Sanogo the difference, last game for Pod & other post FA cup thoughts

Post FA CUP Final observations by Gerry.

Good morning all. And what a fine day it is to be free of the … ‘not having won a trophy in X number of years’tag. Such relief. Congrats to all the team, who played as a team when they needed to. Job done … The hard way, of course?

Wenger

I have spent the last hour reading all the comments, and I went with that flow too. I missed the equalizer (dog), but managed to see it out to he end. Annoyingly, the high pressure that brings us all the fine weather also gives me an occasional weak signal, thus rendering my recording a bit of a waste. Luckily, switching channels to watch it ‘live’ resulted in an upturn in our fortune on the pitch as well.

Just a few observations:

Starting with Geoff’s point in previous post (@01.39). Having a player close to Giroud makes him look a far better player with that extra yard or two of extra space. And that is saying something when it is a raw kid like Sanogo who still has so much to improve upon, can do that? Imagine what somebody with experience would do?

Sanogo. So, so very unlucky not to have broken his scoring duck by now. A wrongly disallowed goal in an earlier game. Finger tip touch in this with Giro-esque twist-turn-and shoot that might well have gone in off the post in this, along with other half-chances. If he can get his feet to do what his brain tells them to do, he will be something special. At the moment his first touch is clumsy to say the least. He has that long leg Diaby-like stick ability in tight situations, and can often come away with the ball when he has no right to it. But for all his flaws and limitations, he was the player we needed in this game, for his pace, effort, movement, and that occasional successful stickabilty that led to the winning goal. If they give out points for pre, pre, assists, then his part in that goal will be seen time and time again, with endless replays on the television, as a very special moment. I hope he will come good in years to come, and does not get drowned out by the clamour for that big signing.

Podolski. He suffers when he cannot start his play from the halfway line, imo. Guilty for the first goal for walking away before the danger was cleared. Not even playing the guy he was leaving off-side because Gibbs remained at his post on the goal line. But that is what you get when you play a forwards who is not naturally defensive minded? In the end his forward threat his lost from his starting position. Even young Yaya above, never shirked the defensive duty when needed, and had the pace of youth to get back up in attack.
Thank you Poldi for all your great goals, but I think you have probably played your last game in an Arsenal shirt?

Ozil. Criticism will come his way, but unfairly imo. The one thing Ozil needs is movement round him. Until Sanogo came on there was very little. Thus his passing game was made redundant. You can praise Hull’s tactics for much of this. They had a man on Arteta to keep him back. They were quick to pounce on Giroud when anything came his way, fairly and unfairly, it got the same result. Ramsey was kept back deeper because of the numbers they had in midfield, and Podolski rarely had a chance to run with it either. Luckily, as has been mentioned in comments above, he is a team player, and he will keep going for the team throughout the whole 120 minutes.

Cazorla. Worked his magic on the free kick. perhaps the goalie was at fault for not entirely trusting his ‘wall’ to do its job, as when he saw who had taken the kick, he took a half step to his right. which meant he was caught out by both the pace and accuracy of Santi’s shot. Where 9 times out of 10 going to where the keeper is, they will get saved. This one was one that didn’t. That apart, Santi worked hard against a disciplined defence, and few opportunities. occasionally his free roaming meant he was crowding out the space that Ramsey might run into, but overall a solid game, without too many decisive moments.

Arteta. I thought he had one of his better games, given the limitation of his pace, or the lack of. He was the main outlet ball out of defence, when played short, and was there to for Gibbs, as he was closed down quickly early on. However, he is another who will find game-time in short supply if the TW goes our way? Suggest he spends time getting his coaching badges?

Gibbs – Roundly criticised for missing the sitter, but that does not take away from his overall contribution. Nor should it be forgotten that he got in that position to miss the sitter, which, by rights, should have been a Poldi/Ramsey/Cazorla option? And let’s not forget his clearance off the line that saved us from going 3-0 down. He made numerous, and often unused runs down the left. Had a couple of half chances to feed a pass into the box, but failed for one reason or another. Where he excelled was being the last defender back on our set pieces. And also, when Fab went ‘Flappy’ near the end of the 120 minutes, he made another 30 yard dash to cover the open goal shot that ended up going wide. Should he ever get an injury free season, and all the experience that goes with it, he will be every bit as good, if not better, than Ca$hly got to be, and unlike him, he is a Gunner for life.

