The Spuddies came to the home of football to show us how much progress they have made and that they are ready to fight for the title, or at least a top four finish. We all know that they have a good mini-phase every season, only to implode towards the end of it. Having said that, they gave us a good game based around a physically strong central midfield and a few players who can play more than a bit of football. It was not hard to motivate our players for this one, but with the large number of injuries and a challenging schedule over the last few weeks, it was clear that many were running on their last legs.
It has to be said that the Spuds also had a busy schedule, but missing out on the League Cup 12 days ago will have allowed their players to rest that little bit more. Against Sheffield Wednesday, we lost Ox and Theo and we also played Mertesacker, Cech, Campbell, Giroud and Debuchy; and they played two more big, taxing games after that. Today, Alexis, Campbell, Mertesacker and Cazorla all looked like they were playing one game too many.
For the first thirty minutes it was an even battle, but we were easily beaten by a decent ball by Rose to Kane on their left flank, who slotted calmly past our enormous Petr Cech, after Koz was unable to play him offsite or get back in time to put in a block (not helped by the BFG being out of position, though). This setback had a negative impact on the players as we were unable to fight back during the rest of the first half.
In the second half, we tried to take the game to them and we had a few good chances, with especially Giroud being unfortunate/lacking sharpness to capitalise on these. But the Spuds, to their credit, were able to escape our periods of pressure regularly and be dangerous themselves; and it took some fine saves from Cech to keep the score at 1-0. Wenger took off the knackered Campbell and brought on Gibbsy, who moved to the left wing as Alexis moved to the right. Almost immediately, Ozil found him with a perfectly weighted diagonal cross and Gibbs took his first opportunity, reminiscent of a super-fit, inform Alexis.
1-1, and now we smelled victory: oh how we wanted to mash those very well cooked spuddies! We fought hard to get a winner but it was also clear that we were grateful to have gotten the equaliser and that we had given a lot to achieve it. The Spuds did everything to not end up losing the game; and a draw was a fair result in the end.
Eight positives from the game:
- Ozil’s tenth assist in 11 PL games and sixth in a row: he never plays a bad game for Arsenal, but he is leading the team for us more this season, and he clearly has become a lot more effective with almost an assist per every game. We are lucky to have him and let’s show him (more) appreciation (and that includes you lazy TV pundits – bandwagon heroes)!
- Gibbs’ winner was very well taken after great positioning, and I like the impact he had from the start. On another day in which Alexis is not in form and Giroud is not delivering either, we needed players to step up, and Gibbsy did.
- Debuchy looked so much sharper than in his previous games. To play his third game in 12 days, after being out for so long, cannot have been easy, but Matthieu was in the zone and defended very well. I loved his passion and pride today.
- Cech was a calming influence once again. He has such an aura and his reading of the game and interceptions are so important for the team. He also does not make mistakes often, or has a rush to the head that puts the team in danger. He is making such a difference for us right now and we are lucky to have him.
- Giroud gave his all, and although he missed a few decent opportunities, he was in the right place at the right time regularly and that goes a long way for me. I am a huge Alexis fan but he was not in this game at all – Giroud was, but was not able to score this time round.
- The Crowd was great and I am really happy we played at home rather than away, given the injuries and team fatigue. The boys needed the home support badly today, and the fans really helped us to get back into the game. Especially, the atmosphere after we equalised was electric.
- Wenger’s substitutions: Flamini for Cazorla helped us with getting the balance right again, as the Spuds had dominated us with three physical, defence minded midfielders in the first half. Normally, Santi and the fabulous Coquelin can deal with this, but without Ramsey on the right to add to the midfield axis, and Alexis and Campbell being more attackers than midfielders, we needed to add a bit more steel next to Coquelin. Furthermore, Gibbs for Campbell was a gamble by Wenger, but it worked out very well: miraculously well!
- Seeing Arteta on the pitch again. Wenger kept players like Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky to help us see out games (like these) and to give our first players a rest now and again. This season, we have not had much fun out of either Arteta and Flamini, and none out of Rosicky, but getting these players back to their best will be key for the remainder of the season. Welcome back Mr Lego-Hair! 🙂