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Ramalan itu Terealisasi! Mesut Özil, The Second Coming

Seri Model Finansial Arsenal Bagian Ketiga

Di dalam tulisan saya sebelumnya, Model Finansial Arsenal bagian pertama dan kedua, ada prediksi bahwa Arsenal akan belanja besar di awal musim 2014. Dalam dua tulisan tersebut dijelaskan mengapa Arsenal mesti “irit” sejak pembangunan stadion baru, Emirates Stadium, dan mengapa awal musim 2014 adalah masa berakhirnya paceklik pembelian pemain besar. Masa belanja besar itu ternyata dimulai satu tahun lebih awal dari skenario, dengan dibelinya Mesut Özil dari Real Madrid di deadline transfer window musim ini. Sebuah transfer yang tidak hanya memecahkan rekor Arsenal sebelumnya namun juga menjadi rekor pembelian pemain termahal kedua (£42.5M) di Premier League, setelah transfer Torres (£50M) dari Liverpool ke Chelsea.

Rahasia Sukses Arsenal Membeli Özil
Mengapa Arsenal bisa membeli Özil sedangkan klub kaya EPL lainnya tidak? Ada beberapa jawaban yang berkontribusi terhadap suksesnya pembelian terbaik transfer window ini, antara lain:
1. Punya cadangan dana cash yang melebihi seluruh klub EPL (hasil tabungan 8 tahun).
2. Kesabaran dalam menunggu timing transfer yang tepat.
Saat City sudah menghabiskan budgetnya untuk membeli pemain dari klub-klub kelas dua, dan Chelsea menutup pembelanjaannya dengan membajak Willian dari Sp*rs, Arsenal belum menyentuh pundi-pundinya. Hanya MU klub EPL yang masih mungkin membajak Özil di saat-saat terakhir namun gerak MU terlambat dan ada faktor lain yang membuat Arsenal akan selalu lebih unggul dari MU di kasus ini. Kesabaran dalam menanti pemain yang benar-benar top ini akhirnya berbuah manis. Özil adalah pemain yang lebih baik daripada semua nama pemain penyerang target Arsenal yang beredar di media. Mulai dari Higuain, Jovetic, Rooney, Suarez, Di Maria dan terakhir Draxler. Pepatah Save the best for last benar-benar dijalankan Arsenal. Sebuah keputusan yang beresiko tinggi namun bila sukses, seperti dalam kasus ini, akan sangat memuaskan.
3. Manager yang dihormati pemain top dunia dan bisa berbahasa Jerman.
Özil mengatakan cukup satu pembicaraan lewat telepon untuk meyakinkan dirinya bahwa Wenger adalah manager yang tepat untuk mengembangkan dirinya ke level yang lebih tinggi. Sebuah keputusan yang tidak mudah mengingat di usianya yang hampir 25 tahun ini, ia mengambil keputusan di klub mana ia akan mencapai puncak permainannya. Kepercayaannya pada Wenger tentunya berdasarkan pada reputasi Wenger sebagai pencipta bintang dan pembicaraan dalam bahasa ibunya sedikit banyak berpengaruh dalam menumbuhkan kepercayaan itu. Bayangkan kalau Özil harus berkomunikasi dengan Moyes (dengan aksen Scouser-nya) lewat translator di telepon. Mungkin ia akan lebih memilih bercakap-cakap dengan Siri daripada menghabiskan waktu berjam-jam hanya untuk mengerti rencana Moyes menduetkannya dengan pemain basket berambut jadul di lini tengah.
4. Blunder dari Sp*rs.
Penjualan Bale ke Madrid memungkinkan transfer ini terjadi. Hampir tidak pernah terjadi dalam sejarah klub sebesar Madrid, penjualan salah satu pemain terbaik di usia puncak. Hal ini hanya dimungkinkan karena mereka membeli superstar termahal dalam sejarah sepakbola modern. Untuk me-recoup sebagian dari pengeluaran itu, Madrid harus menjual pemainnya. Ancelotti memilih mempertahankan Di Maria daripada Özil dan Arsenal yang memiliki kontak yang dekat dengan Madrid, punya opsi untuk mendapatkan salah satu di antara dua. Upaya Sp*rs untuk menggagalkan transfer ini bernasib sama dengan upaya mereka mengalahkan Arsenal dengan pembelian £100 juta-nya. Bahkan panggilan telepon di saat-saat terakhir dari Levy untuk menggagalkan transfer Özil ke Arsenal diabaikan Perez. Strategic partnership antara Sp*rs dan Madrid ternyata hanya menguntungkan Arsenal. Alih-alih mimpi finish di atas Arsenal, penjualan Bale malah membantu Arsenal menjadi penantang serius juara liga musim ini. Ironis. Forever in our shadow.

