Good morning kids – James here with a match report for your enjoyment and entertainment. As a diligent and conscientious person, I have of course agonised over this blog and spent hours perfecting it; however I could have easily cut and pasted my last two match reports from QPR and Crystal Palace. I know a win, is a win, is a win, etc. however I am longing for a thrill-free, comfortable win away from home. It would be remiss to whine when, really it’s the three points that matters, but we could make life far easier for ourselves (and our hearts/ lucky white y-fronts, which aren’t particularly white anymore).
In terms of team news, Ozil was missing through illness – he certainly has the willowy appearance of a man with a weak immune system. It was a shame he couldn’t play given his brilliant recent form, but a full week off will benefit him. At the back, Chambers came in for Hector at right back, who looked spent in midweek, whilst Gabriel came in for Per.
The first half was very enjoyable indeed, as we created chances aplenty, whilst pressing Newcastle high up the pitch. Gabriel’s pace was integral to this tactic, with his pace, combined with Koscielny’s, allowing us to take a few extra risks. Coq was doing a great job, plugging holes (geddit) all over the pitch. Alexis was taking their left back to the cleaners and playing well; whilst Giroud was doing what he’s done all season – holding the ball up, linking play and bullying defenders.
Both of our goals came in quick succession from set pieces – which we score from far more often than is perceived. The first was a Santi free kick which WELBZ flicked goalwards, with the hunkish Gaellic god diverting the ball into the net off his thigh/ massive manhood. It was an instinctive finish and one of a man in a great vein of form. The second followed several minutes later, with Giroud holding off Williamson to head Santi’s corner past Sloth of the Year 2012, Tim Krul.
The rest of the half was comfortable. Newcastle created very little, whilst Arsenal created – and missed – chances. As the players went in for their halftime oranges and bumps of chizz, I couldn’t help but feel fearful of a Newcastle backlash in the second half; with missed chances coming back to haunt us.
It made a strong, concentrated start to the half essential. If only. Within two minutes, the barcodes had pulled one back through Sissokho – who is a very good player indeed. The goal was poor from our point of view, particularly from Nacho who has been superb over the last three months. Cabella was closed down by Nacho and Coq and played a give-and-go. Clearly, Monreal should have followed the Frenchman, but he allowed him to run in behind unopposed. His cross found Sissokho unmarked and his first time finish left Ospina rooted to the spot. It was disappointing to see one of their midfielders in so much space, with the freedom of our box with no one within a metre of him.
Something of an onslaught then followed, with us completely pegged back and unable to hold onto the ball. Most concerning of all was how exhausted our players looked – Santi could barely run before he was hooked after 65 minutes. Alexis went off along with Santi and he has the look of a man who is desperate for a rest. This seemed like an opportune time to do it, given he will be away on international duty with Chile before the visit of Liverpool, which he is likely to start. Regardless of your views on him, Theo Walcott is a very viable option to start games and I don’t understand why Alexis played from the start yesterday. Perhaps Ozil’s omission forced Wenger’s hand and he felt we needed to retain a level of star quality in the side. Rotation is so important in top-level football and it isn’t an Arsenal-only problem – look at Chelsea whose form has dropped off a cliff recently. All and sundry had pointed out Mourinho was constantly playing his best eleven with minimal rotation and now those chickens have come home to roost.
At the back, I thought Gabriel was really excellent yesterday. He was composed under pressure and used the ball intelligently; whilst he is aggressive in his defending, often knicking ahead of the forward to win the ball. I was impressed and the signs are promising. I was less impressed by Calum Chambers however, who really isn’t a right back. Firstly, he isn’t quick enough and more importantly, he adopts a far too upright position when he’s jockeying the winger, which makes him easy to beat. I like Chambers a lot and think he’ll be a top player for Arsenal, but if he is to really make it, it will be at centre half. Debuchy’s return after the international break, along with Bellerin’s progress, should consign Chamber’s right back outings to the bare minimum.