Koscielny. Kos had a typical Kos-type game. Sound in defence .. for the most part. Always a threat in our set pieces. Scored with his feet! And then nearly threw all the praise away with a blunder at the death. Still our best 50% pairing though.

Mertersacker. Poor old Per. An absolute rock for 119 minutes, then slips, and it could have ended in disaster for him. Slow to get up? Well apart from being a big guy at the tail end of a highly disciplined performance, he had a right to expect Sanga or even Kos to be covering as he was up against ‘fresh legs’ Aluko? Fortune favoured him with the latter’s misplaced shot, after Fab made a fruitless attempt to save the day. Let that not take away from an otherwise strong leader’s game.
Fortunately, he will not be departing any time soon!

Sagna. Oh Bacary. Yes you could leave on this high note? But you could also stay? Hard to find a fault in an otherwise tireless game. Few opportunities to get decent crosses in, but put in a real shift, as always. If economics decides it, he will be hard to replace. perhaps never, in like for like.
If common sense prevails. and team unity, loyalty, and a true class player are properly rewarded, Bacs will get what he really wants?

Fabianski. Deserved his place in the side, and fully deserves his medal. At fault for either goal? Not really. The first was a well worked routine that came back into the box at pace. For the second he was somewhat let down by the defending(Poldi), that allowed his initial save to come off the past and bounce to the scorer. In commentary it was suggested that diving into the goal meant he was in no position to save the second attempt? That is a bit harsh, give the angle he was going for the ball. As it was he only narrowly missed injuring himself, so another foot or two to the right and he almost certainly would have clattered the post, and that could have been far more costly? He did make another really good save that got a slight deflection of a heel(Arteta?) down to his right which made the difference between a finger tip touch or a full hand to it, but he still turned it around the post. Like Per, he was lucky late on, but overall another sound game.

Subs Wilshere and Rosicky had the same effect that the Hull subs did, by giving energy and focus to an otherwise tiring attack. And it made the difference for us, but not quite for them. Coming on for the last 20minutes of normal time might have been the obvious time, but we may well have lost our eventual goal scorer? Playing from the start is another question entirely, and one I do not intend answering.

Written by: Gerry.

Time to end the drought! Arsenal vs Hull City FA Cup Final Pre-Match & Line- Up

Intro:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rEINxpUf8MA#t=88

Big big game this one. Both teams know what’s at stake. Every Arsenal supporter will be on the verge of ecstasy…or complete rage depending on how this one ends up. I’m a nervous wreck, and I have been ever since we knocked Wigan out in the Semi. I’m certainly not getting ahead of myself, especially after our last cup final heartbreak (not to mention the Chelsea 06/07 League Cup and the 05/06 Champions League final). We have won our last 3 FA Cup finals so fingers crossed. I really hope we don’t take Hull too lightly and we are ready for battle. Podolski’s comment of “Who is he?” when asked about a Hull City player doesn’t comfort me. Then again he’s as frank as they come.

Let’s get in to it, shall we:

Missing in Action:

Diaby sick bay

Arsenal: Vermaelen (knee) and Oxlade-Chamberlain (Groin) both face fitness tests. Both are likely to make the bench. Walcott (knee) and Gnabry (knee) will miss this one.

Hull City: Pretty much have a full squad to choose from. Strikers Long and Jelavic are cup tied leaving them a touch short up front (pardon the pun). I’m glad Long isn’t playing, he’s a bit of a menace, plus he just has one of those faces that makes you want to punch him. People probably say the same about me but I don’t deliver cheap shots on the pitch like he does. Plus he makes a lot of money so he couldn’t give a shit. Long, if you’re reading this and want to sort me out, my name is Prince and I live in Sydney. I can be found at any local entertainment store purchasing a TV (sent a remote through my last 12) or at any worksite with my Hampton nailed to the floor. Chester will miss with a Hamstring injury.

Predicted Line-up:

starting line-up HULL

Some pretty big question marks over who starts, perhaps none bigger than which pole starts in goal? Fabianski deserves it because he got us to the final. However, it is more beneficial for the team if Szczesny starts. My reasoning is: Szczesny will be with us next season…Fabianski will not (unfortunately). The experience Szczesny would gain from such a big match would be very beneficial in the future. I also think Szczesny is a better keeper over all. Szczesny was rested against Norwich, so does that mean he’s finished off the season early? Or does Arsene want him fresh as a daisy for the final? Was Fabianski starting the final fixture his chance to dust off the cobwebs? I have no bloody clue, Martinez could start and I wouldn’t be that surprised given Arsene’s record in big matches (Sanogo – Bayern. Coquelin, Szczesney and Song – United). Vermaelen and the Ox face fitness tests, but I don’t think either will start. Santi or Rosicky is another. Both deserve to start but Santi will most likely get the gig. My preference would be Rosicky. Arteta, Ozil and the Welsh Jesus will man the midfield.

