At what point as a football team do you become too good for your own good?
Frankly, I’m not convinced it’s entirely possible but last night’s Champions League showing from Arsenal certainly had me thinking.
From an attacking point of view, it was among the best displays of football I have seen from an Arsenal side. At times they made Basel look like school children with their combination of movement, pace, skill, and cunning.
Ozil and Sanchez were threading balls through gaps with laser precision, Walcott was making incredibly insightful runs, and Cazorla was doing his best Cazorla impression. All over the pitch the team was magnificent in attack, and the gulf in class was telling.
The only surprise at the end of the opening half was that it remained only 2-0, with a host of really quite clear-cut opportunities spurned variously by Ozil and Sanchez.
And it is those missed opportunities, and the second-half performance, that made the cogs start to whirr in my head.
Clearly, when you are so much better than the opposition, and have put yourself in a very comfortable position indeed, your level is going to drop. I understand that. That’s good game management.
But I felt last night that, from the latter stages of the first half until the final whistle, the team clicked into autopilot, and the energy and intensity levels followed suit.
As an Arsenal fan, I have learned that a two-goal cushion is seldom, if ever, enough. I never feel comfortable unless there are three or four goals between us and the opposition. It’s called Newcastle-itis and I have never been the same since.
So, while it’s fair to say we were never really troubled in the second half last night, all it would have taken was a freak goal, or a simple error to have really lit the touch paper for what was a very honest, hard-working Basel side.
A team with its tail up, with nothing to lose and numbers to throw forward is a dangerous thing, especially with Arsenal having slipped into partial shut down. If the Swiss had managed a goal, would we have been able to re-energise for the battle in the final half-hour or so?
It’s difficult, bordering on churlish, to find complaint in how Arsenal went about things last night. I take nothing away from what was an excellent result and performance.
I just wonder if we shut down a little too early, with the game not really beyond salvaging for the visitors. Did fatigue play a part of was it simply excellent game management?
If nothing else, it’s a nice conundrum to have to ponder, especially in light of another win and another three points, putting us in a good position in the group, with Ludogorets next up. We have a chance to get another two wins under our belt and all but assure ourselves of qualification.
This time last year, we were already knee deep in a festering pool of turd. A pool of our own making. It’s excellent to see that, so far, we’ve learned a few lessons.
After all, making small tweaks to an otherwise well-oiled, purring machine is infinitely preferable to overhauling a spluttering, rusting old banger.