Dampak Transfer Özil
Bila Bergkamp yang pertama kali mengenalkan fans Arsenal pada mukjizat sehingga membuat kita yakin kalau Tuhan itu ada, maka Özil adalah kedatangan kedua, the second coming. Setelah menunggu dan menunggu sekian lama sejak mukjizat pertama, saat yang dinanti akhirnya tiba. Özil akan mengubah Walcott menjadi Henry lewat assist-assistnya. Ia juga akan mengangkat level permainan skuad Arsenal secara keseluruhan. Playmaker terbaik di generasinya akan menjadi solusi problem kreativitas Arsenal musim lalu. Bayangkan Cazorla, Özil dan Ramsey/Wilshere memporak-porandakan lini pertahanan lawan. Dan karena Özil sang top assister seluruh Eropa ini nyaman bermain di kotak penalti lawan, hal yang tidak dimiliki pemain tengah Arsenal musim lalu, jumlah gol Arsenal bisa bertambah 15-20 gol dari musim lalu. Salah satu prasyarat untuk menjadi juara liga.
Di luar lapangan bola, transfer Özil ini mengubah persepsi terhadap klub bola ini. Bila Arsenal sebelumnya dianggap tidak berambisi, hanya mencari untung, tidak berani membeli pemain mahal, maka sekarang persepsi ini berubah total. Walaupun sesungguhnya langkah ini sudah menjadi bagian dari strategi jangka panjang Arsenal (lihat artikel Model Finansial Arsenal), pembelian Özil mempermudah publik dan fans Arsenal untuk percaya kalau Arsenal memang punya strategi jangka panjang untuk menjadi klub sukses secara finansial dan prestasi lapangan. Wenger mengatakan ia hanya akan membeli top top quality player, dan hal itu ia buktikan. Tidak ada pemain yang lebih baik dari Özil di transfer window EPL musim ini. Pembelian Özil menjadi benchmark transfer Arsenal berikutnya. Pembelian pemain berikutnya dengan harga kisaran £30-40 juta sekarang tidak lagi menjadi hal yang tidak tercapai bagi Arsenal. Arsenal sekarang beroperasi di wilayah klub bola seperti Bayern Muenchen, government clubs (duo La Liga) dan sugar daddy clubs soal pembelian pemain. Siapa yang berikutnya kita harapkan bergabung? Reus, Gundogan, Draxler menjadi nama-nama yang realistis, bukan lagi mimpi di siang bolong. Pembelian Özil menjadi daya tarik pemain-pemain top di luar Arsenal untuk bergabung, sebagaimana Bergkamp dulu menarik pemain seperti Overmars, Vieira, Petit, Henry, dan lainnya untuk bergabung. Selain daya tarik Arsene Wenger tentunya.
Boleh disimpulkan, pembelian Özil meletakkan kembali Arsenal di jajaran klub elit dan kaya dunia. First tier club yang belanja dari klub first tier juga. Wenger tentu akan terus mencari pemain muda dan bargain buy seperti Sanogo, Flamini, Viviano, namun ia juga tidak akan ragu membayar super mahal untuk pemain luar biasa seperti Özil.

Skuad Terkuat Arsenal
Ada pengamatan menarik dari Flamini di wawancara terbarunya di Arsenal.com soal skuad musim ini. Menurutnya banyak persamaan antara skuad musim ini dengan skuad musim 2007/2008, yaitu rasa kebersamaan yang kuat. Masih kita ingat di musim itu pertemanan antara Flamini-Fabregas-Rosicky-Hleb sangat erat di dalam dan luar lapangan. Musim itu Arsenal memimpin klasemen dengan meyakinkan sampai bulan Februari. Permainan terbaik Arsenal sejak pindah ke stadion baru diperagakan mereka. One touch football, lini tengah yang mendominasi dan saling memback-up satu sama lain adalah ciri khas skuad musim itu. Hanya patah kakinya Eduardo yang bisa menghentikan langkah Arsenal saat itu. Shock mendera seluruh pemain dan Wenger gagal mengembalikan fokus ditambah perilaku moody sang kapten Gallas menurunkan Arsenal ke posisi ketiga.
Musim ini, semangat kebersamaan sangat kuat dan terasa di pre-season tour. Pemain egois telah keluar dari tim. Sisanya adalah pekerja keras yang siap memback-up satu sama lain. Ada kemungkinan besar performa di musim 2007/2008 bisa terulang kembali minus shock di penghujung musim. Semenjak Eduardo, sudah ada tiga pemain Arsenal yang mengalami cedera parah, jadi ini sudah bukan hal baru lagi. Selain itu kematangan pemain Arsenal musim ini jauh lebih baik daripada 5 tahun lalu. Dengan tambahan Özil dan Flamini, skuad Arsenal musim ini bisa berpotensi menjadi yang terkuat semenjak pindah dari Highbury. Kebersamaan antar pemain (baca: Victoria Concordia Crescit) dan cedera pemain menjadi kunci keberhasilan. Apabila Arsenal mampu mengembalikan pemain yang cedera lebih cepat ke full training dan menjaga tidak ada lagi cedera parah lanjutan, musim ini akan ada banyak kejutan yang bagus untuk Gooners. Walaupun tentunya akan sangat sulit mengalahkan kejutan pembelian Özil ini. Belum ada yang namanya third coming di kitab suci manapun.

Nice Guy Higuain or Monster Suarez? The New Badass Arsenal Know What They Want

In the wake of Arsenal audacious (or controversy) bid of £40,000,001 for Suarez, Gooners everywhere have been divided like the parting of the Red Sea. And we could assume that Liverpool fans felt insulted by that cheeky additional one pound coin. Apparently that weird amount of bid was designed based on advice from Suarez agent, in order to trigger one clause in his contract. Liverpool and the player camp have different interpretations of that clause and no doubt Arsenal decided to exploit it. Whatever the outcome, this bid will unsettle the player and provoke debates among fans, agents and lawyers for the coming days.

I won't discuss about Suarez controversy here. I'd rather recommend this excellent post, The Suarez Dilemma, for the debate on his moral and wrongdoings. Let's us focus on the Arsenal side. Did we really want him or Higuain? Napoli seem certain to sign Higuain within today or tomorrow, and for some Arsenal fans it was considered as a miss opportunity from the Gunners. We decided to drop out of a cheaper player and put all of our eggs inside one controversy basket. But let's check the facts again. Did we really lose Higuain or Suarez was our target from the very beginning?

Transfer Timeline

A lot of things happened in the month of June and July. I tried to gather data from several news outlet and made a compilation of transfer rumors of Higuain and Suarez in these two months.

June

01 – In the month of May, Juventus declared interest in Higuain. They're looking for a top striker. On first of June, Higuain came out with a statement: "I've decided to leave Real Madrid."

11 – Arsenal made Higuain enquiry. Report said we're ready to break our transfer record.