Previous Encounters:

Hull City v Arsenal 0-3

The Ramsey-Podolski show! A double by German gun Podolski and a tidy finish from Ramsey was enough to dismantle Hull. Ramsey showed just how much we had missed him as he played a part in all 3 goals. The home crowd moaned after the second goal but Jelavic clearly flopped on the ground looking for contact. It amazes me that so many supporters whinge about players diving on the pitch, yet when one of their own isn’t rewarded it’s the biggest injustice in the history of time.

You can see the highlights below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcHfojyFdV8

Arsenal  v Hull City 2-0

Goals from ‘The Greatest Player to Have EVER lived’ and Ozil were enough to keep Arsenal on top of the table. That cross from Corporal Jenks was delicious. You can see the highlights below:

Form Guide:               Arsenal:  : WWWWW        Hull: LLLDL

We’ve finished the season well after a bumpy run. The team was in danger of losing 4th place to a determined Everton outfit. Fortunately for us Arsenal has faced these pressures before and the team rallied. Arsenal should be in a confident mood for this one, but the players and Arsene will be under immense pressure.  The pole in goal and Koscielny will remember what transpired last time. It’s time to get this monkey off our back.

Road to the final:

Arsenal vs Wigan 1-1 (4-2 on penalties)

Arsenal vs Everton 4-1

Arsenal vs Liverpool 2-1

Arsenal vs Coventry 4-0

Arsenal vs Tottenham…Not sure. Can you help us out Theo?

walcott_2_0

Thanks Theo. See you soon mate.

Can’t say we didn’t earn our spot in the final. A very tough lot of fixtures.

Not the sort of form Hull would have liked going in to a final but form is largely irrelevant in this one. Anything can happen in a final…something we know well.

Road to the final:

Hull vs Sheffield United 5-3

Hull vs Sunderland 3-0

Hull vs Brighton 2-1 (replay after 1-1 draw)

Southend vs Hull 0-2

Middlesbrough vs Hull 0-2

Arsenal Archive (1)

This week I’ve dipped into the Arsenal Archive and pulled out this video clip. It’s the 1970-71 FA Cup final against Liverpool. The colours could be something of a good omen. Enjoy

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6nO8hCbqG4

Key-Match up:

Ramsey and Ozil vs the Fat ex-spud Huddlestone

welsh jesus

On the outer at Spurs, Huddlestone moved over to Hull in search of more minutes. A move that has certainly payed off for both Hull and Huddlestone. Not only has he been a rock in their midfield this season, but he’s also offered them plenty going forward. He has a good range of passing, an eye for a goal and he’s not too bad with a dead ball. Expect him to play out of his skin in this one as I’m sure he’d love nothing more than to give his spud friends something to cheer about on Saturday. There is another spud out their too…he goes by the name of Livermore. Like rats the spuds appear to pop up everywhere.

Ramsey and Ozil…oh what could have been eh? Ramsey was on his way to winning player of the year until his injury. While the rest of us can sit here thinking “could we have won the title if he stayed fit?” Unfortunately we will never know. I’m just very happy for the kid. What a turn around. Many labelled him as deadwood. Now he’s the second coming. I know I can sit here smugly and say “yep. I had the faith and never bagged him once”. For shame the rest of you! If he and Ozil gel together…this one is in the bag!

Pre-Match Finger:

kid finger

 

This week’s finger goes to every bloody media outlet and opposition supporter. Yes, we haven’t won a trophy in a while. Yes, we know you like to rub it in our faces every bloody day. Hopefully a win in this one will result in you finding some new material…not likely but a man can dream. Up yours!

Pre-Match pat on the back:

pat on the back

This week’s pat on the back is going to Arsene Wenger and all the players that have been involved in this campaign. It has been another long season with many ups and downs. We’ve seen glimpses of what we have threatened to deliver for quite some time. On the other hand we’ve also witnessed some truly shocking moments (the Liverpool first half will haunt me for years to come). I guess upon reflection it’s been a typical Arsenal season.  We were decimated by injury. We had good victories. We had bad losses. We even sat on top of the table for quite some time. However, it’s all in the past and now we have a chance to end the season on a high. Well done to the players for getting us this far.

