THE Arsenal PA system didn’t quite go all ‘Kool and the Gang’ on Sunday after seeing off title rivals Liverpool, but you’d be forgiven for thinking they had an open top bus parade around north London, given some of the criticism aimed at them.
Arsenal were under serious pre-match pressure, told by all that they definitely couldn’t lose, nor even draw, that this was a ‘must-win’ match for them.
Well, they did win.
Indeed Mikel Arteta’s side thoroughly outplayed league leaders Liverpool, whose only goal was an own goal and a particularly freakish one at that.
Sure, the Gunners were gifted a goal in return to take the lead at 2-1, but they were full value for their eventual 3-1 victory.
That was sealed by an added time goal from Leandro Trossard – prompting a ‘Mourinho-style’ sprint along the side-line by the Arsenal manager.
That brought some sneering towards the Spaniard.
Even more was aimed at the Arsenal captain, Martin Odegaard, especially for borrowing a camera from a club photographer and snapping some pics himself as the home side revelled in their win.
The Sky Sports pundits seemed particularly annoyed at this action.
Jamie Carragher, the – checks Google – former Liverpool defender, declared: “Back in the title race, get down the tunnel. I’m serious, honestly.”
Gary Neville accused Arsenal of displaying a “little bit of immaturity”; this from the man who raced the length of the pitch to celebrate a Man Utd winner against Liverpool.
The idea that you absolutely must be totally professional at all times is expecting far too much, even in the regimented world in which modern sportspeople have to operate.
“If you’re not allowed to celebrate when you win a game, when are you allowed to celebrate?” asked Odegaard. “We’re happy with the win and we’ll stay humble.”
Former Arsenal striker Ian Wright insisted: “It has nothing do with the fact we have beaten Liverpool, it is just an opportunity. Why is everyone trying to kill the joy? Don’t kill the joy, there is so much of the season to go.”
In truth, it did matter that it was Liverpool they beat, and not just because they’re top of the table.
‘Celebration Corner’ at the Emirates Stadium includes a few images of historic wins over Liverpool – notably Charlie George in 1971 and Michael Thomas in 1989.
Liverpool supporters should take it as a compliment to their club, that beating them meant so much to Arsenal, the Merseyside Reds having dominated the rivalry in recent years.
What’s more, all rivals of Arsenal can store up those images from Sunday for future use and abuse if the north Londoners ‘fail’ to win the league title.
Of course, of course, the sensible approach would have been for Arsenal to shake hands, stay calm, and adopt a ‘business as usual’ attitude.
Yet had they done that someone would surely have accused them of arrogance, of somehow disrespecting their opponents by NOT celebrating.
Besides, there’s so much celebration that goes on during matches in various codes nowadays - for winning a scrum, making a tackle, turning over possession, scoring a point.
Why wouldn’t Arsenal celebrate an important win?
The saying is ‘You have to celebrate the small victories’; this was a big one for Arsenal, they should be allowed to enjoy it.
The win over Liverpool, keeping them in contention for their first league title for 20 years, was understandably greeted with a release of tension and a burst of euphoria from all in Arsenal colours.
Arsenal have built up a better bond with their supporters in recent seasons, brought back a greater atmosphere after the dull times of the so-called ‘Highbury Library’. Worse than that were the toxic times at the Emirates towards the end of the Arsene Wenger era and when Unai Emery was in charge.
Ever since I saw them I’ve thought the big flags waved about whenever Arsenal score are a bit naff, a bit try-hard - but they’ve probably played a positive part at the Emirates.
In my view, the only thing for which Odegaard should be criticised is that he didn’t pick up a Canon camera. Geddit? Cannon? The Gunners? Oh fuggedaboutit.
Sport can bring you down very quickly. In Irish soccer, for example, Dungannon Swifts went from winning away to league leaders Linfield to losing at home to Championship side Ballyclare Comrades in the Irish Cup.
Arsenal have had recent setbacks too, so beating one of the top teams had to be enjoye.
If celebrations have to be saved only for after lifting trophies then there’ll be very few moments of joy.
There were happy scenes at the end of the game I attended on Sunday too, and that was only the second round of the Allianz Football League between Monaghan and Kerry.
Admittedly most of the delight was confined to supporters, not players, with Kerry’s win only taking them level on two points with their hosts.
The Clones pitch invasion wasn’t really about the result, though, with most of the delirious youngsters wearing Monaghan colours.
There was much more ‘David Clifford mania’, although his fellow Kerry forward Sean O’Shea was also mobbed for ages afterwards.
Happily many young fans were also getting autographs from and photographs with Monaghan players.
It probably helped that the spectators hadn’t been numbed into insensibility by a host of hand-passes. Instead, they were treated to a pretty entertaining game, with both sides going at each other and counter-attacking quickly with long kick-passes.
The fans would have headed for their heroes in any case but at least the players merited the attention with their positive performances.