Make no mistake about it, last night was probably the coldest night I've experienced at the Emirates in a while. A proper FA Cup tie under some pretty intense weather conditions. Well, I'd imagine they were less harsh if you were out on the pitch!
It was worth it though, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance and I especially enjoyed the balance of the side. Wenger changed things up from the weekend, opting to bring the out of favour Coquelin in from the cold to go... eerrr... out in the cold. He played him alongside Diaby with Jack Wilshere playing in the hole. Wenger shifted Cazorla out onto the left, banged contract rebel Theo out on the right and sat Giroud in the middle. I'm not sure what he was thinking, going experimental in an important game.
Wow, what a difference it made. The team looked fairly compact, it had a purpose and after the first half, it really felt its way into the game and started creating chances like we haven't seen since the Newcastle game. Players moved for each other, the switched positions, they pressed and they defended with surprising discipline.
Coquelin must be a smart boy. He sees what we're lacking. That's a holding midfielder with the intelligence to sit back, pick up the ball and distribute with a bit of ambition. He did exactly that, once he was past the half way line, he tended to check and sit deep. He was more than just a five yard pass which gave the middle of the park a more dynamic feel. What he has is the energy to tear around the pitch. Swansea are very good off the ball and they can be quite calorie sapping when they're on the ball. The fact we kept them quiet most of the game is partly down to the work he put in. He has a lot to prove... was Wenger right to ignore the capped M'Vila?
Having Diaby back in the side is what really gives us a different flavour. His height and rangey legs make him a difficult customer to deal with. You can't mark Diaby in the middle of the park in the same way you can Cazorla. He holds the ball up really well and he matches that with the ability to turn with ease when he has his back to goal. He just makes things difficult for the opposition. Whether that's in the air or just getting in the way because of his size. He gives us more steal and he mixes up the attributes we boast through the centre. Trouble is, you can't rely on him... so it's wasted excitement.
Jack Wilshere was the hub of the team last night. His discipline has improved dramatically over the last few weeks. He knows when to fight, he knows when to calm down, he knows when to niggle at the opposition. He's our bit of cultured nasty... because for all the bluster, he's actually an incredibly talented footballer Generally, it takes two or three seasons for the goals and assists to really kick in. Jack is finding his way around the pitch at the moment, working out how to dominate games on his own... but the signs are already there that the goals will come. As time rolled on last night, many of us sensed the footballing gods were going to punish us with extra time... possibly late revenge for booing Eboue... then up stepped Santi who cut some space in the middle of the park, found Jack who controlled the ball, cut inside his defender and blasted his shot past the impressive Vorm.
The crowd went wild, Jack went wild, we all went home happy, even if two or three toes were lost to frost bite.
The only questionable performance of the evening came from Theo Walcott. He really did have a nightmare. One of those evenings where nothing dropped for him. One of those evenings you could usually describe as standard match for him. The timings of his runs were woefully off, his control recieving the ball and when running at full pace was lacking... I watched him run the ball out of play twice which was embarrassing for someone who is about to sign a three and half year deal which would indicate those nights were past him. He did come into the game a bit more as the second half wore on, I remember being very excited when he hit the target at one point. Sometimes things don't go for you... but as expected, that contract and his behaviour in holding the club to ransom has already manifested in ill favour for him. He's earning big boy wages now, talk of being young won't rub. He has to be on it every game or he'll be getting grief from the stands. Not helpful, but as we've seen before, a greedy player never goes down well at The Grove.
I thought Giroud had another good game. He was just as bad in front of goal as Theo (more on target from harder chances)... but he was more productive elsewhere. He's a very hardworker. The timings of his runs and his ability to get on the end of a fairly high percentage of balls in the box make him a very different striker to the type we're used to. If he had the pace of Adebayor, he'd be a bit of a monster. Once he truly beds in, I think we'll have a 20 goal a season striker on our hands. His freekick was the best I've seen any Arsenal player take in about 2 months. He lacks the class of a Robin or a Thierry, but for me, we have added variety to the front line. If we brought in someone with true class to compliment Theo and Giroud, we'd be in a very solid place depth wise up top.
Another two players I want to give credit to are Gibbs and Vermaelen. The Belgian had his best game in an Arsenal shirt of the season. He made some superb last ditch tackles and demonstrated some real fire last night. Gibbs, who has failed to really impress me this year put in a decent shift as well. His speed of thought and ability to read the game really stand out when you watch how many interceptions he makes during a game. He was mostly first to everything. His problem comes with positional sense when he's not directly involved in play. He tends to switch off, which results in him losing the runs of people who should be watching. Last night though, I couldn't fault him. He looked great.
I guess one aspect we can't forget is that both teams knew a draw was going to be a problem. The second half lookced as though both managers had insisted the players take aim at winning within the ninety minutes. The game really opened up which played into our hands. The big question is whether we can take our second half form into the Chelsea game on Saturday and deliver it with a clinical edge. Chelsea are fragile at the moment, they dropped two points last night... they're their for the taking. The clash of the two most inconsistent teams in the league... it could be a spectacular.
Big rumours on Twitter yesterday about a £30m bid for a player being lodged. The source is a well respected one, but the Tweet was removed later on... after it had gone viral obviously. Now, I don't want to p*ss on anyone's chips, but regardless of how good a source is, it can be agendarised. I can't for the life of me think who we'd be looking to blow £30m on, but we can certainly afford to do it. I guess my main issue here, is it is way out of character and I'm struggling to think who Wenger would put that sort of cash on. Leaked information about us batting in the big leagues somewhat relieves the pressure on the manager even if nothing happens. He has a history of it... last season Wenger was talking about making Hazard's dreams come true... the summer before he was telling us we could compete with Chelsea. If nothing comes of this rumour, half the fans will take it to mean we'll be buying big this coming summer... obviously, the club would never plant 'big spending' seeds to shift season tickets would they?
Anyway, I'll watch on and see what we're planning on doing with this. It's unlikely to be Cavani if City had a £55m bid rejected, it can't be Fellaini as he has a £22m clause, Falcao won't go for anything less than £50m... could it be someone like Neymar? Maybe Gotze? How about Schweinsteiger? Hulk? Higauin? Who knows... it's an exciting thought, even if wrapped in a cover of scepticism.
Right... enjoy your day!