Ask the opposition (7)

‘Ask the opposition’ returns again this week. It is designed to get some friendly banter from our opposition fans and get their insight for the match ahead.  This week the answers were kindly provided by SM. A top notch Hull supporter from Oz. Let’s see what he’s written for us this week:

1)What got Hull this far in the FA Cup?

What got us this far was sheer determination. A couple of times now we’ve looked down and out and the players have dragged us across the line. And not just the regular starting players, but fringe players like Yannick Sagbo and Matty Fryatt.

2) What would winning the Cup do for Hull?

Winning the Cup would literally be the biggest moment in this club’s history. It would eclipse the first ever promotion to the Premier League, and the achievement of staying in the Premier League. Winning the Cup would etch forever this Hull City team into the city’s consciousness. It’s hard to explain in Aussie sporting terms, because there is no comparable situation. The closest is the 05 Swans team, and even that club had won a flag 72 years prior.

3) What player/position is your weakest?

The left side is definitely our weakest, with Figueroa horribly out of form and Brady injured. Rosenior is decent cover, but we’re still not strong in that position.

4) What tactics is Hull likely to employ against Arsenal

I would hope to see us play quite cagey early on, and try and keep the score 0-0 until about the half hour mark. If we can do so I think Arsenal supporters will get on the players’ backs, and it will work to our advantage, and we’ll then look to make pacey attacks on the counter.

5) Which Arsenal player would you like and why?

I think my most valuable Arsenal player would have to be Cazorla. Ozil has a great range of passing, but we have that with Huddlestone. Cazorla is that dynamic attacking threat from midfield that we don’t quite have; that links your strikers with your midfielders.

6) Which player/ position do you feel is Arsenal’s weakness?

I think your weakest position is your strikers, and if we can exploit that by giving our defence license to roam, then we may be able to exploit you on the counter.

7) What is your prediction for the match?

Honestly I keep to-ing and fro-ing about the match. I’ll have to say a gutsy 3-1 loss for us if I go with my head, because Arsenal will be too determined, but it would be the match of my lifetime if we were to get up.

Prediction:

It will be a nervous start. How could it not be after the Birmingham final etched in the players’ minds? After some early jitters we will settle in to our groove and prove too strong for a determined Hull outfit. I don’t think they have enough fire power up front to worry us. I predict a FA Cup 3-0victory to the good guys.If we lose…we’ll I can’t bear the thought of it. The world may implode!

What is your prediction?

Szczesny or Fabianski? (BJ…you don’t have to answer this one mate 🙂 )

What team line-up would you go with?

Who will be our best player on the day?

Will victory be enough to propel the team to a new era?

Enjoy the game Arsenal fans. Wherever you are around the world be sure to savour every moment of it.

2005 FA Cup win

Written by: Oz Gunner

Arsenal’s Best 11 Players for FA Cup Final

cid160876_arse_640x345

The good news is that Oz Gunner will produce a match preview later this week, but I thought it would be good to discuss our best starting eleven today. Just for a bit of fun.

Injuries have possibly held us back from winning the title this season, or at least from getting very close to doing so, but luckily we can pick from a strong squad for Saturday’s FA Cup final against Hull City.

I have been thinking about our strongest eleven for the Cup final, whilst also taking into account things like potential departures of players and playing history in this competition.

I reckon our best eleven players for the final are:

Goal Keeper

Fabianski: yes, it would be a good and necessary experience for Szczesny, but I reckon we owe it to the older Pole to play in the final. He has got us there with some fine performances; but most importantly, Fabianski is a safer pair of hands when it comes to keeping his concentration for 90 (or more) minutes. I expect us to dominate the game for large parts and for Hull to focus on set pieces, and Szczesny has a knack of going in kamikaze in these sort of games…. boredom is not good for him. So Fab for me.

Left Back

Gibbs for me. I know some fellow BKers have their doubts about Kieran but for me he is one of the most exciting prospects in the whole Arsenal squad. A total athlete who offers everything you need in a full back, and he is very close to breaking through. The older he gets to stronger he will become and he needs to play in this final to win his first medal.

Centre Backs

Mertesacker – Koscielny. Both have their qualities and limitations but, like a perfect marriage, they get the best out of each other when played together.

