The psychology of football and grinding those wins

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.

Delayed West Ham thoughts: new reportoire

Bit of a delayed post from me today. I booked meself off for a day of rest, relaxation and recuperation with the missus, after running a half marathon yesterday. These ageing limbs certainly can’t do what they did ten years ago, I can tell you.

The after effects of said marathon can also be felt in my own Arsenal musings. Firstly, I ran around Wembley at the halfway stage and boy, it is massive. You do get a sense of perspective when you’re pitch side and I can kinda see why some players could potentially be inhibited by the sheer size of it and the noise when it’s full. I suppose we should be thankful that the players have now experienced it and will not be overawed by it when they play there in a few weeks. 

But the fact I wasn’t able to blog yesterday because I was running, then knackered from the running, means I haven’t really had much chance to compose some thoughts on the West Ham game. I suppose the most important thing is the three points, but aside from the factual, I thought the performance was another ‘different’ one to add to our reportoire. Since just before Christmas we seemed to have developed this fabulous habit of winning games in different styles. There’s the ‘defend the gates’ performance like City away, there’s the ‘swashbuckling’ performance like Villa at home, then there’s the ‘patience is a virtue’ performance like Saturday. West Ham knew that we were in form, but they knew their own limitations and so came to the Emirates to be as compact as possible, which has already worked for some teams this season.

If you think about it, it was working too, because had Giroud not leathered the ball home in stoppage time then it probably could have caused the team to try a little bit to hard to force the issue in front of goal. That first goal allowed for a big sigh of relief and aside from a ten minute window in the second half, the game felt relatively comfortable, looking back on it with that glorious thing called hindsight. 

About four or five weeks ago I looked at our fixtures and asserted that we were in a period of the season that could see us put together a good run that builds momentum. You can’t really argue that the manager and the players have done anything else other than exactly what has been asked of them. Both league and domestic cup form have got us to a point where people are starting to talk about the ridiculous notion of a league title assault. It’s fanciful in the extreme but totally welcome for us and although I don’t think we will pick up that league trophy, if we won all of our remaining games I think we’d get close. I still don’t think we’d win the league even with a max points haul, but if we’re within three points or so come the end of the season, you’d have to argue that it’s been a successful one given the start. Of course, the FA Cup needs to be won too! 

The return to form of Rambo was nice to see too, wasn’t it? He was his old effervescent self and capped a good performance with a fine team goal. Unlike Theo, Ramsey will give his manager one heck of a selection headache tomorrow night, because picking three from Coquelin, Cazorla, Özil and even Rosicky, isn’t exactly easy. But better that than wandering around London Colney looking to find any stray midfielders that have working limbs, so I’m sure Arsène is happy with his dilemma.

We’ll probably get some team news today ahead of the Monaco game, but mentally I’ve already written it off, so as far as I’m concerned we should probably rotate a bit and see if we can make the end of the season a successful one from our home travails more than anything else. Monaco are not a great team but they caught us on a very bad day and in the Champions League you don’t get the chance to redeem yourself – hardly ever – in the second leg if you’ve fudged the first.

I just hope we can keep the momentum of the team going by winning the game and going in to the Newcastle performance with confidence.

Back tomorrow.

Drinking in success and the different styles in which we adopt now

These are the blogs that I started this site to write. It’s victories like today that make the daily musings and nonsensical ramblings feel glorious in the extreme. Sometimes there’s nothing better than savouring victory against a highly ranked opponent on their own turf. Sometimes you just have to drink it in, savour every drop and let it linger on your tongue like a single Skip from a bag of the prawn cocktail flavoured crisps.

Sure, it wasn’t a cup final and sure, we still have a lot of work to do if we want to win ourselves ‘old big ears’ again for successive seasons, but by jove, if you can’t enjoy a night like last night (once the final whistle has gone, of course), then I pity you.

I enjoyed it. I was down on my knees on the floor in my lounge with my fists clenched in front of me making a half-relieved, half-elated fist rocking movement. The Management, sat behind me wondering how on earth the fortunes of 11 fully grown men could over 250 miles away could have such an impact, simply stared with a smile on her face. She has become a surrogate Gooner and so is also happy for the win, but probably more amused at the clear joy it brought me personally.

This, in some way, has made up for the travesty that took place at The Emirates earlier in the season. United had been dominated that day but gave us two sucker-punches to nick the points when they really shouldn’t have. You cannot say we didn’t deserve to go through last night in the same way in which United didn’t deserve the points from us in November, but the most important thing for me is that we went through.

