At about 1400 hours on Saturday the Spuds smelled Gunners’ blood. Our own le Coq had just been sent off after conceding a second yellow card and the cauldron of vileness started to boil over. We conceded a scrappy goal from a corner and not much later the half moon faced one bent a banana-diagonal ball past the outstretched hands of our tangerine coloured goallie. A ‘one nil to the Arsenal’, scored with an audacious, perfect back-heel by Rambo was turned into 2-1 for the Spuds in less then ten minutes after le Coq committed his stupidity.
There were dark clouds hanging over WHL and we all knew it was now or never for the players to stand up and be counted. Wenger showed how brave we needed to be by taking off Elneny and bringing on Ollie. The Spuds aim to dominate/overcrowd midfield and we had needed three central midfielders – Elneny, le Coq and Rambo – to stop this; so to take off Elneny after le Coq had already been sent off was not without risk. However, this provided inspiration and within a minute we equalised with a fine finish by Sanchez after a typical pinpoint diagonal pass into the box by the always combative Bellerin.
2-2 and the away fans went crazy: could we even complete the coupe with a late winner?!
Well, we all know that Rambo came close but for a late, well-timed block by Wimmer. It could also be argued that if Dier had been sent off for his blatant pull of Ollie’s shirt, which for some reason referee Oliver had spotted but subjectively judged not worthy of a (second) yellow card, we would probably have created more chances in the last ten minutes and, indeed, take all three points back to bright side of North London with a third and decisive goal. Oliver should be questioned by the FA for not issuing a second yellow card.
It was not to be, but what was almost just as important is the size of our balls on display yesterday afternoon. Especially for the London based Gooners, yesterday’s turnaround was crucial for their personal well-being for weeks to come. We showed guts and determination and deprived the Spuds from a unique opportunity to humiliate us. It kept the gap between us and them to just three and we will surely overcome this once again over the next two months. Furthermore, the turnaround will provide motivation for us to start a new round of victories and first up is a journey to Hull on Tuesday. Wenger will need to pick his strongest team, very much based on the players he sent out yesterday. We cannot afford to slacken in any more games now and the FA Cup is a very worthy price to fight for.
There are many positives to take from this game. These are my eight positives:
- Elneny must mean ‘the beauty of simplicity’ in Egyptian as he showed us all how controlled his passing is, even whilst being under tremendous pressure. Danny Murphy, a former midfielder, was full of praise for Elneny’s midfield positioning and calmness with the ball. When we need to play three central, defence-orientated midfielders, Elneny is a great option to have.
- Rambo‘s motor was purring as we all know it can. His runs into the box are vital for us and he can do this wherever he plays. For me he remains our ideal box to box player but in yesterday’s game it made sense to play him on the right. Defensively, he still left gaps behind him which the BFG, Le Coq and others had to fill. The Spuds cracked us on that flank in the second half, luring both the Frenchman and German into costly mistakes. Fellow bloggers on Bergkampesque are arguing that Rambo should play in a more attacking role so his defensive lapses will no longer be exposed, but I feel that Aaron simply has to work harder on balancing his attacking impulses with his defensive duties. Clearly, this is still a work in progress, but his cheeky goal and fine pre-assist for our second goal were among the highlights of our team’s performance.
- Welbeck‘s energy and fine pre-assist for the first goal are encouraging. When we sit back and absorb pressure, we need an alternative to Ollie and Theo – who both have shortcomings for this style of play – and Danny seems to offer something different. I loved his measured, visionary pass to Bellerin which lead to our first goal.
- Bellerin had two assists and especially his second one was very impressive. Just like Rambo, he also needs to find a better balance between attacking and defending, but boy did he deliver on the former.
- Ospina: it is a real art to combine calmness with continuous alertness and energy. Cech is the more introvert type whereas Ospina wants to be actively ‘present!’. He made some fabulous saves, denying the Spuds, who had 11 shots on target compared to our four, time and again. There was nothing he could have done for both goals, but some of his saves were world class.
- Alexis: Since mid October Sanchez had not scored a PL goal for us and he could not have finished his goal-drought at a better time than with yesterday’s crucial equaliser. It was a quick and fine shot towards Lloris’ right corner; the Frenchman should probably have done better but Alexis was rewarded for his directness.
- The away fans were fantastic throughout the game. I initially followed the game on the radio and was so much more aware of the great signing of the away end. Especially the ‘One Nil to the Arsenal’ after Ramsey’s fine back heel was a joy to the ear!
- Arsene: Our manager deserves praise for the way he sat up the team and for the changes he made after we got behind. Adding Elneny to le Coq and Rambo in midfield was spot on and so was playing Welbeck and Alexis in front of Ozil. Le Coq’s foolishness was costly: if he had stayed on the pitch we would have had a very good chance to take all three points rather than one from WHL. How players behave on the pitch is something Arsene has very little influence over, but making adjustments is very much his job. Bringing on Giroud after 75 minutes and then Flamini after 85 minutes, were respectively daring and logical substitutions. They may have saved our season.