Right Back

Jenkinson could do with the experience, but Sagna should start: one of my favourite Gunners and an absolute rock for us this season. It looks like he is leaving which would feel like a step back again; but we need his experience and hunger on Saturday, and he also deserves to depart with an FA cup medal in his suitcase.

Double DM-pivot

Flamini – Ramsey. I could live with Arteta instead of Flamini, but if Huddlestone is playing for Hull I want us to have a strong physical presence that will keep the former Spud quiet, and I reckon Matthieu is the man for this. I also believe Ramsey will be able to support the attack more if we play the Frenchman rather than the Spaniard next to him. The only risk is Flamini getting hot-headed and send off, but surely Wenger will coach him on this.

Ramsey is a given: he is our engine and our connector, who makes our team not two parts of defence and attack but one machine.

Central Attacking Midfielder – ‘Man in the hole’

Ozil of course, although…. Four things are important for the hole position: stamina, creativity, running with and without the ball and ability to give shape to our team. Long term, for me, the best person for this is SJW. Jack is best at giving shape and structure to the team, even better than Ozil – his performances in January were simply awesome. But Jack will not be fit enough to start, I reckon, and he will need a lot of games to get back to his very best again. So Ozil it is.

‘Holding’ Central Forward

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie, Ollie. Giroud is the obvious choice as nobody is better in our team at being the pivot in our attack: allowing the midfielders and fellow attackers to come forward and join the attack, creating opportunities for others and keeping defenders busy. Would I want OG to be a better finisher? Of course, but we need a lot more from Giroud in Wenger’s current system, and boy does he deliver this for us (again…. after a blip a few months ago).

Left ‘Wing’ – Right ‘Wing’

Aahhhh, it is a bit more difficult to choose for these positions. Without Theo and Ox (game comes to early, I reckon), we do not have a lot of choice for the wing. The two positions will have to be filled out of Cazorla, The Pod, and Rosicky. With Ramsey’s – and to a lesser extent Flamini – pressing and running from the centre, Ozil willingness to create space and do ‘wingplay’, Giroud’s readiness to spread himself about andthe support of the full backs, I believe we can get by without proper wingers in the team.

I am not a big fan of playing Pod and Cazorla together but reckon Wenger will go for these two on Saturday. I would prefer to start Rosicky, as he always personifies what playing for Arsenal is all about in the cup games. He has the drive and experience to motor the team on and he adds that little bit of speed and penetration the other two lack to some extent.

Pod has been in fine finishing form lately, and I would just about give him the nod over Cazorla for Saturday.

So my ideal team for the Cup final is:

FA cup final Arsenal line up

What do you think, FFG’s?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Be Kind to Yourself 🙂

BFG shows character, Pod and Santi disappoint, Fab saves us: Arsenal – Wigan Afterthoughts

Our real leader: the BFG.
Our real leader: the BFG.

We knew it would not be easy, and boy did we make it hard for ourselves yesterday. A game of great contrast: Wigan had nothing to fear, with an FA cup in the cupboard and Man City eliminated already this season; but we had almost everything to lose. And it showed.

The recent demoralising – some might say devastating – defeats against title and CL-place contenders Chelsea and Everton, as well as the loss against Stoke and the late equaliser against Swansea, have clearly had an incredible, and under Wenger unprecedented, impact on our players.

I really cannot recall an Arsenal game like this against a ‘minor’ team under Wenger. We were nervous, restless and had very little flow to our football. There appears to be little belief by our players in their qualities and our game plan, as well as any form within the team. But what we cannot say about our players is that they did not give everything yesterday to turn things round and try to win at all costs.

And despite the lack of flow and quality by our boys, they were the better team yesterday and deserved to come out as winners. Wenger had limited options for his starting eleven but I was pleased to see Sanogo start ahead of the knackered and unfocussed Giroud. Sanogo is clearly a work in progress: a raw diamond that needs a lot of sharpening up in the workshop. But what he gives us is energy and unpredictability and I liked what I saw from him yesterday for the entire 120 minutes. He is not ready to be our nr2 striker for the foreseeable future though, before anybody starts jumping on my back! 😉

For me, the real problem was that the two most experienced and successful in front of goal players – Podolski and Carzola – just were not able to influence the game enough: to add that bit of control and quality on which the whole team can build. And for what they earn and the responsibility they have been given by Wenger, this is not good enough. Both players need to play in a free role and depend heavily on the hard work of others in the team, and it was once more obvious that they cannot make our play.

