I don’t know if it’s amazing or not, because social media is place which exhibits the best and worst of people, but after securing our third away win on the trot, people were complaining @ me on Twitter. Maybe I should be used to it by now, but the self-entitlement some people feel about football is ridiculous at times.
The second half performance wasn’t great, certainly in comparison to the first, but better Arsenal teams than this one have dropped points away from home after European away trips. It used to be an actual thing, where we’d play poorly due to fatigue/midweek exertion and results against sides we would normally expect to beat weren’t as good as they should have been.
But this was our sixth Premier League win in a row and our recent schedule has seen us go to Old Trafford and win in the FA Cup, go to Monaco and win in the Champions League, and go to St James’ Park and win against Newcastle. You know, I’m pretty happy with that all things considered.
It was the absolute epitome of a game of two halves; we probably should have been out of sight by half-time but for missed chances. Danny Welbeck’s movement was great, his finishing really wasn’t. It was up to Olivier Giroud to do the necessary. For the first he got a touch on a Welbeck flicked-header to put the ball into the bottom corner, out of reach of Tim Krul, and for a period following that goal Newcastle fell apart.
Alexis set up Welbeck for one of those missed chances with a beautiful flick over the defender, but the volley wide with the goal at his mercy is the kind of chance he really should be taking. You can point to him being deployed out wide as part of the reason his goal tally isn’t as high as we’d like, but when you get chances like that they should be put away.
Alexis was frightening them, Cazorla won a corner and Giroud simply held off the defender to nod the ball into the opposite corner from his first to put us 2-0 up. That’s 9 goals in his last 9 games, and 17 from 27 appearances in all competitions this season. While some will point to the night against Monaco as a true reflection of his quality, on the basis of what he’s done this season that was an aberration. A costly one, no question, but he’s become a very reliable, consistent goalscorer – especially since his return from injury.
He might have scored more had crosses reached him and not been cut out by eager teammates, but 2-0 at the break was a nice place to be. A bit too nice, it seems, because there was a distinct lack of zip about us in the early part of the second half. Newcastle were allowed saunter down our left hand side as if there was no way they could hurt us. Challenges, if they were made, were half-hearted so Sissoko’s goal was definitely a wake-up call.
It was also a goal which, I think, sapped the energy from some of our legs. Instead of cruising to victory we now had a fight on our hands, and credit to the home side because they really had a good go. We couldn’t get control of the ball so more and more it became a backs to the wall defensive display. Koscielny, at one point, grew visibly frustrated at the inability of those ahead of him to keep possession, and he and Gabriel at centre-half had to be very strong.
The Brazilian, in particular, coped very well with what was surely the most ‘English’ game of football he’s ever been involved in, and with a referee quite content for things to become physical it was a real challenge. One he stood up to well, making 7 interceptions, 4 blocks, 11/11 clearances, 6/6 headed clearances and he wasn’t cowed by the rough and tumble of the game.
David Ospina made two good saves to keep us ahead. One from a Sissoko flick, the other with his legs after a shot heading towards his near post deflected back across the goal, and it was pretty much all Newcastle, but like we’ve done in recent times, we coped with whatever was thrown at us. It wasn’t much fun at the time, but this is now a team that can defend a lead.
I mean, if they could see fit to not conceding and/or defend a more substantial lead more often, I’d be totally cool with that, but under the circumstances, with heavy legs and a Newcastle team full of vigour, I have no complaints that we took the three points back to North London.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
We have played four games in two weeks and three away games at Manchester, in Monaco and here today, and we’ve won all three. The last 40 minutes were difficult because our legs had gone a little bit and Newcastle played very well in the second half, but we had an outstanding second half going forward. We had a fluent game by creating chance after chance and in the second half we just had to show different qualities and hang on.
It was a game which continued our recent excellent run of results. Those frustrating losses at home to Monaco, away at Sp*rs and Southampton are surrounded by a series of games which we’ve won. Since we last drew a game (Liverpool 2-2 on December 21st), we’ve won 16 and lost those three I mentioned.
To me it suggests that this is a team which, while it still has its flaws, knows how to win matches previous incarnations certainly did not. The manager’s team selections might puzzle a few people (no Walcott again yesterday even with Ozil out through illness and Alexis knackered) but he seems to be generally finding the right balance to make us a pretty efficient outfit right now.
The challenge now is to keep it going until the end of the season, and we have to pick up where we left off after the Interlull. Now, for a good draw today between United and Liverpool and a miracle result for Hull.
Till tomorrow, when James and I will have an Arsecast Extra for you, have yourselves a good Sunday.