Time to rewrite the report on the first-half, already committed to the page at half-time in an attempt to publish soon after the final whistle and to enable a relaxing early night. Gone the talk of the visitors playing into our hands with their adventurous approach to the contest. Full marks to Anderlecht for turning up with a positive attitude.
The result of the visitors ambition meant trading of opportunities early on. Santi Cazorla, Acheampong, Alexis Sanchez, Praet, and Aaron Ramsey all had efforts blocked as an end to end contest took shape.
Midway through the half Alexis fed Danny Welbeck in and the striker was bundled over in the box by Mangulu. Mikel Arteta waited for Proto to move before chipping the ball just underneath the bar. Within four minutes the lead was doubled, and by who else but Alexis. His free-kick came back to him off the wall but he smashed the rebound into the bottom corner. It all looked so comfortable. Perhaps too comfortable.
I don’t know what the team talk was at half-time, but I would wager it didn’t bear any relationship to what actually happened in the second-half. To be fair it could not have gone better for fifteen minutes or so. The Ox and Danny Welbeck were denied, but when Alexis was allowed a challenge from behind and dispossessed his man he freed the Ox for a stunning third goal. I mention the Alexis challenge as it gains in relevance when the clock has advanced less than three minutes.
3-0 up and half an hour to go. We have had some fortune with our third goal perhaps, but this is a position Arsene must have dreamt of last night. With Dortmund also winning we have last 16 qualification in our grasp with two matches to spare. What followed beggared belief.
If Anderlecht were upset about our third goal we had every right to feel aggrieved about the one that Vanden Borre netted from a clear offside position to give them what was surely just a consolation in the 61st minute. Within a minute Mikel Arteta hobbled from the action and was replaced by Mathieu Flamini. According to what I have seen on Twitter since we have our scapegoat right there, but Flamini wasn’t one of those around him who continued to bomb forward whilst failing to offer a makeshift back four any protection.
Buoyed, Anderlecht started to take control of the game. Per Mertesacker and Flamini had to be alert to concede corners at the near post as twice Anderlecht broke down their left. We got temporary respite with a Welbeck header, comfortably saved. Then Mitrovic was grabbed by Monreal in the box and needed no second invitation to go down. We would have wanted a penalty at the other end so I have no issue with the award here, and Nacho can feel relieved his subsequent grab of the referees arm was deemed just a yellow card by Clement Turpin.
Those of you who know my opinion of referees, particularly in the Premier League right now, may be surprised by my assessment of the man in the middle tonight. Although he was let down badly by his assistant for Anderlecht’s opener I thought his overall performance excellent. There, I’ve said it. I particularly liked him demanding that Mitrovic should stand up and look him in the eye when lecturing he and the BFG for a clash on the touchline.
He also gave me an opportunity to write a positive paragraph in my recollection of the worst half an hour of football I have seen an Arsenal side produce in a long, long time. Even at 3-2 you would think we could shut up shop against a team that had only enthusiasm and the naivete of youth going for them, wouldn’t you?
And so in the 90th minute why did we allow them to play the ball unhindered from left-back to right wing, and allow Najar to cross unchallenged? (Yes, Poldi, I’m looking at you, among others.) Mitrovic got ahead of the BFG and the comeback was completed. Where was the discipline, the desire, the defending from the front? Basically anything starting with a d.
And what did the boss have to say?
“I was never completely sure that we were not in danger because all game you could see we didn’t defend well. It’s hugely disappointing.”
If only we had some strength in depth defensively, eh boss? Mea culpa, and all that.
Sorry, did you come here for perspective. Sometimes it escapes even me.