We knew this about Podolski but some believed Cazorla’s best position is in the hole…. I think we know now for sure that he is not suitable for this: too slow, too ponderous and not demanding enough. I like Santi and there is a future for him in the team, but he disappointed me again yesterday. The same goes for Podolski who has ‘moments’ in every game but just does not influence the game anywhere near enough to justify a start. A super-sub for me, but I reckon he will be gone next season.

It was really good to see Ramsey back and he tried hard to motor on our team. Clearly, he is not fit enough to make a significant difference yet, but that will come. Arteta evidently struggled at times but he never gave up and fought through his self-doubts with a steely determination, which I really like about him. And his penalty, the all important first one for the team, was class.

Ox worked his socks off and was desperate to make a difference in this game. It is still clear he is also a work in progress with plenty of weaknesses to improve on, but as an attacking driver for the team he has made massive progress. He was our most dangerous man both in terms of creating and taking chances and let’s hope he will stay fit for the remainder of the season, to add the much needed thrust to our football.

I loved Mertesacker’s goal after an uncharacteristic, nervous mistake (against a player in front of him for once!) that led to Wigan’s goal from the penalty spot. There is something very pure about the BFG: he gives his all and knows about his weaknesses, yet he will give his all to get the very best out of himself – and that goal epitomised him. What you see is what you get and the man fights for our shirt with all he has got. For that we’ve got to love him.

Sagna, Mr Reliable, was once again fantastic: what a club player he is for us. Gibbs did well taking over from Monreal, but the man of the match was undoubtedly Fabianski.

He had little to do during the game, but as we were just not able to control our nerves and apply some much needed composure up-front in 120 minutes of football – except for BFG’s desperate goal and Ox’s fierce goal attempts – it was our other Polish keeper who became the unexpected hero.

There are two sorts of goalkeepers: the uber-confident, extrovert ones and the calm, calculated, introvert ones. Szczesny (and the Wigan goalie) belongs to the former and Fabianski (and Seaman) to the latter. I loved the way he stayed calm and on one spot for each penalty: focussing on the opponent and figuring them out, rather than behaving like an ape and trying to put the opponent off, like his opposite number did. Fab also has a very fine diving technique and he guessed right almost every time.

He made the real difference yesterday and is the reason we are in the FA Cup final. I hope we are still able to sign him up, and if not, that he will find a fine club where he can be the nr.1 goalkeeper for the rest of his career. This he deserves.

So, Hull in the final and still a great chance to win the FA cup. But the Hammers are up next and they will smell blood and tired bodies. More character will be required from our players and we, the fans, need to stay fully behind them.

TotalArsenal.

 

Gusty rotation, Ox and Fabianski (and Howard Webb) Help Put Anfield in the Rear View

Arsenal – Liverpool: 2-1

The Ox was unleashed today!
The Ox was unleashed today!

 

So many themes, so much riding on an FA cup match (sandwiched amidst even tougher or more important matches), and Arsenal get the needed result.  It wasn’t pretty and frailties in the team were on display, but players stepped up, took opportunities, and created a result that will help put the horror of eight days ago behind us.  With a new frontline of Poldolski, Sanogo and Oxlade-Chamberlain and rotation at goalkeeper and both fullbacks, Gooners had to be holding their breath on this one.  If we could take the result—and only a win would do, even contemplating a return to Anfield for a replay might require a change of undergarments—with this team, it would deepen the squad ahead of the match with Bayern Munich and must-wins in the Premier League.  A loss or a draw would mean Liverpool probably deserved to be seen as our superior, and holding them off for the (guaranteed) CL spot (3rd) would become the new narrative…

Before the match, the voices of doom echoed a standard refrain:  Wenger was sacrificing the (more winnable) FA Cup for the brighter spotlight of the Champions League.  Yaya Sanogo?!  In on a free, injured for months, to start the match!?  Lucas Poldolski, a player with the opposite reputation (he’s old, well capped by a strong national team, etc.) but also underused this season would start alongside the lanky Frenchman.  And then there’s the Ox?  Is he a natural replacement for Theo Walcott or is he an extra defensive midfielder?  Would his presence signify a boost to our sagging attack or that we were playing (as on Wednesday vs Manchester United) simply not to lose?

