Friday 26 May 2017

Aidan O'Hara: Only Arsenal could come back from brink of defeat - then get criticised for celebrating

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez Picture: PA
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez Picture: PA
Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

Given how much time he apparently wasted in celebrating his equaliser against Bournemouth, it's surprising that Olivier Giroud didn't repeat his bouncing, flouncing scorpion kick celebration after netting the winner against Preston on Saturday to make sure that he used up as many of the remaining seconds as possible.

Instead, he went with the tried and trusted fist-pump and scream in front of his own supporters, the sort of celebration you can set your watch by and prove to everyone just how much scoring a goal means. If necessary, you could throw in some good old fashioned badge-kissing.

It took 63 seconds from the time Giroud's shot hit the net until Preston tipped off which, presuming they were in a hurry because they were losing, was probably just about as fast as they could get the ball back into play.

Master-stroke

The change of celebration tack may have been a time-wasting master-stroke from Giroud given that it took Preston a full 20 seconds longer to tip off from his goal on Saturday than it did Bournemouth from his equaliser last Tuesday.

In fact, Bournemouth re-started faster from Arsenal's third goal than they did from either of the other two (43 seconds, compared to 45 and 49 for the first two goals) which might be the most pointless statistic that has ever been written but given that Arsenal have more nonsense written about them per square column inch than anyone, it can just be thrown onto the pile.

It's unlikely there's another club in the Premier League who could fight back from 3-0 down with 20 minutes remaining away from home against a well-regarded opponent and find themselves criticised for not getting the ball back quickly enough to win 4-3.

Liverpool, for example, played very well for 70 minutes against Bournemouth but lost 4-3. Arsenal were dreadful for the same length of time and managed to draw 3-3 in what is meant to be a results business.

The talisman for all this is Giroud, a player who even before the 89th minute winner on Saturday, had scored in each of the three games over Christmas which helped Arsenal get seven points out of nine. But apparently it's how he celebrated the third of those goals which sums up him and the team, rather than the fact that he actually scored them.

Giroud, clearly, looked like an eejit with the celebration. A Gallic, marvellously handsome eejit, but an eejit nevertheless but that should be where the story of the celebration begins and ends.

Instead, it gets held up as some sort of character flaw to the point where a social media account of a respected newspaper that has been in existence for over a century and a half with some of the best football writers around can flog the beautiful French horse throughout Wednesday with how he is being slammed, blasted, ridiculed and criticised on Twitter. In four separate headlines about the same story, they were the words which were used.

The contrast to all this, of course, is Alexis Sanchez, who showed how much he cared for the cause and, apparently, his winning mentality by grabbing the ball out of the net and running to the half-way line after scoring against Bournemouth.

This, you see, is how you demonstrate your character in what seems to be a losing cause. It's how you sum up to the supporters that you believe your team can come back even if all hope seems lost that, if you tuck the ball under your arm and sprint to the centre circle and save three seconds, that it'll be the difference between getting something from the game and not.

The only fly in this particular ointment is that it is the opponent - in this case Bournemouth - who are the ones who have to tip off, and having Usain Bolt sprinting back from the net to the half-way line with the ball won't make a blind bit of difference to how quickly game actually re-starts.

Such acts of obvious grandstanding bring to mind Johnny Metgod's advice for how a foreign player can impress an English club - "Get a haircut, wear a suit and yell a lot in training" - but it's remarkable just how much weight gets lent to issues that really don't matter.

Angrily

Sanchez's reaction to the final whistle was broadly the same as the rest of his team-mates when none of them were entitled to be happy with their performance over the first 70 minutes, but because he angrily took off his gloves (the wearing of gloves surprisingly not counting against him) and walked down the tunnel, it showed how much he wanted to win.

Hector Bellerin's disgusted reaction with his own performance and similar march down the tunnel largely went unnoticed.

It's only in football that the manner in which someone removes their gloves can be decoded and analysed to give a deeper meaning about whether a player will sign a new contract.

Anybody who has watched Sanchez knows that toys-out-of-the-pram is his default reaction and that shouting at team-mates is something that goes on from Premier League to Leinster Senior League without it meaning a great deal more than it does in the moment.

If players took every criticism they received during a match to heart, nobody would turn up for the next training session.

It's not that Arsene Wenger and Arsenal are beyond criticism, with slow starts and finding ways to turn even the most comfortable games into a few hours of angst high up on the list of problems needing to be solved if they are to win a trophy this season.

But asking why the players were "surprised by the commitment" of Preston - as both Giroud and Aaron Ramsey admitted after Saturday's victory - would give a far greater clue to a team's mentality than analysing the body language of a player taking off his gloves. In the unlikely event of it ever happening, it would be well worthy of a scorpion celebration.

Irish Independent

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