I don’t know if you could have scripted a better scenario than the one we witnessed on Saturday. Twice going down a goal, twice pegging our hosts back, and then…madness. Absolute madness, courtesy of none other than Emi Martinez. By the time Simon Hooper finally booked him in the 84th minute for time-wasting, he had seemingly wasted a similar amount of time, and so it was all too fitting for us to find not one but two goals in stoppage time—both of them also attributable to Martineze’s own numbskullery. The lyrics to a certain 2 Live Crew song bubble up from the memory, but we’ll leave that alone for the moment.
Let’s quickly revisit Martinez’s words upon leaving for Aston Villa. He claimed that he “always said it was a step up” to leave Arsenal to go to Villa, adding “when I decided to come to Villa it was because I trusted the manager and the club’s ambitions”. The manager at the time, Dean Smith, would last barely a year past Martinez’s arrival. As for ambition, they’re rooted quite comfortably mid-table. So it goes.
Back to the match. Caught flat-footed for Saka’s equaliser and then beaten by a soft shot from Zinchenko, Martinez suffered the humiliation of watching Jorginho’s shot strike the crossbar and then go in off of his face in the third minute of the stoppage time he helped to create. Still not satisfied with all of the attention this onanist had drawn to himself, he decided to go rogue for a late Villa corner, charging up the pitch to see if he could score. Instead, Vieira picked up the ball and played it through to Martinelli, whose lung-busting run gave him little else to do but take a touch or two before tapping home into Martinez’s empty net. Aces.
Emery said after the match that he was “very, very disappointed. I am embarrassed about the last goal. I have never told my keeper to go forward….today he decided it was his decision. He knows now.” Well, I don’t know about that last bit. The Argentinian has never struck me as the meditative, reflective type. I wouldn’t be surprised if Emery gives him some time on the bench to ponder.
As for us, this was the almost-perfect tonic to what’s ailed us of late. Villa, to their credit, were spirited and deserved both goals that they scored—but we showed signs of the almost-familiar fightback, the growing defiance in the face of conceding, that has been a hallmakr of this season. Although doubts had to grow as the clock wound down, neither goal came as much of a surprise, and that feeling of inevitability, while still new and not entirely reliable, is back in fashion.
Jorginho looks to have been the steal of the January window, and not just for his game-winning goal. His all-around performance and his leadership have been stellar (it was he, for example, who told Zinchenko to take up a position outside the box on the corner, putting him in position to score his first-ever Prem goal). He may not do everything as well as Partey does, but it’s getting harder to write him off as just another pensioner picking up a paycheck at Arsenal after leaving Chelsea.
Looking farther afield, Man City stumbled to a draw at the City Ground, all but cancelling out their midweek win. We’ve restored a still-tenuous two-point lead over the holders but do still have that game in hand. Those who had written off our chances at winning the Prem just a few days ago will have to go back and delete a few tweets here and there. We’re going into a series of fixtures that, on paper, are quite winnable. Of course, as Nottingham Forest have just shown, there are no guarantees. Still, there’s a decent chance that we could arrive at the Etihad on 26 April still nursing that same two-point lead or, perhaps, sometihng more closely resembling an actual gap.
Between now and then, of course, we’ll have Partey back, and Smith-Rowe (who made the bench on Saturday) is hot on his heels. Waiting not far behind them is Gabriel Jesus. It would be too much of a fairytale to have him available for that clash at the Etihad, but who knows? It might be a heart-warming fairytale.
We’ve suffered our first real wobble of the season, and things are now considerably tighter than they were at the end of January. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but the resolve, hunger, and determination on display against Villa seems to to be drawn from ample reserves. We’ll need those qualities and more, but this day showed that the well is deep. Previous squads would have folded after going behind just three days after losing. This one stared adversity in the face and swatted it aside. This side doesn’t quit. Rocky Balboa, the king of dramatic comebacks, has nothing on us.
One last thing: I’m excited to announce “March Merch”, a little competition of sorts in which the top commenters will be entered into a raffle to win some Arsenal merchandise. If you haven’t already, set up a Disqus account (which you can do with a new Disqus account or through a Twitter, Facebook, or Google account) and start commenting. I’m eager to build an online community and am not above offering enticements to attract new members. I look forward to hearig from you!