From the kick-off, Liverpool appeared dangerous.  Knowing that referee Howard Webb would try to calm the match with whistles in the middle of the pitch, observers had to know that set pieces would be a key.   And so it was.  The match started with strong Liverpool attacks but ones which only found Daniel Sturridge pushed onto his weaker right foot.  One was well saved by Fabianski; another found only side netting.  Amongst these, our defense had to marshal various set pieces and corners.  With Webb at the whistle, the Liverpudlians by way of South America (Coutinho and Suarez) made a meal of every contact, while Sterling and Sturridge were also extreme challenges for our slower right side (Jenkinson and Mertesacker) and not much faster left side (Koscielny and Monreal).  In the early minutes, Nacho looked well worked and a weak link but he worked his way back into the match (after an early yellow), and Koscielny again showed why he is one of the best in world football.

On the other hand, while I would’ve preferred more calm possession in the middle of the pitch, we also pressed the large openings.  Oxlade-Chamberlain in particular looked up for his chance and won (and took and overhit) an early corner and certainly looked lively.  Meanwhile, the large presence of Yaya Sanogo took some time to appreciate, appearing alternately skilled and unschooled, taking touches that appeared both cultured and comical.

Gloriously, we got past 5 minutes without conceding, 10 minutes passed and then 15, and a bit of a pattern was setting in.  Clearly set-pieces and quick attacks (mostly resulting in corners) were the order of the day and the first goal would be the key.  If Pool got it, we would need two (to avoid the replay), but if we did, they might have to come out even more.  At 16 minutes it fell to Arsenal.  A corner was cleared wide to Özil who, scanning his targets as if it were a free kick, floated it towards the stacked towers of Mertesacker and Sanogo, the latter chesting down and pounding a shot which was blocked but fell kindly to Oxlade-Chamberlain.  Still, it took full concentration and the twenty year-old was up to it, blasting it at waist level past Keeper Jones.   YESSSSSS!!!!

The remainder of the half saw Arsenal, with a lead now to defend, begin to shore up and keep better shape, content to try and play on the break.  Liverpool carved decent opportunities, but Suarez, who really is the class player in all of England if not the world, was mostly playing provider rather than finisher.  As long as we kept him out of the pool, er the 18 yard box, where his diving (and finishing) skills might hurt us, we looked OK.  His best effort was a wonderfully curled cross, to which young Sterling should probably have gotten.  Maybe in a couple of years… The speedy kid also had a fine chance to go to ground after rounding Jenkinson but instead tried to score.  If Suarez stays at Liverpool, Sterling will learn…

Unfortunately our own counter-attack appeared tame.  Poldolski cannot provide more than 10 yards of sustained pace and Ozil, Yaya and the Ox were unable to combine to any real effect.  1-nil at halftime, however, felt a whole lot better than 4-nil 8 days ago.

Both teams adjusted well and clearly had new intent after the break.   Almost directly from the kickoff, Suarez rounded Nacho too easily and played it to Flanagan who got it back to Suarez in the box with time and space to do his thing.  A touch onto his right foot beat Koscielny but made the angle tougher. The incredible reaction speed of Fabianski allowed him to foot-block his shot to the far post.  Wow!

Almost before Gooners could appreciate that save, Jenkinson won possession on the right byline, hit a fast first time ball to the Ox, who played a magnificent 1-2 with Ozil.  The Ox took one perfect touch to round the defender and buy time to size up his pass, which was inch-perfect for Poldolski to hit home with his weaker right foot.  A spectacular team goal and an indication that Arsenal can score on the counter!  2 nil, match over?  Not so fast, my friends…

It was clearly a goal we needed but, given that a Liverpool goal would tickle the nerves of every Gooner in the stadium, and with memories of 4 in 20 minutes still fresh, it was FAR from over.  As is natural, Arsenal set out to defend and Suarez, rat-dog that he is, sought to get in the box where he could do his bit. Unfortunately, and perhaps pumped up from his well taken goal, Poldolski obliged by foolishly attempting to knick a ball off the Uruguayan from behind.  Feeling the touch, Suarez went to ground grabbing the ball and forcing the whistle.  No foul and a handball or a Pen?  Webb correctly, I fear, chose the latter.

Gerrard converted to the left corner with Fabianski fully covering the right.  2-1 and back to the pressure cooker.   Suarez had been rewarded, so the game, his game, was on.  Instantly, a leg left out touched Koscielny and Suarez was down clutching his stomach(?).   A moment on and Suarez laid a fantastic pass off for Sturridge, but the latter took a touch, allowing Fabianski to make his greatest save of the night, even if there was a tiny bit of contact.  Unfortunately for Liverpool, Sturridge, like Sterling earlier, was thinking he could score and forgot to go to ground to get the whistle.