20 – Arsenal tabled a £21M bid for Higuain, Juventus couldn't match it, dropped their interest.

24 – Higuain father's comment on the bid said his son might be interested to play in the Premier League

July

03 – Arsenal increased bid to £23M. Report said Real Madrid asked for higher price, demanded £25.5M.

04- Higuain father said deal were close, Madrid allowed them for negotiation of personal term. Several media confirmed Higuain will fly to London in the next few days. On the same day report of betting suspension of Suarez to Arsenal. Apparently on 3rd July, there were lots of bets put for Suarez to Arsenal transfer.

07 – Arsenal bid £30M + £5M add-on for Suarez

08 – Perez came out saying Real Madrid never received a bid for Higuain.

15 – Liverpool came out in public saying there was an offer from Arsenal for Suarez and that they had rejected it.

16 – Napoli sold Cavani for £54.4M to PSG.

17 – Napoli declared interest in Higuain.

19 – Rumor of Arsenal preparing a second bid of £40M bid for Suarez

22 – Napoli bid for Higuain, bid accepted. Higuain asked time for considering future (probably waiting for Arsenal to come back with improved bid)

23 – Instead of coming back for Higuain, Arsenal submitted a second bid of £40M+£1 for Suarez.

Napoli agreed £31.8M Higuain fee.

24 – Higuain agreed personal term.

So what's your call on this issue after checking the timeline? Did Arsenal lose Higuain or reject Higuain for Suarez?

My "conclusion" of above interlinked events:

1. Arsenal have fund to bid in excess of £20M, £30M and even £40M.

2. Higuain was Arsenal first target considering the relative easiness to sign. The player wanted out, Madrid wanted to sell albeit at their own valuation. Suarez was listed but not considered yet due to the high price and probably eventual bidding war with Madrid.

3. Arsenal and Madrid have agreed on £25.5M but Madrid hiked the price to £34.5M (from €30m to €40m according to several sources) after Arsenal's talk with Higuain.

4. Arsenal were clearly disappointed with Madrid unprofessional manner (probably giving them the middle finger). Arsenal might rate Higuain as rotational player to compete with Giroud upfront, but not as the £30M main striker. Wenger said in pre-season tour that the problem with Giroud was not quality but quantity (we have only one striker capable of playing upfront – sorry Theo).

5. To piss off Madrid, Arsenal dropped Higuain interest and went totally for Madrid's target, Luis Suarez. "Why should we settle with your back up striker when we could afford your transfer target?" This might be what Ivan thought of at that heated moment.

6. Ivan consulted Wenger, and Wenger gave an approval. Probably he's more than happy since he rated Suarez very highly. A 30 goals a season striker, someone who can create his own goal, and who could play as LW. Suddenly, we would be provided with more variations of combinations. Wenger was salivating at the prospect of starting Suarez, Giroud and Walcott upfront.

7. Some ITKs heard Wenger and Ivan Gazidis conversation. Cheekily put lots of bets for Suarez to Arsenal. This happened on the 3rd of July. The same day Madrid informed us of the Higuain "new" price. Quick decision on transfer twist was made by Wenger and Gazidis.

8. Poor Higuain a victim of Madrid's greed. Arsenal then bid for Suarez with a opening bid of £30M+£5M add-on, matching what Madrid asked for Higuain. Madrid learned about this new development, got very angry and asked Marca to write about it (Headline translation: Why did this "crazy" Arsenal bid for Suarez rather than increase their bid for Higuain, at our price?). Perez also came out in public saying they never received bid from Arsenal. He was so pissed off that he lied in public for the hundredth time.

9. Liverpool rejected Arsenal first bid. The agents informed Arsenal of the £40M clause. Madrid at the end got what they wanted with around £3M less from cash-rich Napoli. Inflated price for sure, but we can expected that after a mega signing (cue: Liverpool after Torres sale).

10. Arsenal have moved on from Higuain and look confident to secure Suarez with that controversial clause. Helped by his agent, they designed a cheeky £40M+£1 bid. This bid certainly would upset Liverpool management. Probably this was designed for that purpose. To incite uproar in the Liverpool camp. Why? Because Arsenal are not the nice selling club anymore. We're the badass buying club now. Remember how the big boys used to unsettle or tap up our players? We're doing it now to Liverpool, unfortunately.

So what's next? Liverpool certainly were not entertained with our cheeky bid.

@John_W_Henry: What do you think they're smoking over there at Emirates?

For this transfer to happen, Suarez needs to agitate for a move. And we wouldn't bid for him if there was no interest from his side. I think he will pull a "RVP" on Liverpool and Liverpool eventually will succumb. They should learn from our mistake. It's better to let the player leave early and go for his replacements (they could buy more than one player with that money) than doing it at the deadline. We know it's not nice, but that's the thing of we have to get used to for becoming a "buying club".

How about Madrid? IMHO they will go for Bale and they can't afford both. They haven't signed a galacticos while their rival have signed Neymar. But let's wait and see. Arsenal are prepared to finish this war they started until the end of the transfer window. Suarez or none. It's a gamble worth taking just like when United signed Van Pursestring. They waited and waited until the public statement, the agitation, and finally got the only striker they wanted near the end of transfer window (middle of August). And basically we're doing the same thing now. So be patient.

I personally think Suarez will join us in August but he certainly will not do it based on the voice of "little boy" inside of him. He is a monster, rite? He suits this new badass "buying club" Arsenal.

Let me know of your version in the comment sections. Feel free to do it as you wish but let's keep the discussion of racism and morality out of this blog. This post is about guessing Arsenal intention not about talking of moral high ground on football players. We can discuss about it another time.