Fortunately we managed to see out the rest of the game, despite some very pooey-panty moments. Ospina made a bizarre save from a Newcastle header, where he flapped like a seal in a circus, whilst Ayoze Perez was a constant threat. He looks a real talent and his movement was superb yesterday. We just couldn’t keep the ball in the closing periods, but we did create chances. Krul saved from Bellerin at the death, whilst an incredible surge of pace and power from WELBZ put him through on goal, only to hit the shot straight at the keeper. To much relief we saw it out and got the three points.
In spite of the gripes over the energy levels and second half performance, that was a massive win. Looking at our fixture list, this was the game I felt could be a potential banana skin and given Liverpool and Utd face off this afternoon, it was critical we retained some space between the chasing pack and ourselves. With regard to that game, clearly a draw would be the best result; but if pressed to choose, I would prefer a Liverpool win. Seeing United miss out on the top four would be utterly delicious, given their wild expenditure and hiring of the second coming to manage them.
We are one point behind City now, so second is feasible, but with a tough game at home to Liverpool next we should take nothing for granted. If we are to retain that pressure on City, you feel Giroud will be pivotal to that. He’s a man at the peak of his powers at the moment and has stepped it up massively since his injury. For the first time in his Arsenal career, he has started to bully defenders and use his physicality – the flicky wrists have been demoted to a thing of the past. His goals have been crucial too, which have been scored at an impressive rate. I know he isn’t a Suarez or Aguero, but I genuinely wouldn’t swap him for any other number nine in the league on present form (except Aguero, of course). He still has the odd stinker in him, ala Monaco at home, but he’s an excellent centre forward who crucially acts as a totem for the likes of Alexis and Ramsey to run off, which makes us a better side. Plus he’s a thing of beauty, chiselled from oak and hibiscus plants – delicious.
Someone who could also be pivotal in our run-in is David Ospina. He seems like a jolly nice fellow. He’s quite short and a bit chubby, which makes him seem genuinely cuddly. He’s from Columbia. He’s a got an extremely irritating chant. He’s an okay goalkeeper. But that’s it – he should not be the first choice goalkeeper at Arsenal. His distribution is terrible – he seems to struggle to kick the ball passed the halfway line on most occasions and his reluctance to play the short game is very odd. There has been a lot of debate on Twitter over the last 12 hours or so and several Twitterati made the point Ospina is a non-risk taking goalkeeper, in the mould of Shay Given who stays rooted to his line. This is a fair assessment in my view. Ospina is lily livered in some respects, whereas despite his faults, Szczęsny can never be accused of cowardice. His performance at West Ham away is a prime example, where he was brave and claimed almost every long ball in the box to negate Andy Carroll’s threat. Ospina doesn’t have a performance like that in his armoury and in my view, can’t do anything that Szczęsny can’t. From what I’ve heard, a new goalkeeper is at the top of our shopping list this summer and if it means Ospina doesn’t play, I’m all for it.
To finish, there have been rumours over the last week regarding the future of two of our ‘British core’. During his last contract saga, Theo was frequently linked with Liverpool and so it continues this time around. From his point of view, it would make sense. He grew up as a Liverpool supporter, they’d probably pay him more than we’ve offered and he’s more likely to get game time, particularly if Sterling leaves this summer. It would be a shame to lose Theo given his goal threat, but for me the biggest issue with him is his injury record. Every season he misses around a third of the games through injury and it’s wasting a space in the squad, with a high earner too, when we could potentially upgrade this summer. I think he’s a goner.
Finally, there have been rumours linking Jack Wilshere with a £30m move to Man City this summer. I have no idea if there’s any truth in this, but if there is, it’s something we’d have to give serious thought to. Like Theo, he is perennially injured and just cannot string a set of games together without busting his ankle. I love Jack and think he has so much quality, but again, if we could shift on a player in a crucial position on high wages for a big fee, it’s something worthy of consideration.
Anyway, that’s my lot. Enjoy a football filled Sunday. Until next time x
Give me a follow on Twitter @James_Willson2