Suarez wouldn’t make such a mistake and from another “well-won” foul, this time by Gerrard, Suarez took the kick from 20 meters.  Into the wall it went (on purpose, perhaps?) and Suarez beat Ox to the rebound, toe poking it and theatrically going down.  “Fool me once,” Webb must’ve thought, wagging it away with a finger.  IMO, as much as the Poldolski foul was on the softer side (but certainly an example of Suarez outwitting our player) the 2nd one was stonewall.  Luckily Webb seemed interested in justice more than rewarding Suarez’s abundant cynicism.   At least the great champion of the bald people in the weight room had secured the spotlight for himself—right where he likes it.

Poldolski, both hero and goat (or victim, depending on your allegiance), was subbed for Santi Cazorla who soon after showed his worth, helping his countryman (Monreal) at one end without fouling.  Unfortunately he looked rusty when a poor clearance fell to him just inside the box and straight in front of goal.  Instead of taking a touch and getting an angle, little Santi rushed his volley and found row Z, leaving hope for the visitors.

Though Liverpool was tiring, they would not relent.  The next big talking point was ours, however, as ever energetic Oxlade-Chamberlain put the pressure back on Webb, sprawling over Steven Gerrard (already on a yellow) at the other end.  It may have looked like Ox had gotten a toe to it, but replays revealed that both players missed the ball.  Gerrard was better placed and, in my opinion, it was neither a foul nor a yellow, except maybe for our player who clearly was playing the referee and not the ball. It was given (the foul, not the yellow) and a nice free kick opportunity for Arsenal was Webb’s compromise.  Before Ox could take it, he was subbed for Kieran Gibbs.

In the 80th minute we tried again, with Cazorla making a wild swing for a high bouncing ball, which both he and Skrtl missed.  Replays show that the defender’s foot got Santi’s ankle, but with the ball bouncing away, Webb refused to blow.  Had Santi maybe been more cynical and just touched it on rather than going for goal, perhaps.  A tough one to call, I think.

In the 86th even more controversy—another free kick swung in by Gerrard found Fabianski coming to punch but missing with Agger’s header going wide.  Replays show another very close call, but it did appear that Agger may have shied from the contact with our keeper.  There was contact nonetheless, and our man, brilliant on the night, could have gone from hero to something a bit less.

From here the game wore down.  Wenger used his final sub, bringing on Giroud for the refreshingly strong and looking-the-part Sanogo.  With recent rumors of our Ollie becoming the BPF (Big Philandering Frenchman) a short stint rather than a glaring spotlight was likely a good call on the manager’s part…

Three minutes of injury time, more whistles, more free kicks and Sturridge trying to hurry shoelace-tying Fabianski, but finally a series of three tweets from Webb and it’s Everton in the quarters.

But, of course, it’s so much more.  Liverpool are an in-form team playing at a very high level.  They’ve got the best player in English football with an underappreciated supporting cast.  That Arsenal were able to stand up to that challenge after the beating we took a week ago and bring additional players into our group of contributors is an added bonus.  Performances from Oxlade-Chamberlain and Fabianski were outstanding, even if both were maybe fortunate to stay on the bald man’s good side.  Koscielny (my MOTM) showed he can defend against the very best and not get lured into fouling.  Another great signing from Ligue Deux made a true contribution and provided a bit of an answer to the endless GoonerDoomer cries of “Oooh, oooh, vat vil ve do vit-out Giroud” –Yaya Sanogo.  Poldolski got his goal even if he gave up the penalty, showing that he can still be a factor even with his off-foot, if not much help (or worse) at the defensive end.

It should also be noted that it was all anchored by relentless application by a midfield three of Flamini, Arteta and especially Ozil, who had the key “pre-assists” with gorgeous balls on both goals.  Observers,  I believe, fail to appreciate the quiet precision he brings to our game and the fact that he is our iron-man playing long minutes, match after match after match, avoiding injury and keeping our play ticking over.  Without our record signing, I believe this would have been another (humbling) day of reckoning.

As it is, the nay-sayers will have to wait until Wednesday when (surely) Arsenal will be found out and destroyed by the best club in world football.  I prefer than we actually play the match and see what happens.  That’s just me, of course, and maybe I’m not being a proper Gooner by suggesting that we might be in with a shout.  Today was a step in the right direction (under immense pressure), so I say let’s at least give the lads a chance.

17highburyterrace.