There could not be a more fitting match-winner yesterday than Mikel Arteta, who fired in a glorious late winner from long range to beat moneybags Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
While Arsenal lost big names in Fabregas and Nasri last summer – the latter, importantly, going to City – the comparibly modest Arteta was brought in from Everton in the final hours of the summer transfer window. Deemed a panic buy, as well as old and injury-prone, the Spaniard must now be seen as one of the signings of the season.
What is sad, I guess, is that it we didn’t bring him in sooner. We were loosely linked with the midfielder in 2009, before we signed Arshavin. How we could have done with Arteta alongside Fabregas, as opposed to replacing him. Even this season, when our bad start cost us so dearly, it serves as a reminder that some more quality and experience should have been brought in earlier than the last day of August.
But it’s pointless to dwell on that now and hopefully lessons will have been learnt by Wenger. Yesterday it was this most uncharacteristic of Wenger signings – an experienced, hard-working, long shot specialist – that proved the difference. As I felt with his fabulous free-kick against Villa, this was another example of a goal that Fabregas could not have scored. I don’t wish to say he’s better than Cesc, but he certainly gives us something different and arguably more useful. As I’ve said, ideally they would have played together.
Given that he wears the number 8 shirt, he has also been seen by some as a Nasri replacement, even though they play very different roles. And of course, with Nasri returning to the Emirates for City yesterday, he was on the end of some unwanted attention from the Arsenal faithful. And in my opinion, undeserved attention; I understand the desire to jeer a former player if he left in unpleasant circumstances, which Nasri certainly did, but at the same time he does not feel important enough to warrant this obsession.
Nasri was with us for only three seasons, in which he played very well for half of his last one with us. In the end, we got an inflated fee for an over-rated player from a club which spends its money badly. The money was then put to good use on the likes of Arteta, who are more experienced and up for a fight in the big games than Nasri ever was. We clearly got the better deal here, and so I don’t feel particularly bothered about Nasri leaving us, even if it was purely for financial reasons. All footballers are overpaid, and that has led to some particularly greedy individuals, but they’re roughly as bad as each other, I would imagine. That is the sad reality of the modern game. Nasri is no different really.
It’s amusing, of course, that he supposedly left us to win trophies with a club on the up and has failed to do so, with us being the final nail in their coffin for this season, but after today I don’t see the point in booing Nasri when he plays against us, or abusing him on Twitter as many fans have obviously done in the last 24 hours.
There is plenty of joy to be taken from yesterday’s result without thinking about Nasri: we outplayed and beat a very good side; we responded to a disappointing defeat at QPR; we moved above Spurs again; and the atmosphere at the Emirates was terrific.
Aside from the goal, the biggest cheer of the afternoon came when the idiotic Mario Balotelli was finally sent off. He should have gone in the first half for his disgusting challenge on Song, which somehow went completely unpunished. He had another bad game overall, and made his manager look very silly for persisting with him in this difficult period.
Still, I feel like he is another player who does not quite deserve this much attention. When things were going well for him and for City, the press were keen to play him up as a crazy and fun character, and having done that, have given him the attention he craves, bringing out a nastier side, which the same journalists are now all too keen to use to knock him down. It’s just all very silly. He’s a talented player, but ultimately only interested in making headlines. Don’t give him the headlines in the first place and don’t encourage this ego maniac any further.
Any negatives from yesterday? I can’t help myself really – our finishing was poor on too many occasions. We could have been 3-0 up before Arteta scored, but missed a series of sitters. Ramsey added another at the death. Why we lack such composure in these situations is beyond me, and something that needs to be looked at, because we will be (and have been, many times) punished for it in other games. Still, that’s where it’s nice to have a player like Arteta who can do something special when we’re struggling to break a team down.
For me as well, I have to say that Man United winning another title is a pretty depressing thought. It wouldn’t be nice to see City buy the title, but it would at least be a bit different. And while United might not be simply a bunch of high-paid mercenaries thrown together, they get so much help from referees that it’s arguably more sickening. City have not earned their rise to the Champions League places, but United have been very fortunate as well. After the shocking penalty decision that went against Fulham recently, United got yet another one in their favour against QPR yesterday. You might well say they would have thrashed a team like QPR anyway, but that didn’t prove to be the case at all. They won 2-0 in the end and got a big helping hand from their penalty and the very harsh red card for Shaun Derry. I’m sick of seeing United being handed titles like this, and I hope there will at some point be an investigation into match-fixing, because I’m pretty convinced it’s going on.
For more thoughts on Arsenal and other football matters, follow me on Twitter @markbrus