For 83 minutes on Sunday I was sitting glumly in front of Radio 5’s coverage of the match, wondering how we were contriving to lose against a side who have won two Premiership away games in total in the last two years, but then Toure charged into the box, was clumsily blocked and a penalty was given.
My first thought was ‘who is going to take it’? With Henry gone and Gilberto out, the answer wasn’t obvious, but Van Persie steppped up to fire an unstoppable penalty into the roof of the net. At that point, I thought back to last season, where we’d fought so hard on the opening day to claw back a deficit, Gilberto finally equalising against Villa at approximately the same stage of the match. Deja vu, I thought, slightly more satisfied with the equaliser.
And then it came – Hleb’s winner in the final minute which brought relief to North London, at least the part that weren’t hanging their hands after losing to Sunderland. I bounced around the lounge.
It all came after Lehmann’s appalling mistake in the first minute. I don’t know what to say about it other than let’s hope it was a one off. It was a shocker.
Watching the highlights, I was struck by Hleb’s goal. With RVP and Bendtner on either side of him, he had two options. Pass, or shoot. If he passed, and the chance got lost, he’d be blamed for not shooting. If he shot, and the diving defender blocked, he’d be castigated for not passing. Such are the choices, but amongst all the praise he’s been given for taking the chance on himself, we should given him the benefit of the doubt next time he tries the same thing and it doesn’t come off. Well done Alex.
Wenger spoke about how important that goal could be mentally, and I agree – instead of bemoaning the familiar failings and playing catch up, we got the three points and got to look around at the other top clubs.
And in truth, none of the expected top five played very well at the weekend. United looked rusty against Reading, Liverpool looked shorn of creativity against an impressive Villa side, Chelsea were surprisingly lax at the back, we were also poor defensively, and Spurs were, well, Spurs.
Good to see Lawrie Sanchez has got the myopic curse now, but it’s disappointing to hear commentators and analysts not look at the footage before agreeing with him. Hleb’s ‘dive’ was actually one of the clearest penalties you’ll see all season, while at the other end, Davis kicked one of his legs with the other and went tumbling. Both were utterly clear cut. Still, never let the truth get in the way of a good argument boys.
All in all, I’m happy. Of course it wasn’t slick, but when is it ever on the opening day? It’s three points, and that’s what really counts.
Reflection on the weekend as a whole to come later.