07 May 2017

Ramsey's Resurrection, Arsenal's ascendance, Arsène's absolution?

At long last, Arsène has embarrassed Mourinho. At first gloss, it would be easy to shrug off the result as meaningless, what with Mourinho's injury-woes and Europa League priorities. A second glance suggests that these are exactly the factors that play to Mourinho's "big match" preferences: an away-match against a hated rival, with selection-dilemmas, and a vital point the preferred outcome. Indeed, this was one in which Mourinho's tactics and psychological edge should have won the day. That they didn't might just herald something special, if only in the realm of spite if not silverware...
Mourinho's minions arrived at the Emirates emulating perhaps the most-exquisite example of his brand of football: undefeated across 25 Prem matches but with only 51 points after a league-leading 14 draws to show for the streak after spending eighteen bajillion dollars in the summer transfer-window (which doesn't include the free transfer of Ibrahimović). They showed up bound and determined to escape with a point, well-earned or not, with creative attackers such as Mata, Rooney, Martial (£51m), and Mkhitaryan (£35.7m) parking that bus with the best of them. Needing just a point to put serious dent in Arsenal's ambitions, not to mention embarrass Arsène yet another time, the Specious One fell short.

Despite all of that attacking prowess and cynical tactics, Arsenal didn't just rise to the occasion, we rose above it. Yes, it will be goal-scorers Xhaka and Welbeck and two-time assist-deliverer Oxlade-Chamberlain who command the lion's share of attention, but let's not overlook the resurrection of Aaron Ramsey. He's floundered ever since that magical 2013-14 season, reaching time and time again for the fancy, the flitty, the fruitless. On this day, however, he got back to basics. Maybe it was the hair. Abandoning the overly done 'do, perhaps passing on the product, Ramsey took to the pitch with a no-nonsense, all-business cut. Perhaps it's the anti-Samson: the longer that Ramsey's hair got, the weaker he played? Today's performance suggests that there's something in it. He got himself into dangerous positions over and over, testing de Gea. He was everywhere without being ostentatious—gone were the fanciful back-heels, flicks, and cutesy dribbles. This was classic lunch-pail Ramsey: clock in, bust yer butt, clock out. Nothing fancy.

Does this amount to anything? It's the first time in 15 attempts that Arsène has gotten one over on Mourinho. The Specious One himself admitted that his priorities were elsewhere, but it's difficult at best to see that as anything other than pre-emptive rationalisation. Yes, he should focus on winning the Europa League as a path to earning Champions League play next seasons. However, given the massive investments in the squad (even by Mourinho's standards), the fact that Mourinho is scratching and clawing for silverware, regardless of its reputation, is more than a bit pathetic. He's a trophy-hound and a flat-track bully. When the going gets tough, he whinges and whines.

However, that's not the same as saying that Arsène has earned a stay. Why is it that we can play so well against certain opponents (Man City, to name just one twice-over) and so poorly against to many others (Crystal Palace and West Brom, to name a few recent ones). On our best, we're capable of doing very, very well (check our record against PSG, Man City, and Man U). On our worst, however, we drop points in too many ways to name here. If Arsène could just sort this out and get us to play against relegation-fodder with the same urgency we sometimes display against elite competition, well, that might just end the Wenger in/out debate right there.

On the bright side, this result means that it's now under our control to finish above Man U. If we both win all of our remaining matches, we finish on 75 and Man U finish on 74. Hell, we could finish above Liverpool and Man City, but that would depend on them banjaxing things up.

If nothing else, it's gratifying at some level to see Arsène get not just one but two monkeys off his back. On the downside, he's finished below Tottenham for the first time in his career. On the upsdie, he's defeated Mourino at long last. Which one will define his legacy? Time will tell.