Why Walcott Upfront is The Inevitable Move by Wenger

Walcott played on Monday at Reading and Arsenal won with a convincing 5-2 score. Many people thought the move to play Walcott upfront was related to his contract extension. They thought it might be a move by Wenger to appease Walcott so he would sign the new contract offered. But Wenger rejected that suggestion by saying he took the decision based on what he saw and tried in training. He might not say the whole story behind it but analyzing Arsenal previous Premier League matches, we would understand why playing Walcott upfront is the inevitable move by Wenger.

This is not a comprehensive and in-depth post about football tactics since I’m not capable to do it. This is a simple common sense analysis based on a few graphics of player average positions from whoscored.com.

Let’s start from their 5-2 win of Sp*rs and end it with another 5-2 win of Reading. I excluded the last Champions League and Capital One Cup matches by intention. Check the Arsenal player average positions, especially the forwards on these seven graphics below.

1. Arsenal vs Tottenham

Arsenal 5 - 2 Tottenham

Arsenal 5 – 2 Tottenham

Giroud played as CF flanked by Podolski and Walcott. Look at Walcott average position (he’s so farther into the enemy territory compared to the rest) and compare it with Podolski who played more like a left midfielder. You can compare it again with Bale (11) who played closer to Defoe (18). Giroud average position was also closer to Wilshere and Cazorla than Walcott. Mind you that 43% of Sp*rs 7 shots came from their left flank though Walcott managed to keep Naughton (16) and Verthongen (5) busy at their left flank too. Arsenal finally won after the Adebayor sent off. Against 10 men, Arsenal have more space to exploit than the first twenty minutes when they struggled to create chances.

2. Arsenal vs Montpellier

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier

Arsenal 2-0 Montpellier

Giroud played upfront flanked by Podolski and Chamberlain. Walcott was injured. Again Giroud average position was not farther upfront than Cazorla. Giroud setup Wilshere (knocking down the ball from the air) and Podolski (beautiful one touch lob ball) for their goals and here are Wenger words after the game:

You always know with Olivier that you will get a guy who fights for the team. Technically it was not one of his best games, but after matches when you measure his performance it is [often] decisive.

He had two assists here. Defensively he is always very reliable.

Giroud is good when he plays completely on the offside line.

Sometimes when he doesn’t get the ball enough he wants to come deep. That is not his game.

When he is a target man and uses his link-up play, he is fantastic because he can win in the air, he can score with his feet and can be a complete striker.

He still has some work to do, but he is getting better.

Wenger’s advice of playing completely on the offside line might not be heard clearly by Giroud as proven in his next few games.

3. Aston Villa vs Arsenal

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal

Aston Villa 0-0 Arsenal

Giroud again played upfront with Chambo and Podolski. Wilshere didn’t start (replaced by Ramsey). The average positions are almost similar to the previous game and so are the attempts on goal. No change of Giroud average position despite of Wenger’s advice of playing on the offside line.

4. Everton vs Arsenal

Everton 1-1 Arsenal

Everton 1-1 Arsenal

Walcott played again in this game, surprisingly started as left winger (and scored his goal from that position) instead of his usual right winger position. Ramsey played as right winger but from the average position it’s clear that he tended to play inside. Giroud again started as CF but ended up as not the furthest upfront. The difference in average position of him and Jelavic (7) as CF from both teams is so obvious. From the above graphic it was as if Giroud played as second striker to Walcott. And the lack of width in Arsenal play in this game is so obvious. Ramsey kept going inside and Vermaelen was so comfortable at his own half as if Arsenal were playing with three center backs.

5. Arsenal vs Swansea

Arsenal 0-2 Swansea

Arsenal 0-2 Swansea

Giroud didn’t start this time (injured) and he was replaced by Gervinho. Gervinho supposed to play at the center but he ended up played more to the left flank, seizing Podolski territory. Walcott interestingly played not farther upfront than his previous two games (Tottenham and Everton). From this graphic it looks like no one wanted to play center upfront. Arsenal stretched the game but no one inside the box to convert the chances. Swansea attempted more shots than Arsenal and caught Arsenal twice in their three shots from counter attacks. Sucker punches hurt the flat Arsenal in this game.

6. Arsenal vs WBA

Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich

Arsenal 2-0 West Bromwich

Giroud returned as CF in this game. His average position is so close to Cazorla that you barely could see his number in above graphic. Gervinho as left winger and Chambo as right winger. Although Arsenal played much much better in this match than previous matches (more attempts on goal), two of the goals came from penalties. And for the first time after a long long time Arsenal managed to shoot after a counterattack. From the average positions, except Giroud who still refused to play farther upfront, the distances between players are better. No coincidence Arsenal played their best football here since the 5-2 win over Tottenham.

7. Reading vs Arsenal

Reading 2-5 Arsenal

Reading 2-5 Arsenal

5 goals, 26 attempts on goal, 4 shots from counterattacks, Walcott played upfront. Looking at the the average position graphic, it’s clear why Arsenal played their best football at Reading. Walcott played so farther upfront than Giroud ever managed and it was followed by Chamberlain and Podolski. Arsenal stretched the game vertically and horizontally better than any of their previous games resulted in Cazorla (playing with free role) scoring a hat-trick.

Better width with four of Arsenal goals from left flank crosses. No longer Arsenal players packed in the middle of the pitch because Walcott movement pulled Reading defenders away, provided more space between the lines for Cazorla and Wilshere. Chamberlain said they have been working on this in the training and eventually it was implemented successfully in this game.

Conclusion

Arsenal play better with Walcott upfront, that’s a fact at least based on these seven games. It’s not because Walcott is a better striker than Giroud, but because he made the whole team playing better with more width and vertical space. Giroud should listen to Wenger’s advice: plays completely on the offside line. With the competition provided by Walcott, surely he will heed the advice of the wise and play like that sooner than later. He can hold up the ball better than Walcott, he has more options with his height and he has scored more goals than Walcott in a competition season. Of course Walcott has more pace than him, but Giroud has also proven that his diagonal run from the offside line could be intelligent like the one (where he missed the target) at Liverpool.

