It’s funny how important the psychology of a football game can change so quickly, almost minute-by-minute, which then affects the dynamics of every single football match. I guess that’s why it’s a sport that demands so much attention from so many people across the globe.
Take yesterday’s game for us against Newcastle, for example, in which we literally saw the clichéd ‘game of two halves’. In the first we had absolutely dominated everything Newcastle. Possession of the ball was ours. Territory in the opposition’s half was almost exclusively Arsenal’s. We found time and space to pick out our players and there was more than one occasion in which we got in behind the Newcastle back four, even before Giroud’s somewhat fortunate opening goal. The big Frenchman said that he anticipated Danny’s flick, which is true, but the fact it scrambled in off his knee didn’t exactly reek of extreme composure. Hey, there’s no way I’m going to do it down any more though, because here is a fine footballer in the purplest of purple patches, which we are profiting on so much right now.
After that first goal and for the rest of that first half we walked all over Newcastle and although I could only listen via the radio, when I watched the full match highlights again afterwards, it was easy to see how dominant we were. The second goal only helped to emphasise the gulf in class and the way in which Giroud held off his man to nod the ball in from a set piece was classic old-skool centre forward stuff. He’s so strong, a real focal point for our team and if he hadn’t have picked up that broken leg, I’m convinced he’d be on 25 goals already this season. He’s up to 17 now and is sure to hit 20 with the way he’s playing, so let’s hope that he stays fit between now and the end of May.
But psychology, oh psychology, how you seem to permeate the minds of Arsenal players more than any other team. Because the second that Newcastle scored, you knew we were in for a bumpy second half. I’d like to say that it was the fact the goal was scored so early that caused us the mental shift we seemed to have, but we conceded against QPR and Crystal Palace in the post 80 minute mark and it had the same effect, so it doesn’t seem to matter when that opponent goal is scored, we seem to become immediately inhibited as a result.
Perhaps I’m doing the team an injustice though, as inevitably we would tire in the second half after a tough trip to the south of France and all the travelling. Arsenal will probably have played about 12 games more than Newcastle this season and when you get to this time of the year it’s always going to show when you have players that are more fatigued than others. When you add to the fact that Newcastle left the pitch to a chorus of boo’s at halftime, there was always going to be a reaction, which is how the game transpired. Sissoko’s finish was decent enough and perhaps there should be questions asked as to why he was given the freedom of the penalty box, because his volleyed shot could have been put under a bit more pressure. It’s interesting because from almost that same position in the first half, Welbeck had drilled a ball wide in a similar build up, so it just shows you how important those fine margins are in football.
So with the deficit halved, the home fans finally finding their voices, we began to rock and it was strange how our confident passing suddenly seemed to go awry. We were the ones that suddenly wanted to give Newcastle time and space. Corners, balls into the box and saves from Ospina seemed to be the order of the day and we just couldn’t find any rhythm. Ball retention became almost negligible and to my mind there was only going to be one result come the end of the game and it wouldn’t be positive for us.
But do you know what, We’re getting good at grinding out these away day wins, aren’t we? Digging in, winning tackles, and with combative players like Coquelin – who took another smash in the face yesterday- we’re looking a lot more like we can hold on to leads. Le Coq wasn’t at his best yesterday, but the back four overall looked good even with the rotation of Chambers and Gabriel in to the team.
I said yesterday that a win would be massive given that United and Liverpool play each other today. So it has transpired, as the Spuds and Southampton both won too, so it means we can watch today’s lunchtime kick off with the comfort of knowing that someone will be dropping points. Strangely, I want it to be Liverpool, because if they lose and we can beat Liverpool at Easter, it will put serious daylight between us and the other top four positions. I know we should dare to dream above us, but to be honest with you, if we could just secure top four as quickly as possible I’d be happy. Let’s get daylight between us and the other teams fighting for it and then hopefully look to wins against Reading and then a possible cup final too. If we get that, then I’d be a happy bunny. But to do that, I think we need to be beating Liverpool in a couple of weeks time – our next match after the international break.
For now, let’s just enjoy the fact we’re comfortably third, the sun is shining in Blighty and our form is magnificent at the moment.