NEWCASTLE v ARSENAL
Arsenal started very brightly, and with some very slick one touch passes, they moved the ball about with great authority. But as often happens, very little in the way of clear openings.
Krull was a bit slow to clear and Rosicky forced a poor kick and Arsenal were again passing the ball around in the final third. In the 7th minute Walcott got body checked by Tiote when on a one-two run at goal, but the ref ‘did not see it’, but it should have been a yellow card for Tiote.
It took a great pass from Cabaye to Debouchy, who got first run on Gibbs to bring Newcastle into life, but that cross was cleared comfortably enough. Much of our attack was going down the left wing as either Rosicky or Wilshere were working that side with Gibbs. However that proved to be a weakness for Arsenal as Debouchy was able to exploit the space behind, with Gibbs playing catch up. Both Sissoko and Remy had some joy down that wing in the first half, but mostly each side cancelled each other out when it came to scoring opportunities.
In the 9th minute, Rosicky had had a great strike on target, but straight at Krull’s midriff. On the 20 minute mark Arsenal won their first corner after another bright piece of slick passing, but was finally cut out as Walcott ran to the byline. Nothing resulted from the corner though. Giroud got booked, rightly, for tripping Tiote, rightly, as Tiote was breaking forwards, but injured himself when it appeared he tweaked his other ankle on the following run through. Meanwhile, Cazorla was still on the ground from the previous tackle where they had won possession, but no foul was given?
Newcastle finished the half with a flourish after a Cabaye attempt was touched over by a fully stretched Szczesney. From the corner a few dodgy moments, but finally the ball was cleared.
So honours even, and the half-time score remained at 0-0.
The second half started much the way the first had been. Some occasional nice bits of play which eventually led to one misplaced one and the resulting lost possession, and this from both sides. It looked like neither side would break this pattern, and it was Newcastle who turned to Ben Arfa for the first substitution, although Arsenal had Podolski, Gnabry and Jenkinson warming up.
There were a few more tackles going than in the first half, and Tiote escaped a booking for doing what Giroud had done in the first period. Then came the free kick which Walcott sent a beautiful aimed ball in from about 35 yards out from just left of centre. It was a not too high curler that was on target, but one that Krull would probably have saved. However, Giroud made a perfect run across his defender, and from the camera shot from behind the goal you could see Krull saw him coming and went fractionally to his right, expecting Giro’s header to go across him. Instead it was a little glancing header to his left that meant his previous movement the other way left him so that neither outstretched leg and hand could prevent the goal. Fair play to Giroud, because in the last few matches such a touch might have easily gone agonisingly wide, but he kept faith and was duly rewarded.
That seemed to spark Newcastle into the more physical stuff that got them some joy in the first half. It was Cabaye who got annoyed at Rosicky who just pushed him away. No card on this occasion, but when Rosicky tried to nip possession of him a few minutes later, Cabaye made an agonising cry of pain, although the replay clearly showed that it was Cabaye’s shin that hit Rosicky in the calf. No surprise that Rosicky waved that one away too. But when the much bigger Tiote came up to remonstrate, Rosicky looked him in the eye and told him ‘to go forth and multiply’, in the abbreviated form. The ref booked him, it appeared on the topping up procedure, rather than the tackle itself.
It was a late tackle on Gibbs on the sideline that seemed to catch him on the top of the foot. Not dissimilar to the one that caused all his metatarsal problems a few seasons back. However, I noticed on the next Newcastle attack Gibbs had a definite limp. Whilst I don’t think it is too serious, a crunch toe may be? So it was no surprise that he was subbed by Ateteta, although the Arsenal fans were caught a little bewildered. As indeed was the defence. Flamini thought Sagna would come across to left back and he would go to right back position. Instead, Flamini dropped in at left back, given the absence of Vermaelen from the bench. This confusion arose again with Jenks coming on for Walcott, and played ahead of Sagna. Later on, after Newcastle had brought on all of their subs, Bendtner also came on to give Giroud a well deserved rest.
In between these actions there was a bit of goalmouth activity at both ends. A delightful chip pass by Cazorla for Walcott inside the box; he lobbed the onrushing Krull perfectly, only for Debouchy to clear with a top class piece of defending, heading from under the crossbar to clear it. It came back out to Walcott, whose second shot Krull saved, but he too only pushed it out to Giroud. He hit it with his right foot back across goal and it was cleared. To be fair to Giroud, the ball came at him quickly from only a couple of yards and he was in no position to turn his body around to make it a shot from wide of the post, and even less time to get it on his left foot.
At the other end, a sharp ball into the Arsenal nearly ended badly. The target for the cross was dealt with by Sagna’s low header to Mertersacker, but Szczesney had made the decision to come for it, but would not have made it had Sagna left it to him. In the confusion that followed Sagna taking his own goalkeeper, the ball was cleared.
In another instance, Szczesney came to make a routine clearance, kicking the ball out of his hands, saw Remy closing him down, changed his mind at the last second from clearing up the middle, to going to his left. He did not get the height, but did get Remy full in the face. Luckily for him, the rebound went wide. He was visibly furious with himself … but it may cost him his place in the next game?
With all the subs that Newcastle brought on being of an attacking nature, it was a bit desperate in the last few minutes. Even Krull came up when they had a couple of corners. Which led to a couple of Arsenal possible replies. Cazorla had a cheeky 90 yards pop at goal of the season from the near touchline. Alas, it only went about 60 yards and was easily stopped by the retreating Krull.
