Monday, 11 August 2014

Arsenal 3-0 Man City: Welcome to the New Age


Two trophies in three months. I could get used to this.

Course, while the FA Community Shield is officially a trophy, it doesn't signal the euphoria winning an FA Cup or Premier League offers. One couldn't possibly equate the feeling of topping the rigours of a league season to winning a charity shield match. But, for a team making rampant progress and threatening to make their mark on the history books, yesterday was an important step in achieving that. Possibly the last.

It was genuinely hard for me to recall the last time we faced a top side and streamrolled them. Perhaps it was when we faced Manchester City themselves in April 2012 and beat them 1-0, a scoreline that didn't do justice to the ways and means we overwhelmed them. As much as the scoreline, it was yesterday's performance - two years too late - that enabled me to believe that the lost glories of a decade ago have been recovered.

Santi Cazorla started things off with an instinctive shimmy and a neat finish into the bottom corner, making Clichy and Caballero look foolish. The reaction to such a casual dodge-and-shoot move was monstrous. The expectations surrounding the bar for Arsenal to finally get the edge was almost palpable. The roar of elation was mixed with a tinge of relief.

The commentator mooted that Arsenal taking a lead against City was coming since kickoff. He was wrong. This was coming all summer.

If not Olivier Giroud, I'd have opted for Alexis Sanchez or Joel Campbell to start up front, but Wenger made the correct call in choosing Yaya Sanogo instead. The guy probably had his best match in an Arsenal jersey so far, and came out of it much less clumsier than in his earlier encounters. I'm much more comfortable having him as a third choice striker than before.

His assist for the second goal was what one would call scrappily good. Under pressure from Boyata, he somehow found the strength in him to square it onto an onrushing Ramsey. Rambo's clever dink to give him a crucial yard of space was, blimey, truly mind-blowing. I don't know what was more striking - that he had the composure to analyse the situation and execute that Zidane-esque trick in a split second, or that he performed a trick of such high magnitude so matter-of-factly.

Before half-time it was 2-0 to Arsenal, and Pellegrini's face was beyond priceless. For the first time in a freakishly long time, the class of Arsenal were prevailing over the buckets of City's oil money. Despite their attempts to drown us by robbing us of our prized assets, here we were, taking City in our stride as they cowed under pressure.

I never thought Giroud was one for technical excellence. Still don't, as a matter of fact. However, his long-range strike and his swish on the ball which sailed into the net urged me to reconsider. The last time I recall Olivier pulling off such a feat (well, almost) was his last-gasp volley against Everton which rebounded off the crossbar.

Even though I vehemently advocated his importance to the squad during his turbulent times, Giroud has always struck me as a limited player. He's come across as one who'd do a good job from the bench and be a reliable backup striker, but not good enough as an RVP replacement. And while that absolute peach of a goal has changed little, the signs do look encouraging.

What pleased me most was a return of swagger in the Arsenal camp. Not just in the players, but in the fans as well. When City tried a desperate 10 minute assault and heaped crosses in, neither the fans nor did the players seem genuinely unnerved. Of course, some of that was down to mature work from Chambers and Szczesny, who stood out in a resolute Arsenal defence.

Most of it, though, was down to a newfound calmness and casualness among the players. It was in stark contrast to the haywireness that clouded our 6-3 loss some seven months ago. This time around, the players know the squad is good enough. The club knows that great things they were destined for are arriving. I can't remember the last time the mood around the club was so high.

I have always refrained from bracketing Mesut Ozil's signing as the start of a new era. For me, that signing was a harried consolation by a manager who promised the world to patient supporters but delivered zilch until then. Granted, his buy changed the worldwide perception of the club and must have helped us in buying Alexis. However, citing it as a game-changer for the entire football club's history was always taking it a touch too far.

To be more blunt, Ozil was papering over wide cracks.

These three months that have passed by have seen a number of significant moments engulf the club. There was the obvious example of the FA Cup triumph, followed by proactive purchases of Sanchez, Debuchy, Ospina and Chambers. But more than that, the club has also seen a revamp at a fundamental, backroom level.

Andries Jonker and Shad Forsythe have to be better than Colbert and Brady, which would mean lesser injury crises and better youth products. While our scouting network remains chronically flawed, our newfound PUMA wealth means that we don't have to depend as much on our scouting reach as before.

This time last transfer window, Wenger would have probably only bought Debuchy and made a transfer saga of Calum Chambers. The potency of our wealth and renewed hunger from Arsene has decisively changed things. Even if you keep Alexis aside, the club and the manager are showing signs of adapting to modern football. Instead of papering over the cracks, we knocked them down and built newer, firmer foundations.

The swift, three-month transition from top-four club to top-one ended yesterday. The three months of change are over, and it has left us in a terrifyingly exciting position. The manner of our win yesterday underlined what many had only logically guessed; the times of Arsenal being pretenders rather than contenders are gone. After a decade of hibernation, The Gunners are back.

Welcome to the New Age.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]