On RTE (Irish TV) last night, Liam Brady was one of the panelists and he spoke about the game, obviously, but welcomed the win, and what it means, because it might put an end to a ‘month of unrelenting negativity around the club’.
Now, some of that is of our own making, some of it not, but even for a few days it’s nice to get away from the doomier side of life and enjoy a good win which, while still lacking in some quality, showed some real spirit and character. Attributes we’ve been missing a bit since the start of the season.
The first half was very open, much more so than I had envisaged. We dominated possession but Udinese looked more dangerous. Especially with di Natale floating about and always looking to get involved in the final third. That said, we should have scored first, Gervinho set up Theo Walcott about 10 yards out with just the keeper to beat, but Handanovic came out well and made a good save.
Di Natale had already hit the post as the Italians looked to exploit a right back playing at left back, and when Pinzi delivered a lovely ball into the box from midfield, the pint sized striker peeled off Djourou and looped a fantastic header over Szczesny. It was a great goal but it was easy to see how we could have defended it better. Coming not long before half-time it would have been easy for this team to let the heads drop and think the worst but whatever was said in the dressing room worked.
And credit to the manager too, he rarely makes half-time substitutions but Rosicky for Frimpong was exactly what we needed. The youngster had played pretty well, in my opinion, but Rosicky added some spark and drive to proceedings, but it also meant that Alex Song played deeper where he is much more effective. Both Rosicky and Song performed really well in the second half and the better balanced midfield played a big part in us getting back into it.
We equalised on 55 minutes. A Rosicky shot was blocked, Gervinho picked it up, skinned the defender, got to the byline and pulled it back for Robin van Persie to slot home with his left foot. It was great play by the Ivorian who looked a lot more dangerous last night than in the previous game, and van Persie’s scoring record in 2011 is ridiculous (see the game by the numbers on Arseblog News).
A few minutes later though Udinese had a penalty. I saw replays last night and while I know it was for a Vermaelen handball from a corner, I remain unconvinced it was penalty. It must have been the official behind the goal who gave it, proving they’re good for something, I guess. Anyway, Vermaelen was booked, di Natale stepped up after some ‘encouragement’ from Szczesny, and the big Pole pulled off a tremendous save. Certainly one of the best penalty saves I’ve ever seen. And it wasn’t a penalty miss because di Natale really thumped it.
Afterwards, SZCZ said:
I felt a little silly after the save because I gave a lot of stick to Di Natale before the kick was taken. It’s something that shouldn’t be said on TV but it worked and he came to me after the game and and said ‘well done’ so I felt a little bit stupid because he’s quite a nice guy
heh, love it. But what a big save it was and it’s moments like that which can really help kick a team on. There’s no point wondering what might have been had it gone in, let’s just enjoy the fact he made the save and use it to our benefit.
The winner, when you look back on it, was a really excellent team goal. Carl Jenkinson is still very much learning the ropes at this level, but he won the ball brilliantly deep on our right hand side, stayed calm while exchanging a number of passes in a tight area before spreading it wide to Vermaelen. From there Sagna played in Walcott whose pace took him beyond the Udinese defence and the finish at the near post was top notch.
I imagine it’s moments like that which give the manager such encouragement about his team and his young players. From then it was pretty much game over. Udinese had to score three to go through and although I didn’t start relaxing until around the 88th minute, the team played very well. They showed real maturity to slow things right down, keeping possession for long spells, and with the Italian season a little behind ours you could see the difference in fitness as the game went on. As they got tired chasing shadows we just passed them to death.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
Tonight, for 14 years on the trot, we play in the Champions League. We have a new stadium, a fantastic training ground, a very good financial situation and a very strong team. It was important today because we were under pressure so it was important to keep calm, composed and not do anything stupid.
Obviously Champions League qualification was crucial. As I said yesterday, not just for the club’s finances but for the football side of things above all else. We were tested last night by a good Udinese side who led the game and could have, with home advantage, really kicked on, but when we needed to show some fight and some balls we did that in the second half, and that was really encouraging. Especially ahead of such an important league game on Sunday.
And with qualification assured it means the boss, and those who are involved in this side of things, can ensure they carry out the next most important task, and that’s adding to the squad to make it better. After the game captain Robin van Persie echoed the thoughts of many Arsenal fans, saying:
We have a bit of money now. Cesc left, Samir left, but we’re in the Champions League now, we’ve got a bit of spare money and hopefully we spend it.
There’s really not much more to say about that this morning. We all know what’s what, and what needs to be done, so let’s leave it to one side just for today, and instead enjoy the fact that we showed some real Arsenal spirit last night. Enjoy the fact we’ve got another season of Champions League football to look forward to, and if we made life difficult for ourselves, well this is the Arsenal. We do like to do things that way, you know.
And for all the frustration, as we cemented our place in this year’s competition in sweltering Italy, Liverpool were playing Exeter in the Carling Cup. Worth bearing in mind.
If the criticism of the club over the last few weeks has had some merit, if somewhat overblown, then credit has to be given where it’s due. And on last night’s performance they deserve it. For all the talking we do in-between, football comes down to 90 minutes and the moments that change games. Last night we were masters of those and it was nice to see. Well done, lads.
In other news there are transfer rumours abounding already. The Guardian reports we’ve made a £22m bid for Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila. The centre-half deal I’d been hearing about appears to be dead in the water after the club in question wanted too much money (shame we don’t have more of it than we know what to do with, eh?!), while the Daily Mail goes full-on frenzy saying we tried to get Kaka on loan but Madrid will only countenance a permanent deal.
Finally for today, shameless plug, but fuck it: Get yer SZCZ t-shirts right here! A snip at €12.99 + P&P.
Back tomorrow with more and an Arsecast. Till tomorrow, winners.