So based on the last few games and I’m sure Wenger also has read these average positions stats (and probably more stats and videos), Wenger might have it enough with Giroud and finally played Walcott upfront to show Giroud how stretching the game vertically will only benefit our game. We can only hope Walcott continues his good performance in the next match against Wigan and eventually signs his new contract (it’s never about the money, isn’t it?). And if he refuses to sign it, hopefully Giroud could perform what Walcott did and I believe he’s capable to. He just needs to restrain his urge to come deep to get the ball. It’s not his game, as Wenger said. Just listen to the boss and you’ll be fine. As proven by many stars made by Le Boss.

Momen Bersejarah bagi Pendukung (Tandang) Arsenal

  • Reading 5 (Roberts 12, Koscielny 18 (og), Leigertwood 20, Hunt 37, Pogrebnyak 115) 
  • Arsenal 7 (Walcott 45, 120, Giroud 64, Koscielny 89, Jenkinson 90, Chamakh 103, 120)

Siapapun yang menonton pertandingan Capital One Cup babak perdelapan final antara Reading melawan Arsenal di Madejski Stadium tidak akan menyangka hasil akhirnya. Seperti menaiki roller coaster, fans Arsenal dibawa turun-naik, dibalik 180′ dengan jantung yang berdebar-debar. Menonton pertandingan ini lewat televisi saja cukup menegangkan, apalagi yang menonton langsung di stadion. Pendukung tandang Arsenal mengalami momen bersejarah yang tak ayal lagi akan makin menguatkan cinta mereka terhadap the greatest club the world has ever seen ini.

Neraka Babak Pertama

Wenger memainkan starting eleven yang berbeda total dengan yang bermain melawan QPR pekan lalu. Formasi yang dimainkan tetap 4-2-1-3 dengan susunan seperti ini:

Gnabry ——- Chamakh ——– Walcott

—————– Arshavin ——————–

———- Coquelin —- Frimpong ———-

Miquel – Koscielny -Djourou – Jenkinson

—————– Martinez ——————–

Arshavin bermain di posisi yang biasa diisi Santi Cazorla, peran yang juga dimainkannya di pertandingan COC sebelumnya. Cukup mengherankan Wenger memainkan Chamakh daripada Giroud yang duduk di bangku cadangan. Ini pertanda Le Boss masih percaya kepada striker yang sudah lama kehilangan kepercayaan di mata fans. Atau bisa juga karena Giroud diistirahatkan agar punya stamina yang cukup untuk big match melawan MU akhir pekan ini. Atau bisa juga Wenger tidak memprioritaskan kemenangan di partai ini, demikian pikir fans Arsenal kebanyakan di awal pertandingan. Toh League Cup masuk prioritas kelima dalam daftar trofi incaran Wenger.

Reading memainkan setengah pemain intinya dari starting line up di Premier League pekan lalu dan memulai pertandingan dengan cemerlang. Hanya dalam waktu 20 menit, Arsenal sudah kebobolan tiga gol. Gol pertama berawal dari serangan sayap kiri Reading. Jenkinson terlambat menutup gerakan pemain sayap lawan yang melakukan crossing rendah dan Koscielny terlambat mengikuti gerakan Jason Roberts. Gol mudah bagi Reading. Gol kedua juga berasal dari sayap, kali ini dari sayap kanan Reading. Crossing rendah dari Gunter berusaha diblok oleh Koscielny (ke mana Miquel?) dan bola malah memantul ke gawang Martinez. Own goal untuk kesekian kalinya untuk Koscielny. Gaya bermain Koscielny yang gung-ho tidak membantu Arsenal untuk kesekian kalinya. Keputusan yang ceroboh sering dilakukan (bertolak belakang dengan Mertesacker yang kalem) sehingga berakibat pada own goal. Koscielny sangat bagus dalam man marking dan pertandingan satu lawan satu namun lemah dalam mengantisipasi crossing yang cepat dari sayap. Kelemahan ini dimanfaatkan dengan sempurna oleh Reading. Mestinya pemain-pemain Arsenal membaca scouting report yang dibuat Michael Cox (@ZonalMarking) di website Arsenal. Jelas-jelas ia memperingatkan serangan Reading akan dilakukan dengan crossing dari sayap.

Hanya berselang 2 menit kemudian, tembakan Leigertwood hanya bisa dimentahkan Martinez ke gawangnya sendiri. Kesalahan mendasar yang berawal dari kegugupan lini belakang Arsenal. Kiper muda ini tidak terbantu dengan back four yang gugup, gagap dan terlambat mengantisipasi serangan lawan. Mereka juga tidak dibantu oleh lini tengah yang kerap kehilangan bola. Frimpong terutama bermain tidak pada level yang seharusnya dan Coquelin serta Arshavin sering melakukan passing yang salah. Lini tengah terlambat menutup gerakan lawan ketika kehilangan bola. Begitu kontras dengan kesigapan Arteta dan Cazorla dalam tracking lawan sesaat setelah kehilangan bola dan ketenangan Ramsey atau Wilshere saat membawa bola. Akibatnya Gnabry, Walcott dan Chamakh tidak mendapatkan supply bola yang memadai. Arsenal menemukan jalan buntu setiap melewati garis tengah lapangan dan bola segera kembali ke pemain Reading dan menyerang Arsenal. Ketidakhadiran jenderal lapangan tengah sangat terasa di babak pertama ini.

Gol Hunt di menit ke-37 melengkapi neraka babak pertama bagi Arsenal. Dengan mudahnya ia melakukan free header ke gawang Arsenal tanpa kontes berarti dari Djourou. Satu-satunya hal positif dari penampilan pemain Arsenal babak pertama ini adalah di injury time Walcott berhasil mencetak gol lewat counter attack, menyelesaikan through ball manis dari Arshavin. Walcott berhasil menjawab dukungan pendukung tandang Arsenal yang tak henti-hentinya bernyanyi walau Arsenal telah ketinggalan 4-0. Juga menjawab “judgment” saya di twitter yang mengatakan ia tak cukup bagus untuk menjadi striker utama. What did I know?

