I have a strange emotional state before games: I rarely hope for the best or dread the worst. On Twitter, maybe. Sometimes (even quite often) you can see me putting on a brave face, while expressing full confidence the Gunners can do the job, whatever the difficulty of it. Occasionally you can see me moaning we will fall short (though this is a much less frequent occurrence).
However in real life, I mostly take games in their stride. You won’t see me predicting a heavy loss or a resounding win, whatever the opposition. I rarely write us off, disregarding our form and/or players available (we are Arsenal, after all), but I also rarely say things like “It’s only QPR for Christ’s sake, what can go wrong?”
It’s when the game kicks off that my nerves kick in proper and my mood starts swinging from one end of spectrum to the other, which may not necessarily be related to what’s happening on the pitch. It’s when the whistle for the kick-off blows that I start hoping for the best/dreading the worst.
Is it to do with my rationality? I like to think of myself as a rational man, prematurely celebrating success or predicting gloom is not the sign of being rational. SImply because until the game starts you rarely have reasons to think your team will run out winners or will be consigned to the history books.
Or maybe such a state of mine is dependent on a kind of nervous stupor I enter once the line-ups are revealed? I just don’t have the time or energy to make predictions of any sort, because I’m too busy worrying myself into this senseless condition.
Whatever reason it is, the fact remains: I am never full of confidence one way or the other prior to kick-off. And I don’t spend days on end worrying about the upcoming game. Maybe, just maybe, that means I still can enjoy football where Arsenal is involved and the unpredictability of the game precludes me on some deep psychological level from making predictions of any kind.
Why am I saying all this? Simple: it was exactly how I felt on Wednesday. And on Saturday, before Sunderland. This is how I will feel when I sit down to watch us take on City in 10-days time (unfortunately, I’ll miss our trip to Birmingham this weekend). Sure, every week I speculate on our form, players’ availability and possible scenarios of how the game will unfold (and I’m usually decent at guessing), however you are unlikely to see me saying things like the end result with certainty.
So when I sat down on Wednesday to watch the game I kind of…succumbed to the inevitability of what was about to unfold.
After watching the opening 20 minutes or so I started to get desperate. Not much was happening on the pitch, we didn’t try to take Olympiacos by storm and the commentator kept nagging on how this “was all part of Marco Silva’s grand plan” and “how such a game suited him down to the ground”.
But then, on the 25th minute we sparked into life. Joel Campbell, who minutes before switched flanks with Theo Walcott, stormed down the right flank, put in a low cross and Flamini’s deflected shot rattled the bar. Giroud headed the ball into the keeper’s arms from the resulting corner and this was when I understood: the game was on. We were in it.
4 minutes later we went ahead. Ozil, after seemingly being pushed away from the box, turned on the spot and sliced Olympiacos’ defense open with one deft stroke of his left foot. Ramsey ran onto the German’s through pass and weighed in a cross for Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman met it with a thumping header, which Roberto couldn’t save despite his best efforts.
But it was only the beginning of the Frenchman’s heroics. Four minutes after the restart Campbell twinkle-toed his way past 3 Olympiacos defenders after latching onto Ozil’s pass and laid the ball on a platter for Giroud. Ollie timed his run between 3 (!) defenders in such a way that he found himself one-on-one with Roberto, with loads of defenders in the box rendered absolutely useless and our reinforcements out of the equation. The Frenchman, who moments before barely got up after seemingly doing his ankle in, didn’t miss.
However Ollie didn’t stop there. On the 66th minute he burst into the box, his cutback found Nacho Monreal in a good shooting position, the Spaniard took a shot, Elabdellaoui blocked the shot with his arm and Rizzoli pointed to the spot. Even before the cameraman showed who the penalty taker would be, I’ve heard “Na na Giroud” emanating from the away sector and knew the Frenchman was onto his hat-trick. Ollie stepped up, ignored Roberto’s antics and calmly sent the keeper the other way for his first hat-trick in an Arsenal shirt. 3-0 and game over. Olympiacos didn’t even look bothered going forward and we could have extended our lead further, only for Giroud to be flagged offside and Ozil forcing a fine save from Roberto.
Now, even after such a performance I’ve seen people say it wasn’t Giroud’s best game in our shirt or that, indeed, the Frenchman hasn’t done anything special. I strongly with both points. I’m not at all inclined to find fault with Ollie’s hat-trick, especially at a time when even the English media acknowledged his achievement. For several reasons:
- A hat-trick is a hat-trick. You don’t score these all that often and if people find it okay to wank over Benzema’s hat-trick against Malme in a game which means nothing for both sides, I reserve my right to be over the moon with Giroud after he delivered at such a crucial time
- Giroud showed different aspects to his game. A good sense of positioning for the first and a powerful header, strong hold-up play and a perfectly-timed run for the second and nerves of steel for the penalty. Yes, he wouldn’t have scored his goals without Ramsey, Ozil, Campbell, Monreal etc., but that’s a team game. The same can be said about almost every goal
- Finally, I simply love Ollie Giroud. For his resolve, for his spirit, for his love for the shirt. I have defended Olivier Giroud long enough and fiercely enough to allow myself not to do this when such a performance comes along
One last thing I’ll do before wrapping up: honorable mentions. First up is Joel Campbell, who once again worked tirelessly for the team, created moments of danger and his assist was, simply put, sublime.
Second up is Ozil, who left the field without an assist or a goal to his name (I believe it’s the first time he’s done that in ten games), but set-up both Ramsey and then Campbell so that they could, in their turn, set up Giroud. The German was a little less noticeable, but that doesn’t diminish his contribution in the slightest.
Finally, Petr Cech. He made at least one crucial save from Fortunis at 2-0. Also, he stood firm in a couple of other potentially dangerous situations, so big thumbs up to our keeper. His response to a stupid question post-game was nothing short of classy too.
I’ll leave it at that. Back with the usual preview for the Aston Villa game.
Up the Arsenal