Perhaps this Arsenal team should come with something of a health warning. ‘May cause heart attacks due to proliferation of late goals’.
Three times in our last four league games we’ve won it in injury time. We’ve set a new record in the Premier League, the first team to come from behind to win in four consecutive league games. And the goals keep getting later. Vermaelen’s winner came inside the final minute of the five extra that Howard Webb had signaled. Next week the ref will have his whistle in his mouth before someone unleashes a last second winner.
Not that I’m complaining, I love a last minute goal as long as we score it, and what it says about the spirit of the team is obvious. All the same, there’s a lot to be said for being a couple of goals to the good as we head into injury time. Maybe we could mix it up a bit?!
The first half wasn’t much to talk about and although we created a couple of early chances we were a bit subdued, I thought. Robin van Persie missed a Walcott cross, then his control let him down a few minutes later, and it wasn’t quite the way we flew out of the blocks against Milan. Newcastle went ahead after Vermaelen gave the ball away cheaply, Ba fed Ben Arfa and his left footed effort was really excellent and fizzed in just inside the near post.
Sometimes, when you’re not playing so well, you need something to give you a wake up call and I was hoping the goal would do just that. I wasn’t expecting us to be level with 14 seconds of kicking off though. Rosicky played Walcott down the right, his first time cross found van Persie in the middle, his first touch was sublime, his second even better and he too fired in at the near post to make it 1-1.
And it did serve to wake Arsenal up. Slowly but surely we got a grip on the game, and in the second half we began to fashion chances. Rosicky had a header saved by Krul, The Ox volleyed not far over, van Persie swept Arteta’s cross first time at goal but straight at Krul, Rosicky set up van Persie and again Krul saved, Walcott set up Rosicky but he miscued his left footed effort, van Persie fired wide with his right foot from 7 yards out, Gervinho missed the ball entirely at the back post from an Arteta corner, and Vermaelen had a header cleared off the line from a corner.
This wasn’t like the Mugsmashers game when we’d been under the cosh and nicked it. We made chances and really should have been ahead before the clock ticked towards the 95 minute mark. At that point Newcastle had the ball up our end of the pitch and should have seen the game out to take a point, but we robbed it back, broke up-field, Song fed Walcott and when his cross fell in the box, Thomas Vermaelen, who had run the length of the pitch, was there to sweep home the winner.
The joy of the goal was only made more amusing by Tim Krul reacting to Robin van Persie, who suggested the keeper, who had taken ages with his goal kicks all night long, wouldn’t be so keen to waste time any more. Krul came all the way out of his goal to confront the skipper who simply laughed at him, which was tremendous. Why Robin got a yellow card I just don’t know but two words probably explain it: Howard Webb.
The handbags continued for a few minutes, the clock showed 90+9 when the final whistle eventually went, and although it was late, very, very late, it was well deserved for an Arsenal team that really did make all the running and all the chances. Afterwards, Arsene said:
It was a relentless effort again tonight from the first to the last minute. The tempo was absolutely top level tonight. We kept going until the last second and just managed to win the game.
The atmosphere is great within the squad, and tonight it was exceptional in the dressing room because the pleasure is even more intense when you win in the final minute of the game where you have given everything.
It’s very important that we keep our feet on the ground, keep our complete focus and give absolutely everything until the end.
It just shows you the margins in this game. For all the chances we made we could be sitting here this morning bemoaning a lack of composure in our finishing and wondering where two points had gone. That we’re not is a testament to the new found spirit of this team. It’s almost unrecognisable from the one that suffered that defeat in Milan and the one a few days later at Sunderland.
It’s like those defeats and performances were like a slap in the face and a kick up the arse at the same time, because since then the results have been outstanding. Maybe you can say there’s been a bit of luck but for the most part they’ve been achieved through how we’ve performed. Liverpool was a bit of a snatch and grab, but we still had to dig in and keep going.
Last night, finishing aside, we dominated Newcastle, the same way we dominated Milan and Sp*rs before them. And having the determination and drive to keep going right until the final whistle, to take a chance and run the length of the pitch after 94 energy sapping minutes, is what made the difference in the end. That’s five wins in a row now in the Premier League and the momentum we’ve all been hoping for continues to build.
On an individual level you have to give Vermaelen huge credit for being up there to score the goal, and that so little has been said about van Persie’s touch and finish is a reflection of just how high he’s set the bar in the last 12 months. It was right up there with his best goals for the club, in my opinion. He continues to make the difficult look effortless.
On the right Theo Walcott looks a different player. More confident, more assured, and fair play to him for picking it up. I think it’s probably fair to say that having somebody as epic as Bacary Sagna behind you makes your life a lot easier, and there’s no doubt his absence was a factor in some of our poorest displays this season.
And finally, Tomas Rosicky. A player transformed. I’ll admit I had pretty much given up hope that we’d ever see him play like this. He was perpetual motion in the midfield last night. Not only does he drive us forward in a way that none of our other midfielders do, his defensive awareness and willingness to dig in and do his share is absolutely crucial.
Twice last night he denied Newcastle in dangerous positions, having chased back to prevent attacking moves developing. He was substituted, having run his socks off, but it’s absolutely fantastic to see him performing so well and he really does add an extra dimension when he’s in this kind of form.
Overall, a massive three points. The gap to 3rd is cut to just 1 point, and while the manager is absolutely right to urge focus on the games still to come, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy what this Arsenal team has done over the last few weeks. We now have over a week until our next league game, plenty of time to rest tired legs and make sure we keep this good run going.
* hat tip for the blog title to Santiagoal over on Arseblog News