Twitter Meltdown

Seperti biasa, setiap Arsenal ketinggalan di pertandingan dan bermain buruk, fans Arsenal di twitter pasti akan ngomel, dan sebagian marah-marah. Ada yang melempar joke sarkas, ada yang meragukan komitmen pemain, ada yang menjelek-jelekkan pemain yang memang di matanya selalu jelek, dan sebagian kecil tetap mendukung tim dengan berharap pada mukjizat yang mengubah jalannya pertandingan. Harapan untuk perubahan ini kandas di 2 pertandingan lawan Norwich dan Schalke dan sedikit berhasil di pertandingan melawan QPR. Tentunya saya tidak terkecuali dalam hal twitter meltdown ini. Berikut akan saya copas twit @benhan selama pertandingan berlangsung. Menarik untuk melakuan “psikoanalisis” perubahan mental seorang fans dalam menyaksikan mukjizat ini. Komentar psikoanalisis ini ditulis dalam huruf italic. :)

Babak pertama:

  • Boyz bullied by men…. What a shame.
  • Reality check for these players and for the manager: they’re not as good as they perceive. Worse when being put together.
  • WTF. Stapleton won’t play in this game RT @piersmorgan: ‘We sold Van Persie for football reasons’ - #IvanTheTerrible#Arsenal #LaughingStock
  • Hahaha RT @binhaf: REMEMBER NEWCASTLE, WE CAN GET BACK ON THIS
  • Rightly deserve RT @feverpitch: This game will be available on DVD at the spurs shop tomorrow morning.
  • Nah, eleven different players RT @ellgalegoy: “@AFCholic: I’m genuinely scared of what’s going to happen at Old Trafford.” (menarik batas antara pertandingan ini dengan pertandingan berikutnya, yang bermain di OT nanti jelas 11 pemain yang berbeda)
  • Walcott’s first touch is too heavy for a striker. He can keep dreaming becoming one this season. Not good enough even for a COC
  • Walcott’s first touch is too heavy for a striker. He can keep dreaming becoming one this season… And he scores! What do I know (setelah Walcott mencetak gol pertama, terpaksa menelan ludah sendiri dan melakukan revisi twit hehe)

Campuran kekecewaan dan pesimisme terlihat di twit-twit di atas dicampur joke-joke sarkas pesimis. Ditambah dengan beberapa twit selama half time:

  • Koscielny’s confidence nose dived after being benched since the start of the season. From world beater to grave digger..
  • Me too. His absence contribute to the abysmal midfield RT @binhaf: I don’t know about the rest of you, but I blame Ramsey.
  • First and second Reading goals: mistake by Koscielny. Not helped by the fullbacks.
  • The third Reading goal put any wishful thinking of Martinez challenging Don Vito for GK spot to bed.
  • LOL RT @binhaf: I think people should be more specific about wanting ‘Arsenal back’. What if we get the 80s?!
  • Wenger should put Giroud 2nd half. Chasing for a draw. This result won’t be good for any fringe players we have.
  • Terus terang saya tidak percaya Arsenal dapat membalikkan hasil pada babak kedua dan melakukan “New Castle” terhadap Reading. Namun dengan masuknya pemain seperti Giroud, ada harapan Arsenal bisa mencetak 1-2 gol lagi agar tidak kalah memalukan tanpa perlawanan seperti yang ditunjukkan di babak pertama. Twit di babak kedua:
  • 2nd half isn’t better. #COYG
  • Now we can truly appreciate how hard Arteta works for the team… Leading and uniting the bunch of overrated players.
  • Amazing that some fans decide to take cheap shot to the board based on this performance. We see things as what we want to believe. (masih pasrah tapi menolak bereaksi berlebihan)
  • Giroud and Eisfield coming on. Wenger does bother to be back to this game.
  • 4-2. Pull off a Newcastle, please! Great header by Giroud. (optimisme mulai hadir, boleh donk berharap?)
  • Arsenal away fans are amazing. Much better than those pretending to know how to support Gooners on twitter… Including me. (mulai mengakui kesalahan ketidakpercayaan pada tim ini)
  • Away fans know how to SUPPORT the team. Amazing RT@LadyArse: The noise from the Arsenal fans is unreal
  • Giroud is more and more impressive as minutes passing by… Good warming up for the weekend big match.
  • Giroud shows Walcott how to be a center forward. A proper one in the modern game.
  • Now we know why Wenger keeps playing Arshavin at the flank not in the hole. Inconsistency on passing and inability to hold up ball. (geram dengan Arshavin yang kerap kehilangan bola saat menyerang)
  • Koscielny payback! 4-3 now. Come on Arsenal!
  • 4-4! Unbelievable amazing comeback! I love you Arsenal! (hampir tidak percaya, akhirnya Arsenal melakukan New Castle!)
  • Sign da thing, Walcott!!! :D(bukti betapa rapuhnya penilaian fans terhadap pemain, sesaat mengatakan ia bukan striker, dua gol dalam comeback mengubah drastis persepsi sebelumnya)

Wenger memasukkan Giroud dan Eisfeld di babak kedua menggantikan Frimpong dan Gnabry yang tidak efektif. Hanya 2 menit berselang, Giroud mencetak gol lewat header jarak cukup jauh di dalam kotak penalti menyambut umpan tendangan sudut Walcott, 4-2. Gol Giroud ini memberikan harapan untuk comeback. Gerakan Giroud di kotak penalti sangat efektif, beberapa peluang dihasilkannya dan juga beberapa tembakan ke gawang. Eisfeld memberikan suntikan baru pada kemampuan penguasaan bola di lapangan tengah dengan operannya yang lebih akurat dari Frimpong, dan lewat penetrasinya yang cerdik ke daerah lawan yang menghasilkan beberapa freekick. Gnabry dipuja-puji media sebelum pertandingan namun Eisfeld adalah pemain Jerman yang bersinar di pertandingan kali ini. Arsenal bermain praktis dengan formasi 4-2-4 dengan 4 striker. Eisfeld dan Arshavin bergantian maju ke depan di saat dibutuhkan dan Coquelin menjadi satu-satunya pivot lapangan tengah.

