I enjoyed this game for about 72 minutes. Until that point, Alexis Sanchez was doing unspeakable things to the Anderlecht defense, running at them, twisting and turning like a live eel, and generally being the wonderful player that he has been since his arrival. "A more mentally stable Luis Suarez," as I like to say, or "Nicki Minaj in Clappers," as Juan put it last week. His first major contribution was to open the defense like a can opener with a perfectly weighted pass for Welbeck, who was promptly hacked down in the area. Arteta half-panenka'ed the pen. One nil to the Arsenal. Then, Sanchez scored a goal that deserves to be remembered as more than a footnote to another entry in the "Arsenal Choke Away Big Lead" storybook (BUT NOW IT WON'T BE - THANKS, ARSENAL). Alexis had turned on the afterburners, running away from Anderlecht midfield and defense and finally forcing them to foul him on the edge of the area. And when he dusted himself off and took the resulting free kick, it went straight into the wall. BUT, Alexis followed the rebound and smashed a first-time volley into the bottom corner. 2-0, sheer class, Arsenal cruising.
The second half was more of the same, with the indefatigable Alexis harrying Anderlecht in their own half and winning a tackle that allowed the Ox to run onto the ball and slot home coolly. 3-0 Game over. Then, something really funny happened when Anderlecht were able to score a goal that was miles offside. Hilariously offside. Not even close offside. But I wasn't even annoyed at that point, mostly just amused. It was too bad to lose the clean sheet, but 3-1 at home with the way we had been playing seemed pretty secure.
Then Nacho gave away the penalty, and I stopped laughing. Was it a dive? Possibly, probably, who knows, but when you're the wrong side of your man like that, it's hard for the ref not to call it. So then it was 3-2, and I got that feeling, the one I had against Newcastle, the one I had against Spurs that one time. That feeling of inevitability. Helplessness. Arsenal were absolutely going to cough this one up. And when they did, it was almost a relief.
I say "almost," because it wasn't actually a relief, it was extremely annoying. It ruined our chances of topping the group. It ruined the good feeling and the confidence that had been building in the club's supporters over the past fortnight. It ruined a wonderful performance by Alexis Sanchez, who must be wondering how many he'll have to score and/or assist before Arsenal can safely see out a game. (In case he ever reads this: it's five, Alexis. The answer is five. We've never pissed away a lead that big before, as far as I can recall, so five should be enough. Watch us do it this season, though.) And on a personal and petty note, it ruined my ability to gleefully watch the first half highlights and remember this game fondly and talk about how things are looking up with Juan and Adam, which is what I was most looking forward to at the 72nd minute.
One can rage against the refereeing crew all day, but this one is on Arsenal, and most of all, it's on Arsene Wenger. You could blame Monreal for being wrong side of his man, but HE. IS. NOT. A. CENTERBACK. He's just not. Frankly, I think he's been doing a pretty good job there all things considered. Yes, this time, he got beat (and maybe the ref got conned). But the fact that he was even playing there is (1) a result of our failure to get more depth and defensive cover (yes, it's the brokenest of broken records), and (2) a reflection of Wenger's unwillingness to trust Hector Bellerin or even Flamini at right back so that Chambers can play in the center, which, you know, he can actually do. And it's also on Arsene for not changing things up sooner when it was clear his team were about to crap the bed. Could Theo Walcott, who looked so lively during his cameo against Burnley, not have come on and helped provide an outlet against a team that were pressing for an equalizer? We'll never know.
It's going to be a long week now since Arsenal don't play until Sunday. Every sports journalist in the UK is going to have a field day with this one. Thanks to this game and certain likely political outcomes, I plan on being one very poorly-informed individual until next week.