end our European aspirations. Yes, we threatened and looked lively in stretches, but there were as many stretches when Beşiktaş looked the livelier, and why not? They had nothing to lose and everything to gain while we had much the opposite. They were playing with reckless abandon, dominating posssesion (54%), earning six yellows through 32 tackles to our 20 (how often does a team win the possession-battle and out-tackle the opposition?). Just as a tetchy first half was going into the books and I was ready to throw it all over, along came Wilshere. And Alexis. No, it wasn't quite as poetic as some of last year's goals, but a few quick touches in the box sent the ball to Alexis, who slotted home 35 seconds into extra time. The lead would hold well enough to see us progress to the group-stage.


However, question marks remain, chief among them being, "what does this mean for between now and Monday?" On one hand, the win should pave the way for us to make a signing or two. After all, we can now confidently offer Champions League to Cavani, Carvalho, Khedira, or others. Crashing out would have closed the door on any such business and relegated us to rummaging among the scraps for an "as-is" purchase. On the other, the win could convince Arsène that all is well with the current squad and that no signings are needed. Still, the options on offer are much preferred to the alternative. A loss (or a draw in which goals were exchanged) would have ended our streak of Champions League appearances; with that, we would have seen the top-shelf signings we coveted close up shop. Cavani? No. Carvalho? No. And so on. Scylla: win but forego any signings. Charybdis: lose and settle for a few squad-player-esque signings. A rock and a hard place, indeed.

Thus far, we've emerged with nothing but positive results, even if the method has been madness. A comfortable, convincing win might be nice, if only to soothe tattered nerves. This after only four matches of record. How are we going to feel after an actual loss, something we haven't suffered since April of

2014? Still, for as unconvincing as the process has been to this point, the results should offer some kind of solace. We're undefeated. We've qualified for the Champions League group-stage and are owed a favorable draw. Far be it from me to look a gift-horse in the mouth, but with this win in hand, we must now turn our hopes to the potential addition of one more player, just one more, who can bolster our chances in the Prem and perhaps in that Champions League as well.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below the fold. Thanks for reading!