If you were watching the Premier League on Sunday, you probably weren’t watching Arsenal huff and puff to a 2-2 home draw against Crystal Palace. Liverpool were playing Tottenham Hotspur at the same time, after all, and if you’re not one of the merry band of masochists who actually follow the Gunners, there’s not much reason to have been watching anything else.
Which is a shame, because that meant the world missed out — at least temporarily — on some high drama. Arsenal captain Granit Xhaka threw an honest-to-God temper tantrum at the fans when they booed him, Sokratis Papastathopoulos had what would have been a late winner ruled out by a ghost foul that has reignited the already ridiculous conversation around VAR, and Matteo Guendouzi committed one of the most glorious fouls in football history.
Most tactical fouls, fouls which are aimed at deliberately preventing counterattacks, are cynical, snide things. Maybe they’re a trip, maybe a blocking run, perhaps a gratuitous swipe. But when Guendouzi saw his victim, Wilfried Zaha, about to burst free and perhaps win the game for Palace, he opted for something far grander.
Look at that form! It’s the sort of bear hug that ought to be accompanied by some sort of ululating war cry. Guendouzi’s tackle is a final, glorious act of defiance against a world that put him in an impossible position. It wasn’t reckless. It wasn’t out of control or dangerous. It simply flattened Zaha and prevented Palace getting one last scoring chance in. It’s the sort of tackle that lances the preening hypocrisy of the other professional fouls, the ones with pretensions towards winning possession or going for the ball. Guendouzi distilled the art down to its essence and rebuilt it in its purest form.
Tactical fouls, incidentally, are only yellow card offences, so the 20-year-old managed to stay on the pitch despite his salute to the ongoing Rugby World Cup. One can only assume that referee Martin Atkinson passed on his compliments to Guendouzi for a truly colossal act of shithousery when he booked him.
Well done, young man. And well done, Arsenal. At least now you’ve done something right this season.