Well everyone, I'm sorry to have to deliver yet another sugar coated post to you, but for me, yesterday's game totally merits it. The requirements were simple yesterday, we needed to at least match the Spurs result from the day before. That, or better it, which was going to be tough. Arsene Wenger lined up with the standard 2nd half the season team but threw in Yossi into the wide position. Clearly the lack of focus and drive in the last game was playing on his mind. Having a player in there with the class of the Israeli but also his dogged work rate was a good move in my eyes.
I was half relieved when I saw Mancini had omitted Tevez from his starting 11. The team they turned out was still strong. Nasri, Aguerro and Balotelli are all top players. It felt like a game we could win if we set out with the right attitude. Well, we were dominant pretty much from the off. We controlled possession and camped out in their half for most of the opening 20 minutes. We had plenty of corners but not a lot of goalward action. Rosicky was the first player to open up a shot when he struck a half volley that bounced of a City player and wide. From the following corner it looked as though Robin connected with a header which hit Vermaelen on the back and clipped the bar. What a nightmare!
The ball came down our end and the first City corner was in the part of the ground I sit in. Samir wandered over but backed off when he saw the abuse he was getting. It wasn't particularly nice to see, but that's the nature of the beast when you're a greedy little pig with no loyalty. The in-swinging corner saw Mario connect with it, I'm pretty sure it was Theo who made the block and Vermaelen hoofed the ball away. A bit of a fright. The feeling amongst the people I was sitting with was that we had to score first if we were going to win. Chasing against an Italian team is always going to be a massive ask.
The fans were in good spirits... Tevez started warming up and they sang, 'He plays when he wants, he plays when it wants, Carlos Tevez, he plays when he wants!'
The half finished on two minor scares. Our keeper took time out to make a customary distribution ricket. His kick went straight to them and started an attack. He redeemed himself shortly after when Pizzaro played a route one ball to Mario, the Polish keeper was off his line sharpish and cleared the danger well.
The half finished and it was clear that if we were going to win we'd need to start penetrating in the final third. Too much possession play, not enough killer passing / shooting going on. Someone was going to have to take responsibility and push us on.
Well, the first chance fell to City, Nasri floated a ball into our box, a header was looped over Szecseny but he clambered back to swipe it over the bar.
Down our end, Alex Song found himself about ten yards outside the box. He stopped, waited, floated an angled ball into the run of Robin whose header rattled the base of the post! What a fantastic goal that would have been.
The exciting thing about the second half was the manner in which we pressed. This wasn't lead by the youth, this was lead by Yossi, Rosicky and Arteta. They were first to everything. If they weren't, they were snapping away at ankles. They really wanted the win, this pushed the rest of the squad on. It was great to watch from the stands.
The next chance was comical. Sagna crossed to Walcott, he shot across goal, it hit the post, bounced back out to Vermaelen, he duffed his shot towards the goal, Yossi nearly touched it, then it hit the other post and bounced wide. HOW DID IT NOT GO IN! At this point, many of us thought that might be the last great chance we were going to have. Our whole afternoon up until that point had been all about duffed shots. No one had really let a clean one rip.
Well, that was about to change. It looked like Arteta won the ball from Pizarro in the midfield, he pushed forward, unleashed a thundered shot that flew past Joe Hart into the bottom corner. The place erupted! No one could believe we'd had a shot from that far out, no one could believe we were about to destroy City's title dreams! Shortly after the goal, the Gooner faithful turned their backs to do the Poznan dance. Oh how we mocked the poor old City fans...
Controversy wasn't over though. Mario Balotelli still needed to make sure some of the attention of the afternoon was on him. He chased down Sagna, chopped him in half and took another read card. It had been coming. It should have happened earlier but the ref didn't book him for dissent in the opening ten minutes. That man is a liability.
The last chance of the game fell to Ramsey, he ran the length of the pitch, cut inside the City full back, waited, then waited some more, didn't square it and shanked it horribly wide. Poor old Aaron, nothing is going for him at the moment!
The final whistle blew up and we'd taken the points. Plenty of the home fans stuck around to celebrate after. Third was back in our hands now. All the lads need to do is assess what exactly changed between this week and last, bottle it and make sure we have focus like that for our run in.
Yesterday showed where we should be as a club. We know that on our day, when everybody is focused and we field a decent team, we can beat anyone in the country. We know that with the right additions this summer, we could be up there with City and United next year.
The stand out players yesterday for me were the old boys. Arteta had a fantastic game yesterday, he looked sharp and motivated. He was a beast in the tackle and he fought for every loose ball. Rosicky found his form again. He has pace to burn for someone past 30 and his drive and spark look to have come back. I've been a big fan of Yossi all season. I'd like to have seen more of him, he's a class act. He can pass, he's not afraid to shoot and he has a great habit for popping up in the right place at the right time. Those three combined yesterday upped our workrate and drive to levels I've rarely seen this season. That's not to take anything away from Alex Song. I thought he was excellent in the main yesterday. People tend to criticise his bad passes more than anyone else. He's not going to be perfect everytime, but I'd rather he tried than not, as long as it's in moderation.
Our midfield performance yesterday meant City had no time on the ball and had to resort to parking the bus. When you've got £400mill worth of talent on your bench and you have to resort to bringing on Kolorov to save the day, you know the opposition are doing well.
Up top we kind of lacked a bit of a spark yesterday. Robin can't do it every game, but I felt the efforts of the midfield were slightly let down by our more attack minded players. Theo Walcott wasn't at the races yesterday. He really didn't cause too many problems with his pace or his movement in general. Still, that's why you have a squad and that's why other players have to stand up and be counted when others aren't having their best games. Arteta deserved that goal for the sheer cheek of it. I think Joe Hart was slightly out of position for it and he probably had it in his mind that Arsenal don't tend to shoot from that range. What a goal!
We also have to give a lot of credit to our back 5. The keeper didn't have to do much but he commanded his box well when he needed to and he did try and slow play when City were creeping back into the game. Vermaelen and Koscielny were superb. 100% concentration levels all game. I was impressed with Sagna like I always am and I also thought Gibbs was playing well. There weren't too many moments where I could spy him playing at right back. I'm still not sure whey Santos came on, but he played well. He's very composed on the ball.
The fans were great as well. We really got into the second half. The stewards let us all stand and the noise levels picked up as the game went on. That's how it should be at a home game, I'm glad we all finally seem to have worked that out. It feels like we've developed more of a community as the season has worn on. I talk to far more people than I used to... I think when you all share in such lows, it makes the highs so much better. It's good to be a part of that.
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Once again, it has to be reiterated that we haven't qualified for anything yet. We still have 6 games left. The next one is another potential complacency banana skin. Chelsea is our last really tough game, but we also have Stoke in there. We can taste the finishing line... but rest assured, there will be more dropped points. The key is to remember that it won't just be us doing that. It's going to be exciting... let's hope we make 3rd ours so we can crack on with our summer in peace.