The second one involved Bendtner, who managed to get a throw in off the only defender back, with Krull still struggling to get back in goal. Bendtner moves to the middle of the pitch, screaming at Jenkinson to do the throw in, as a quick ball in would have had Bendtner one-on-one with the keeper. But Jenks was not thinking that quickly, and by the time he got the ball, turned around, the moment was lost.
Finally, for the third time Krull went forward for a corner, deep into injury time, instead of hanging deep for a far post knock back, he made for the middle, for Szczesney in fact, but a good solid punch saw the Gunners home.
We expected a tough match, and it was a tough match. Three points gratefully received.
We also had 53% possession, more shots on target(thanks to Ben Arfa?), Newcastle made more fouls but we got 3 yellow cards. The referee Lee Probert lived up to his pre-billing then?
Thought and reflections:
In the opening few minutes I thought our midfield had recaptured that enterprising play that saw off teams early on in the season. The trio of Rosicky, Wilshere and Flamini seemed to understand the role of one of the remaining at the back. The fluid inter-positioning and quick passing got Newcastle completely confused. However, they had enough quality players, like Cabaye with his passing range, Debouchy both in defence and attack, Tiote, like him or loathe him, he does a solid job? So it was no surprise that they got back into the game. Arsenal, overall, had the better chances, so the win was not undeserved, even if they had to fight for it.
Player by player performances:
SZCZESNEY: Two potentially dangerous errors, two equally great saves. That sort of sums up his game? It has been a demanding run of games, but he will be very pleased with the clean sheet.
MERTERSACKER: Yet another commanding performance. No highlights, just a solid professional day at the office.
KOSCIELNEY: His normally imperious defending was only marred by a sloppy pass that went straight to an attacker. That returned, resulting in him having to make a customary last ditch tackle. unfortunately that ball squirmed out to a Newcastle player, but the danger was cleared. That episode should not take too much off his overall performance, or the excellent partnership with Per Mertersacker.
SAGNA: He had yet another tough day. For the fourth time in a row he has come up trumps. Why he is not worth a decent new contract is anybody’s guess, but performances like these put him in a strong bargaining position? Rarely put a foot wrong, got forward when he could and handled all that Newcastle could muster. Top class from Mr Reliable!
GIBBS: Mixed fortunes for Gibbs. Got forward really well, got some decent crosses in, and was involved in all the early play. Defensively he was not so sure footed. Even in position, Debuchy seemed to have his measure, but often it was the quality of the passing that meant Gibbs was playing behind the runner. His injury late on will probably give him a well earned break. For the amount of running he has done in the last for games it is understandable that a little sharpness was missing?
FLAMINI: He worked across the middle of the park like a sheepdog rounding up the flock. In fact, nipping at the heels go him a booking, but overall a solid game. Very few chances came Newcastle’s way via him. In a game where he specialises in rolled up sleeves, he does not disappoint.
WILSHERE: Definitely one of his better games. He was part of most of our attacking moves going forward in the first half, and was defensively responsible dropping back if Flamini was going forward. Faded a little in the second half, but that was partly due to Newcastle pressure. noticeably did not get uptight or argue in the ref’s face. Solid game, and will do him no harm if he can repeat this next time.
ROSICKY: Oh, a TTM from me Tomas Top Man. Ran the pitch like a man possessed. Never gave up fighting for the ball. His ‘F* Off!’ to Tiote was priceless. If we could bottle his spirit and drip feed it to some nameless others we would not need new players, just a padded cell for them to calm down in. Without him in the side we would not be ToTL right now.
MOTM no question …
CAZORLA: I know many will share my disappointment that Santi could follow up his previous superb game performance. However, for me, it tends reinforces my own opinion of this being another ‘Arshavin-esque’ situation. He needs to be the hub where things evolve from, and his game disappears somewhat when he is a part of another’s creation. I am not meaning he is not a team player, far from it. But when he plays for the team, as he did in the second half, when clearly told to support Gibbs more in defence, he did so. But at the cost of his creativity, where he can bring others into the game. In the first half we saw glimpses of it. In the previous game, when Ozil faded he came into his own. Here, he not only had to contend with Rosicky with ‘Duracell’, but also Wilshere being in the spaces he can operate much better in … when allowed to? I feel this will be an ongoing problem, and not one easily resolved?
GIROUD: The Hero. The Villain. But whatever your view, you simply cannot deny that Giro is the ultimate team worker. The most important thing though, is the players understand the latter to a man. He works his socks off in every game, and even this one, on the back of some slim pickings, near misses, soft chances not taken, he was still in there, putting every last ounce of effort in.
So boy did he deserve his goal today?
Whether he can kick on from here, or take a short break, like Ozil, until the Villa game, remains to be seen. The second half of the season is going to be equally tough, so if I were him I would take a ‘chill out’ break if it is offered.
WALCOTT: He too was not as effective in this game as he was against West Ham. I think that was mostly down to better defending. He did not have the space to work in, when he did early on and he got fouled and that might have put him off his game? But when he was in space passes did not reach for one reason or another. However, he will be remembered for that one piece of magic that gave him the assist for the goal. You often hear commentators say ‘…it only needed a slight touch and ..’? Well this one got it, and did it make everybody in the Arsenal camp relieved?
His other chance to double the score was very cleverly saved by a goal line clearance, and he rebound shot was pushed aside by the keeper. But I think overall he can be happy he made the difference?
Finally, to those who think we should go for Berbatov, I say if you want the team to play with 10 men and somebody up front, then ask the players who they want?
Mertersacker says ‘We need to buy the RIGHT players to help win the title’ … I agree.
Written by: Gerry