Giles Smith's Thursday Thoughts

A classic contest with more to come potentially – season ticket holder Giles Smith gives his fan’s-eye view on last night’s derby draw…


Pretty hectic at the end there, wasn’t it? Taxing on the blood pressure and the nerve endings. Even after Arsenal’s 92nd-minute equaliser there was still time for Alvaro Morata to miss his second golden one-on-one opportunity of the night against Petr Cech, and for Davide Zappacosta, who is apparently not programmed to score run-of-the-mill or in any way boring goals, to take the paint off one of the Emirates’ crossbars with a pile-driver from a distance of many yards.

Had that gone in, one might have been inclined (after one had stopped bouncing around, or even while one was still bouncing around) to vote this game of the season. And even when the ball beamed back up the pitch and the final whistle went, you still had to admit – however grudgingly, and however still you were standing - that you had witnessed something more than averagely entertaining by way of a football match.

Is entertainment really what we’re looking for, though? Is that what we signed up for when we agreed terms as football supporters? I frequently wonder. Put it this way: had Wednesday night’s game been a little bit less entertaining – say, approximately four minutes less entertaining - and had we come away with all three points at the end of it on the back of a brilliantly taken 84th-minute Marcos Alonso winner, from a superbly timed Zappacosta cross, that would have been entirely fine by me.

As it is, we’re left rubbing our heads slightly, while also waving away at the smoke of controversy generated afterwards by Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager – who may have a fair point when he suggests his team have been on the wrong end of a couple of soft ones recently, much as Burnley were against Arsenal in November, funnily enough - described the decision to give us a penalty in the second half as ‘farcical.’

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have a problem with it at the time. Hector Bellerin lunged in and kicked the underside of Eden Hazard’s foot, preventing him from playing the ball. It would have been a free-kick anywhere else on the pitch, and so it was a penalty in the penalty area. (That said, I fancied Cech to save it. We know very well what he’s like in that department. Fortunately the spirit of 2012 proved unavailable.)

Of course, nobody turns to a column like this for a clear and rigorously impartial view on the controversies that matter, any more than television goes to a manager at the end of the game in search of a dispassionate perspective on the events that have just unfolded. Nevertheless, with a view to promoting the better nature of the game, this seems like a good moment to urge the Arsenal manager to join us in stepping back from the partisan heat, in as much as any of us ever can, and calmly agreeing that Anthony Taylor, last night’s referee, had a very good game overall. 

For example, even with the assistance of a decent camera angle and some slow motion, it was very hard at first to spot that it was Ainsley Maitland-Niles who tripped up Ainsley Maitland-Niles in our penalty area, and not Victor Moses, who was quite close to the Arsenal player when he unfortunately caught the foot of one of his legs on the calf of the other one. But Taylor saw that lightning-fast and potentially critical development with his naked eye, and entirely correctly waved play on.

True, Jack Wilshire should probably have received a second booking for that act of simulation on the edge of our penalty area. And, had that happened, he wouldn’t have been on the pitch to score Arsenal’s opening goal. But Taylor would have needed to see through at least three bodies to make out Wilshire’s offence on the night, and it’s unreasonable to expect referees to have X-Ray vision, much as one might wish it on them. In fact, X-Ray vision is coming soon, it seems, in the shape of video assistance – maybe even as early as next season, according to the latest reports. In the meantime, refs take a lot of stick, all in all, from fans and managers alike. So let’s lay down some credit when it’s due, as it was last night.

2-2 it finished, then. But it’s best of three, of course. Thanks to the Carabao Cup semi-final draw, January presents us with a family-pack of encounters with Arsenal to brighten what is traditionally the most wintery of months. All back to our place next Wednesday, then. And then all back to their place again a couple of weeks later. Could one ever tire of this? I don’t think so. Could it ever be too entertaining? Possibly. Let’s keep an eye on that.