Three points required, three points achieved. Yes, we made it more difficult for ourselves than it might have been, but then that is what we do. It’s our cross, our handicap, and until we can shrug it off it’s just something we’re going to have to cope with. Thankfully we did that yesterday.
We even started the game better than in recent weeks, scoring in the 6th minute through Santi Cazorla. There was a bit of good fortune to it, a pass rebounded back to him to shoot low past Guzan to put us ahead, but we certainly looked a bit sparkier than in recent fixtures.
Unfortunately the goal wasn’t quite enough for us to go on and grab hold of the game with both hands, and Villa had some dangerous moments. Szczesny had to make good saves from Agbonlahor and N’Zogbia, and there were crosses fizzing in far too close to our goal for my liking. Up the other end we were finding it hard to make space and create. Walcott curled a left footer not too far wide, Giroud’s build up around the edge of the box was decent at times but again the issue was end product.
And there were warning signs: when an Arsenal free kick deep in their half was cleared, it took a combination of tenacious and speedy defending from Jenkinson, along with excellent support from Jack Wilshere, to snuff out a Villa break.
In the second half we kept at it, Giroud might have squared for Wilshere but shot wide from a tight angle, while a series of corners provided little threat until the Frenchman planted a decent header which hit Guzan and the bar. Apart from that Villa looked quite content to concede corner after corner because they were dealing with them so comfortably.
There was another warning sign as we pressed forward, a Villa break was snuffed out in midfield, but when we won a free kick and pushed men up to try and get another goal, their break was much more effective. Andreas Weimann ran from his own half, Arsenal’s defenders were reluctant to commit as they had an overlap, and it created the space for him to shoot from about 25 yards. It was hit well enough, but it was pretty much straight at Szczesny who saw it all the way and still allowed it to go past him.
I’m on record as saying I think Szczesny has the potential to be a very good goalkeeper, but he’s going to have do a lot more to convince others. It was a poor piece of goalkeeping, no two ways about it. The kind of mistake that other Arsenal keepers have been crucified for in the not too recent past, and all that potential will mean nothing if he can’t find consistency. I know he’s young by goalkeeping standards, but that’s not the kind of error he needs to learn from. He needs to be dealing with those shots as a matter of course.
If we had another option at the club I’d be tempted to give him a ‘rest’ to get his focus back, but for me Mannone and Fabianski do not represent reasonable options. We have to stick with him, hope he can cut this out (remembering he did make good saves in this game, and Sunderland showed what he’s capable of), then assess the situation at the end of the season. I think it’s fair to say he needs some competition.
So, pegged back with just over 20 minutes to go, and the team knew this was a game from which three points was absolutely vital. And this is why it’s such a boon to have a player like Santi Cazorla in your team. I know there are games in which he looks less effective than in others, but he is a relentlessly positive footballer. He’s always trying to make something happen; whether it’s part of the build-up, taking a shot from distance, looking for an angle, and yesterday it paid off.
To me he always looked like the guy who could win it for us. And so it proved. Jack Wilshere found Nacho Monreal’s run, the new boy pulled it back for his former Malaga teammate and Cazorla’s clinical finish won the game and saved Szczesny’s blushes. I thought it was goal we deserved. Having let them equalise we upped the tempo and really went for it, and Cazorla’s performance more than merited the goal too. He’s such a joy to watch, even if stuff doesn’t come off you won’t find him playing safety-first football, and that’s something one or two others could learn from.
Afterwards, Arsene was full of praise for him, saying:
For me he is a complete player because he also has spirit. He continued to fight until the last minute even though he was a bit tired.
He is a good example to follow because every day he is happy to come and play and practice. When he is on the pitch he gives you everything.
And that’s what it takes to win on days like yesterday. That spirit, that desire to keep going even when muscles and lungs are burning, it makes the difference. We’re sitting here this morning happy with three points and it could have been a lot worse. The margins are so slim now, the points so valuable, that we just cannot afford to slip up in games like this one. You might take a draw against Sp*rs, but not against Villa.
In terms of the overall performance, it wasn’t one to sing and dance about, but I don’t think that was ever going to be the case after the week we’d just had. In the end we had to show some character to win it, and even if it was our mistake which made it difficult, I’m glad we got there in the end.
It means our unbeaten run in the league is now 5 games. That’s as good as it has gotten this season, so with Sp*rs up next, we need to go one better at least.
Have yourselves a good Sunday, more tomorrow.