Menit dan menit berlalu, Arsenal terus menyerang, fans Arsenal terus bernyanyi, Reading semakin kehilangan kepercayaan diri dan akhirnya kita mendapatkan hasil yang diinginkan. Gol Koscielny di menit terakhir dan gol Walcott (yang kemudian dikoreksi dan versi resminya menjadi gol Jenkinson) di injury time menghasilkan comeback dramatis Arsenal pertama musim ini. Tertinggal 4-0 dan membalikkan kedudukan menjadi 4-4, kita resmi melakukan “New Castle” terhadap Reading. Fans tandang Arsenal yang terus bernyanyi tanpa henti sejak ketinggalan sampai menyamakan kedudukan pasti senang luar biasa karena kepercayaannya pada tim ini terbayar tuntas. Simak catatan saksi hidupnya di blog Goonerholic ini.

Di babak kedua ini penampilan Miquel, Jenkinson dan Coquelin mengalami peningkatan drastis. Dengan hadirnya Eisfeld, Arshavin tidak memangku sendiri lagi beban kreativitas lapangan tengah. Passing-passingnya menjadi lebih akurat. Chamakh yang belum menghasilkan peluang di pertandingan ini dengan hadirnya Giroud di depan bisa turun sedikit ke lapangan tengah dan bekerja keras untuk menerima bola, melakukan pressing ke pemain lawan, dan menahan bola selama mungkin untuk pemain depan Arsenal. Chamakh bermain hampir seperti box to box midfielder.

Gol Walcott (Jenkinson) di awal menit ke-6 injury time diprotes pemain Reading karena melewati batas 4 menit injury time yang resmi. Salah sendiri Reading melakukan pergantian pemain dan membuang-buang waktu di injury time. Semangat Jenkinson luar biasa dalam penyamaan kedudukan ini. Tanpa tembakannya menyambut rebound bola Walcott yang sebenarnya telah melewati garis gawang Reading, kemungkinan Arsenal tidak dapat menyamakan kedudukan. Gol terakhir di detik akhir injury time. Buah dukungan tanpa henti fans dan kerja keras tanpa henti pemain. Semuanya berbasis pada Faith. Kepercayaan manager dan fans pada para pemain Arsenal lapis kedua ini akhirnya berbuah manis.

Babak Tambahan, Gol Tambahan

Terus terang di babak tambahan perpanjangan waktu ini saya sudah tidak begitu peduli dengan hasilnya. Optimis Arsenal bisa menang, dan kalaupun sampai kalah tetap bangga dengan perjuangan para pemain di babak kedua. Babak tambahan ini adalah soal siapa yang lebih lelah, namun secara momentum, angin berpihak di Arsenal. Pemain Reading selain lelah fisik juga lelah mental karena terkejar dari posisi yang sudah sangat diuntungkan pasti bikin down pemain setangguh apapun.

  • Now into extra time. Let’s kill the game, Arsenal!
  • RT @Alex_OxChambo: I’m shaking i’m buzzin zoo much!!!
  • Giving up supporting does RT @GoonerboyBlog: Getting upset when your team is 4-0 down obviously means you’re not a proper supporter.
  • A reward for the amazing away fans RT @DarrenArsenal1: WEVE GOT OUR ARSENAL BACK …….
  • Fair RT @WengerBoy1: If you’re going to slate the team for the first half you have to praise them just as much for the second.
  • Chamakh might not score again in his career but he works tirelessly for the team. Maybe its time to convert him to box to box midfielder? :)
  • Forgive me Chamakh, what do I know? You score and win the game! From outside the box. 5-4 for Arsenal! :D (kembali harus menelan ludah, Chamakh mencetak gol brilliant dari luar kotak penalti, menjawab keraguan semua fans Arsenal)
  • I love when the players keep proving me wrong and that Wenger is right in trusting them. What do I know? #WengerKnows
  • RT @goonerdesi: A Chamakh goal from outside the box would a collector’s item in itself.. but that build-up play..ooh what a goal! pure class
  • I should repeat it this weekend :) RT @ujangw@benhan First Walcott, then Chamakh, what kind of voodoo dolls you got there?
  • Can he walk the talk? :D RT @binhaf: (One hour ago) Awkward. RT@LukeHines: If chamakh scores I’ll eat my own shit
  • +1 RT @GeoffArsenal: Gotta say the Arsenal support have been incredible tonight. 4 down singing their hearts out. They deserve to win.
  • Lesson learnt from Arsenal away fans undying support: never stop supporting the team, it would only help the players. #COYG
  • Must be an amazing experience for the Arsenal away fans. This could be once in a lifetime comeback. A moment of truth, indeed.
  • Ouch… Too early to be happy. This could go to penalty shootout. 5-5
  • Walcott hattrick! 6-5. Amazing game. Now sign da thing!
  • Arshavin is much better playing from the left flank. How many assists he has today?
  • Chamakh scores again! 7-5. Really unbelievable.
  • What a classy chip goal from 30 yards by Chamakh. He could restore his confidence again. This what trust can give you.
  • Hell yeah! RT @beautifulgroan: Chamakh finishing the match with an impudent lob is the final nail in the ‘take the piss’ column.

