I don’t know about you but I was almost resigned to it being one of those days. We were heading towards injury time, having hit the woodwork twice and seen Rob Green, a keeper about as reliable as a 1970s Skoda, pull off a string of saves which on another day he’d have fumbled into the net.
When space opened up for Gael Clichy on his right foot I don’t imagine there were too many people confident that he might produce something of merit, be it cross or shot. Clichy’s last assist was in 2000, playing for his village team against a blind hunchback XI, and in all the games he’s played for Arsenal I don’t think he’s ever made a cross with his right foot that made contact with an Arsenal player.
The law of averages kicked in yesterday though. He dinked one just over the West Ham defence, curling dangerously towards goal and when Alex Song lunged forward to head it over the line I jumped in the air, sending the cat that was sitting on my lap (he’s a good luck cat, you see) scurrying for safety. At that point there was only going to be one goal in the game, we’d got it and the three points we needed were in the bag.
We certainly made hard work of it though. The performance isn’t one you’d ever write home about but in the first half Green made three good saves. The first to deny Cesc after he was set up by Bacary Sagna, then late in the half from an Alex Song shot and he tipped over a goalbound Squillaci header from a corner. At the other end they were troublesome at times, Fabianski dealt well with a couple of tricky free kicks and made a decent save from Noble.
In the second Nasri hit the bar with a free kick that might have gone down as one of the all-time greats had it gone in. With hardly any run up or backlift he hammered it towards the top corer and with Green beaten it was just a few inches too high. There was a mighty scramble after Scott Parker took one straight in the face from a Cesc shot, Parker lay flat out then got up and stumbled around like a punch drunk boxer, before the ref eventually stopped play. Any sympathy one might have for a player in that situation tempered by the nasty tackle he made on Denilson – it was almost exactly the same as de Jong’s on Ben Arfa, get the ball then follow through making sure you get the man.
We brought on Theo for Denilson and he was sent clean through by Cesc. His shot left Green clutching thin air until it hit the post and came straight back into his arms. Jammy. Bendtner came on for Arshavin, Chamakh had a decent enough chance with a header but was being manhandled in the box, the keeper saved from Cesc with the rebound just out of Bendtner’s reach and when Green saved Theo’s deflected effort I thought that just might be that.
For all the criticisms about this team, however, the ability to keep going, to keep pressurising opponents and creating chances right until the final whistle isn’t one of them. We do like a late goal, often a bit later than we might like, but there really is nothing like the pleasure of scoring so late you know it’s won the game.
Song’s header was his fourth goal of the season and he’s scored in each of his last three games. On a day when Cesc Fabregas said his first half was the worst he’d ever played in his life (due to a recurrence of his hamstring problem), when Nasri wasn’t quite at his best and when Arshavin disappointed again, Song stepped up. He was involved in a lot of good work in and around the box yesterday and deserved his goal.
We kept the structure of our game right, we didn’t do anything stupid, we kept trying to be intelligent and that in the end got us the goal with two minutes to go.
And of Song:
He has got the taste to go forward, even if I think a little too much sometimes for a holding midfielder! But that is part of our game as well.
It would be easy to look at the performance and pick it apart but in the cold light of day it’s really not necessary. We had decent chances but didn’t take them well enough or were denied by Rob Green who will go back to being crap next week. Not every game can be scintillating and packed with goals. You have to win some ugly ones as well and yesterday’s victory was right up there with Iain Dowie.
Watching Match of the Day last night Chelsea won a game against Blackburn they should have lost. Jason Roberts missed a glorious chance to make it 2-1 for the Fat Walrus then Chelsea scored the winner. They’re winning ugly too and however we play we’ve got to keep pace with them. The fact that we’ve now kept three clean sheets in a row is a positive as well. Things like that are habit forming and we need to be able to scrap out the 1-0s as the season goes on.
So with those three points nicely in the bag we can turn our attention to the midweek trip to Ukraine in the Champions League. We’ll have to wait and see what the situation is regarding Cesc’s hamstring which is now becoming a real worry. He missed five games the last time it flared up and with tough fixtures against Everton (away), Sp*rs at home and Villa (away) coming up in November we’ve got to make sure he’s right.
Anyway, more on that in the days ahead. For now it’s the Sunday papers, a hearty fry-up and a game of 5-a-side later on. Till tomorrow.