Monday, 27 February 2012

Give me five

And so the wheel turns again. It's been a season of ups and downs, and big scores both in our favour and against. During February alone, the goal needle has lurched about all over the place, 7-1, 0-4, and now 5-2. On Sunday it felt like we were beginning to get the hang of the accelerator.

The above photo was taken just before Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay then) met Henry Cooper for the first time at Wembley in 1963. This was the occasion on which 'Enry's 'Ammer floored the young American but the fight ended in Clay's favour due to a cut over Cooper's eye. They met for a second time in 1966, the venue this time being Highbury. As a lifelong Arsenal supporter, Cooper was no doubt inspired by the setting but ended up losing again, despite being ahead on the scorecard, due to another cut over the eye.

This season looks like it will have a few more twists and turns. The eventual outcome will probably hinge on the effectiveness of our defence, which in turn means we need to start getting more luck with injuries, or at least avoid any further calamities. We looked disorganised in the opening few minutes against Spurs but tightened up considerably thereafter. The pressing in midfield was excellent and the pace exemplary. Tottenham couldn't live with us in the second half.

Meeting Liverpool after their Carling Cup win is no bad thing. Teams unconsciously ease up a little after winning silverware. If we can show more desire, I think we can nick three points, though a draw would be acceptable in the circumstances.

While many consider the return leg against Milan to be a dead rubber, I think it could turn out to be pivotal for the rest of the season. We know we can score big, and while the Rossoneri should be too cute, they're vulnerable to pace as a number of British teams have shown in the past. Even if we don't score enough to progress, a good win (and clean sheet) could be the launchpad for a strong run at third place. That, not fourth, has to be the target now.

Cooper was a popular boxer because he forced the pace, opening up his opponent's defence before landing his trademark left hook. Robin van Persie's goal yesterday was particularly reminiscent of this. Ali tried to counter Cooper in their second bout by clinching him tight when he got close and otherwise keeping his distance. Arsenal need to press hard in every game now and up the tempo. And slap a tub of vaseline over everyone's eyebrows.

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