Reaksi di twitter pun berubah 180 derajat. Fans Arsenal di twitter berubah dari kecewa menjadi kagum. Dari meremehkan menjadi setengah tidak percaya menjadi bangga. Apapun yang dilakukan Wenger di dressing room saat half time berdampak besar pada perubahan sikap mental pemain Arsenal. Tim cadangan ini bahkan bereaksi lebih hebat daripada tim utama saat melawan QPR pekan lalu. Sikap yang sama dipertahankan di babak perpanjangan waktu.

Chamakh mencetak gol kelima Arsenal malam itu dari luar kotak penalti. Tendangan terarah dan keras tidak dapat ditahan kiper Reading. Fans Arsenal seluruh jagad raya terperangah tidak percaya. Siapa sangka pemain yang sudah tidak mencetak gol selama berbulan-bulan ini mampu mencetak gol indah seperti ini. 5-4 untuk Arsenal.

Arshavin yang selama ini dicap tidak memiliki stamina yang cukup ternyata bisa menyelesaikan pertandingan 120 menit ini dengan sangat baik. Berkat tembakannya di menit terakhirlah, Walcott akhirnya bisa mencetak gol ketiganya malam ini menyambut bola rebound. Membalas gol Pogrebnyak sebelumnya yang belum mau menyerah. Injury time dari extra time ini dimanfaatkan dengan baik oleh Arsenal. Chamakh berhasil menerima umpan serangan balik dan berhadapan dengan kiper Reading yang siap keluar dari kotak penaltinya, ia melakukan lob jauh yang akurat. Chamakh seperti terlahir kembali menjadi striker tajam yang tidak kita kenal sebelumnya. 7-5, first set for Arsenal (mengutip pertandingan tenis).

Post Match

  • Ready for Old Trafford :) RT @Sagnaofficial: Ahahahahah i’m gonna sleep veeeeeery well looooooooooooool
  • Walcott: It was an unbelievable game. We started sloppy & had to wake up. The boss told us that wasn’t #AFC in the 1st half. via@GoonerTalk
  • Whatever Wenger said at half time, it worked. Proud of the players tonight. Walcott MoTM.
  • RT @LadyArse: “You cannot play for Arsenal and give up, no matter what the score is” Wenger
  • This performance will only inspire the first team to give their best at OT. All watched the game tonite.

Saat post match interview, Jenkinson dan Walcott memberikan petunjuk bahwa Wenger berhasil mengangkat moral pemain di saat istirahat. Kata-kata seperti bermain untuk Arsenal harus pantang menyerah membangunkan para pemain. Terutama pemain seperti Jenkinson yang juga seorang Gooner, tentunya kebanggaan mengenakan baju merah putih akan terusik dengan penampilan melempem di babak pertama.

“I just thought what can I do about that and started to think about my half-time speech,” said Wenger. “I felt sorry for our fans and I would like to give them credit tonight. A big part of them stayed behind and I am happy that we paid them back.” And for those who left? “I give them less credit,” he chirped.

Kredit terbesar tentunya untuk pendukung tandang Arsenal yang tiada henti mendukung, bernyanyi dan menyerukan semangat kepada timnya. Nyanyian seperti “We love you Arsenal, we do!” berkumandang walaupun Arsenal bermain sangat buruk dan ketinggalan 4-0. Seruan seperti “Come on Arsenal!” terus menyemangati pemain untuk mengejar ketinggalan. Kita sering melupakan fans adalah pemain ke-12 dalam pertandingan dan betapa atmosfer stadion bisa mengubah arah pertandingan. Pendukung tandang Arsenal mengajarkan bahwa kesabaran, kesetiaan dan dukungan tanpa henti kepada tim, dalam kondisi apapun pasti akan membuahkan hasil. Paling tidak dukungan itu akan mendorong pemain untuk berupaya lebih keras, apapun hasilnya.

Semoga tim utama Arsenal belajar dari pertandingan ini. Penampilan melempem saat lawan Norwich dan Schalke mesti dilupakan. Memahami ulang apa artinya memakai kostum merah putih tercinta ini, mengulang kata Wenger:

You can not play for Arsenal and give up, no matter what the score is.

Hal yang sama berlaku juga untuk pendukung Arsenal, di mana pun kita berada.

Saya terus terang sedikit iri dengan away fans Arsenal yang berhasil menjadi saksi sejarah comeback cemerlang ini. Peristiwa spesial ini pasti akan membekas di hati mereka. Membuktikan bahwa cinta dan kepercayaan total bisa memiliki happy ending di dunia nyata…

Sedikit dokumentasi dari dua away fans Arsenal yang menyaksikan langsung brilliant comeback ini di blog Goonerholic:

ArthurTheGooner:

This game taught me two things, first of all NEVER leave game before the final whistle and secondly NEVER sit with the opposition fans ever again. I wanted to shout and scream when those two late goals went. I wanted to celebrate with all the fans in the south stand as they went crazy, Oliver caught my attention:

Daddy I want to sit and sing with the Arsenal fans please….

Next time my boy next time indeed!

Steve T:

My two have again had a ball. Both have returned home exhausted and very hoarse. I have never seen Ben so animated at a game. 4 nil, and you’ve mucked it up he sang from the top of his voice. I am not sure of he is convinced that they were the words but he knows what he can and can’t sing. Emily has also managed to sing herself hoarse.

“Can we do another away game dad?” comes the request as we get back to the car. I am sure that can be arranged, I just hope they do not expect 12 goals next time.

Bisa dibayangkan bocah-bocah ini yang dibawa ayahnya ke pertandingan kemarin adalah bibit-bibit muda fans away Arsenal, dibaptis oleh kelompok pendukung terbaik sepakbola di Liga Inggris, mereka akan menjadi penerusnya. Oh to be a Gooner. :)

Victoria Concordia Crescit

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