It just simply wouldn’t be an Arsenal result if we didn’t make something harder than it should have been, would it?
The overwhelming feeling from this here Gooner is one of relief, but also thanks to other results, the 1-0 victory over Newcastle looked even more juicier come 7.30pm. Defeats to Chelski and Liverpool, as well as a draw for the Spuds, meant that our win up north felt like it stood out a little more as a shining light. Plus, Stoke decided to go all ‘full rage’ and have both Affelay and Adam sent off in a 1-0 home defeat to West Brom, which means the Arsenal players will all be breathing a sign of relief for their ankles and shins when Stoke visit us in a couple of weeks time. Charlie Adam won’t be there to go through anybody and get away with it as usual.
But enough of other results, what about our result, eh? Did it feel like you were watching a training match? A boring, boring training match? Because that’s what it felt like to me. A defence versus attack game in which Newcastle decided that they would not come out and attack Arsenal at all, with zero shots registered by the time the final whistle went. I don’t blame them though, because as soon as they went down to ten men, you knew exactly how the game would pan out. Even with 11 men Newcastle would probably have taken a 0-0, but when you’re playing against a team who will dominate possession like we do, you know that your own option is to sit deep, stay compact and try to get the opposition as frustrated as possible.
Which is exactly what happened.
It’s funny how decisions can change games, but not always how you’d expect them to. For example the Mitrovic red card – which I’m still not sure if it was a red or not because I haven’t seen any replays as I was up high in the Gods at St James’ – would, you’d expect, allow Arsenal to take advantage of the extra man and go on to win by three or four goals. But despite being frustrated with our performance and lack of cutting edge yesterday, I wake up this morning in a stoical mood, because I realise that this game was always going to be difficult when a red card is shown so early in a game.
The truth is, the red card was probably the worst thing that could have happened to us in terms of the way we were set up. Arsène opted for more raw pace in the front three and Ramsey as the workaholic in the middle of the park, due to an injury picked up by Mesut, so his plan was clearly to draw Newcastle out and then hit the defenders on the counter attack. You could see that from before the card, as we played a couple of longer diagonal balls in an attempt to get the three attackers behind the black and white defenders. And it was working. We created chances and Bellerin should have had a penalty.
However as soon as Newcastle lost their central striker, it was a completely different game and I bet if Arsène could, he’d have changed the team up there and then. Take Giroud, for example, who would have been a better player to sit in amongst Coloccini and Mbemba and been the link man to knock balls in and around the Newcastle defenders to try and set his teammates through. I said to The Management as soon as the card was shown, that this would be a game that would be crying out for Özil, but at the time I wasn’t aware of his injury. We needed a player who could thread that eye of a needle pass and quite simply, that’s not Aaron Ramsey’s game, which is based on pressing and goalscoring.
So we started to look a little lacklustre. The passing was slowed down, we didn’t use the width of the pitch to stretch Newcastle enough and the game itself kept breaking down because of the cynical nature of a lot of Newcastle’s fouling. I’m sure that there would have been plenty of Geordie’s bemoaning Andre Marriner and his performance yesterday, but I saw plenty of little cynical trips and shoves. The if the red was harsh, then so was the fact we didn’t get a penalty beforehand, so the two big decisions of the game appear to have gone against both teams.
But it was still incumbent on us to break Newcastle down and eventually we did through The Ox, courtesy of Coloccini, whose leg deflected the Ox’s effort in. It was one of the bright spots in an otherwise torrid game for Alex. Nothing worked for him. He gave the ball away countless times, he couldn’t seem to beat his man enough and his distribution was pretty woeful. There was even a point in the second half where he pirouetted around the ball and completely lost track of where it was, which had me thinking about shades of a young Theo Walcott. We need to remember that The Ox is still very young, having been in the Arsenal set up for a number of years, but yesterday was a game for him to forget.
It wasn’t Ramsey’s best game either. He just doesn’t work as a number 10. He was favoured centrally yesterday, but he has had far better games playing out wide and the more I see, the more I think that he would be better suited to that role alongside Coquelin if we’re at home and against a team that isn’t showing much ambition to get forward.
Walcott also hardly enamoured himself to the central strikers role, but as I hint at above, I think he was a victim of circumstance more than anything else. I’m less quick to dismiss him as a centre forward as others. It depends on the opponent and how they are setting up.
All-in-all it may have felt a little difficult, but at least we picked up the three points, because when we come back from the Interlull it will be a tough set of fixtures. Losing or even drawing yesterday would have meant a long two weeks and a real worry that we could be totally out of the race by October.
Enjoy your Sunday.