Three points, just 33 to go: Homage to Arsenal's Crystal Maze

The winter freeze is catching up it seems, to the point where my Sunday side are now expected to play back-to-back games each week. It’s nothing new for the Essex Combinations League, although I doubt anybody has ever come across the term “12-pointer” before. So my apologies for the late post, it would seem, on this day of apologies and redressing, as we pay homage to Manuel Almunia and Emmanuel Eboue.
Eoin Morgan hooked Umar Gul for six on Friday, to win the Twenty20 match for England against Pakistan. Morgan had made light work of the worlds best 20 over bowler, but after the game he said that one bad performance doesn’t make Gul bad with the ball. The same can be said of Almunia because one good performance still doesn’t change my mind about him. I doubt it does yours.
On they day though, Almunia pulled off a vital save from Darren Bent late on. He did the same against Everton a few weeks back. While I doubt Almunia will be remembered for these two fine saves, what he has done with his block against Sunderland is save the blushes of Arsenal’s defence. It was route one stuff from Steve Bruce’s side and clumsy of the central partnering of Thomas Vermaelen and Mickael Silvestre to allow Bent to squeeze in between them.
Eboue, Eboue, Eboue! The most energetic hare on the luminous green turf yesterday, dashing around like a freed injured animal. Either he was merely enjoying a rare start in the side as much as he could, or he was serious about Arsenal winning the Premiership. The rest of the team were trying to attack, but none were as urgent as Eboue. It was one of the most creditable performances this season and an example to everybody of the energy levels needed for the remainder of the course.
Arsenal were clearly in control of the match yesterday. The passing was more crisp that it has been in recent weeks, overlaps were encouraged and the mentality was positive off the back of a European defeat in the Estadio do Dragao. So why was I still looking to my friend with that all to knowing strained face, the one that says this will end in tragedy?
Arsenal got the deserved win, but why did the fans have to go through that agonising moment of dread, when two bodies collide on the edge of the box and the referee extends an arm in the direction of your teams goal? The wild American writer Hunter S. Thompson once requested his ashes to be blasted into the Colorado sky, to drift slowly back over the crowd at his funeral. When Sunderland were awarded a free-kick on the edge of the box late on, I was preparing for the same dark feeling of obliteration.
Thankfully the wall did it’s job and Cesc Fabregas bolted the final nail in Sunderland’s coffin by slotting home from the penalty spot. The Black Cats had been extremely piteous and wretched as guests to the Emirates, so I loathe the fact more that Arsenal had to feel pressure when it should really have been a day at the beach.
Having said that, Arsenal are constantly under their own pressure to bounce back from defeats, and once again came away jovial after what was certainly a must win match. If the Premiership was a game of Crystal Maze, Arsenal would be the contestant always scrabbling around in the muddy, watery pit for a key, or fumbling with a lock as the seconds tick away and team-mates scream “GET OUT, GET OUT”.
Somehow Arsenal are still collecting crystals and adding more time to their Premier League title chase. The fact that Chelsea win most of the time and rarely put themselves under the sort of pressure Arsenal do makes them a better team, that is their specialty. It might be to rich to call it their own speciality, but Arsenal can overwhelm with the amount of times they win after a disappointing loss before.
Each night, the Sky control in my living room is down to it’s last drop of battery juice, but every morning it rises to new life. Just like Arsenal I guess, a jittery squad of never say die. Perhaps Arsenal’s fate will dry out like the channel changer is sure to – still, you can’t fault their efforts to stay in the conversation. Here I pay homage to the nervous Crystal Maze playing, life-squeezing remote control that is AFC. There isn’t much else to say really, except: “Will you start the fans, please!”

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