Nothing like getting back into the Arsenal saddle. Pissing down with rain, shite public transport a pub so thick-set with man mist you could taste it.
Still, there’s not much that compares. It was great to be back, even if our seats did leave us totally sodden.
As for the game?
Wenger lined up with his favourites out of the players that aren’t injured. He dropped out Gabriel for Per + Flamini found his way back into the side at the expense of Callum.
This game had dull written all over it. If there are three things in life you can guarantee, one is that Wenger will have trouble with his zipper (anyone spot the moment he cast away his jacket like a rain loving bad ass?), the other two are that Boxing Day games and the first after the new year are usually really flat affairs.
This one was no different. We didn’t click out of the New Years eve coma. The rain didn’t help, but to be honest, the rain might have made passing the ball different, but it shouldn’t be dampening our attitude when there’s a title race on.
Newcastle had the better of the play, they were trying to get in behind our full backs and seemed to think high balls into our box were the way in (I wonder if they thought Gabriel was starting?). They had the best of the chances in the first half, Arsenal needing to call on the excellence of Petr Cech a few times.
The second half was supposed to be when the Arsene Wenger ‘once a year hairdryer treatment’ kicked in. Well, after about 6 minutes, Newcastle had totally blitzed our goal… Petr Cech on hand again with some incredible keeping to make sure Newcastle’s number stayed at zero.
We eventually found our way into the game from an unusual place, a looped clearance was won by the sleepy Giroud, the loose ball was poked in ‘fox in the box’ style by Laurent Jeffers. The goal wasn’t deserved, but it perked the team up for a very solid final twenty minutes of the game.
Ozil came alive and started to dictate play. Wenger made some 70minute changes that impacted the side for the good. He brought on JC who really looked up for it. He ran at players, he fought and he caused a bit of a nuisance of himself. One notable moment was when Aaron Ramsey jinked through the Newcastle and blazed his shot just wide instead of squaring it to Joel… the Costa Rican kicked the post so hard I think he broke the post and his foot. He cares. I like that.
We managed to ride out the game and take the three points. No one likes a cold, wet January game… but to take three points tells you something. The sort of game United used to win back in the day. It keeps us ahead in the league and keeps the belief strong in the players.
Things we learnt…
Petr Cech: Make no mistake here, Petr Cech won us those three points. My Gooner pal on the way in made the point that if he was good for 15 points at Chelsea, he’s probably worth more like 20 for us considering the state of our keepers previously. He has incredible technique meshed in with 10 years of game time experience. The way he commands his area, the way he makes the hardest of tasks look run of the mill… it just never gets old.
I’m so glad Arsene has always recognised having a WC keeper is important to a title winning team.
Wingers: Theo and Chambo didn’t really do much of a job helping out at the back. Both winning 36% of their duels. When you have those two in the side you lose your defensive balance. When Joel Campbell came on, I felt we looked more stable. There was one point when we were attacking with Mesut and JC just stayed back making sure he was offering maximum defensive cover (or he was nursing that busted foot). This was either a tactical instruction from the bench, or just a reminder that JC is pretty good at that part of the game.
Not a good day at the office for Theo. He needs to start making his chances count.
As for Chambo? I know he’ll be a great player, but he needs to start finding some of the magic dust, because it’s becoming a grating experience watching him make sloppy mistakes and bad decisions whenever he comes on.
Forwards: It’s difficult to pinpoint what’s going to kill us this season. Is it going to be Flamini getting found out? That moment where he threw a kamikaze slide tackle whilst on a yellow card really was the height of dimness for a man of experience. Or is it creativity and end product? Chambo, WELBZ and Theo really don’t cut it for me. I feel like our forward line is going to need an injection of something if we’re going to kick on. We’re certainly suffering creatively without the jiggery pokery of a Cazorla in the side, that baked in with a lack of potency up front really is a worry.
There’s talk that we’re in for Pierre-Erick of Dortmund, but one can’t help but think that’s The Sun’s way of reminding people they dropped their disastrous paywall. Then there’s also rumblings that we’re in for Insigne of Napoli, a tiny tricky inside forward.
This is the thing for me. It’s very difficult to be negative when we’re racking up points. But what I’m also finding from Arsenal fans is that it’s also really hard to be super positive. You know there’s something missing from the team at the moment and you know it’s not just missing players.
I just don’t have that confidence that we can push on and take that trophy at the moment… maybe I’m scarred from the past, maybe it’s because I know City have the gear we’ve never shown… but I guess this is the first year that I’ve never not ‘known.’
I don’t mean I’m a sage… but most of the last ten years, it’s been pretty clear we’re way off. Not this time. We do have warrior players. We do have sprinkles of world-class running through the core. I mean, you can’t tell me Cech, Koscielny, Sanchez and Ozil aren’t up there with the best on the planet.
… question is, are those players enough?
Well, we’ll find out in due course. It’s exciting whatever the hell is going on. I love knowing we’ll be there at the end, and that’s all we ask for, am I right?
Yeah, I’m right.
Ok, my last day in the UK. It’s been beautiful.
P.S. Great to see so many people yesterday at the Arsenal!