It feels like the spell has been broken. The curse has been lifted, banished to the deepest, darkest recesses of the corners of the world. It may not have. We may now go on another painful run against big teams, but for now we can all look at last nights game – as well as the one at the Etihad earlier this year – and realise that this team can go away from home and get a result.

And what a result. Victory against United has opened the way for a Wembley semi final against either Bradford or Reading and whilst Arsene rightly pointed out the difficulty of the Wigan game last season, you’d have to be a fool not to fancy our chances of progressing to the finals at this moment in time. We have momentum you see. We’re on a good run of form and are combining different styles of play depending on the team we are up against. We’ve played swashbuckling domination against the likes of Villa, we’ve played gritty and ‘dug in’ in games against Palace and QPR, we’ve been patient in facing a decent Everton side in which we needed to leave it late to secure the points and we’ve soaked up pressure and hit on the counter in games like Moneychester City and Man United last night. Suggestions thata this Arsenal team don’t have different tactics are clearly wide of the mark (and I appreciate that I too have been guilty of suggesting it on this blog a couple of times, I hasten to add).

The manager’s team selection showed that he now feels more confident than ever to rotate his team according to circumstance. Giroud dropping to the bench had us all stunned, but as Arsene admitted after the win, it was a psychological decision based on Welbeck’s desire to make a statement, rather than injury or form. That must also be the case for the goalkeeping situation. On a day in which we must applaud the victorious and pay tribute to the players for breaking their collective duck, i’ll keep any negativity to a minimum, but Szczesny looked a bit wobbly to me. His distribution nearly led to two very promising chances of scoring and his handling didn’t strike me as that of somebody who was on the verge of reclaiming the starting jersey in goal. Ospina certainly won’t be afraid of losing his place against West Ham on Saturday.

But, like I said, I’ll keep the negativity to a minimum. Now is the time for positivity and the back four certainly provided that. Both Koscienly and Big Per were resolute in dealing with the aerial threat of Fellaini and although Rooney got in between them for the United goal, in the main the back two were solid.

Likewise I thought Bellerin did well, although he was probably lucky to stay on the pitch with a slightly rash tackle having been booked by Michael Olivier early on in the game. In those opening stages I did wonder if we’d get a trigger-happy referee with the cards he would show, but the performance of the man in yellow turned out to be another pleasant surprise. Rather than bow to the significant home support for every decision, he stayed firm and got two big calls right – sending off Di Maria for a shirt grab on him and booking Januzaj for a clear dive. Di Maria’s dive was also noted and rightly booked and as I tweeted yesterday, it feels like the veil of injustice appears to have been lifted at Old Trafford finally. Thank heavens for that. Perhaps, like the players who say they no longer fear going to Old Trafford, the referees have the same mindset too? Won’t that make for some good games, if they are reffed equally between two teams? What must Howard Webb be thinking?

In midfield Coquelin picked up yet another man-of-the-match performance but beside him Santi was also pulling the strings. When you have a team that try and press every man as quickly as United tried to do in the first half and in patches in the second, how important is it to have a player like Santi who can retain the ball through his ability to dribble around players and distribute it? It takes a heck of a lot of pressure off the defence and his contribution cannot be overlooked in our return to form since just before Christmas. Play on little Spanish maestro, play on.

Mesut Ozil too had a different type of game. He was less involved in the build up play, but more involved in overall play and won three separate tackles yesterday evening. Those that accuse him of a lack of work rate will have been left scratching their heads at yesterday’s performance and our mercurial German has only done himself more favours with another good display. He’s putting together a string of performances that are showing his quality, regardless of the tired clichés trotted out from Danny Murphy on the BBC that Ozil hasn’t done enough since returning from injury. I’d wager that Danny hasn’t seen much of Ozil in the last few weeks. I have. You have. We know that his performances have been good for a few weeks now.

Up top Welbeck got his reward – nay, his revenge – from Louis van Gaal and the celebration when he scored was majestic. All too often returning players play the ‘respect’ card. Do the fans want it? Not that I know. If you don’t play for Arsenal and you score against Arsenal I don’t really care what you do. You’re the enemy and I look more at why my own team gave you the opportunity to score in the first place. So to see Welbeck celebrate was brilliant. It was clear joy at possibly securing a semi-final place for his new team. And he did. He is progressing and will be walking out at Wembley in a few weeks time. His former teammates, will not.

The Ox was also good in the first half, which is why his hamstring injury was clearly a big blow in the second, but whilst he will be sad waking up today facing the prospect of a few weeks out (hopefully not longer), at least he can be happy in the knowledge that his valuable contribution has directly led to our progression, through his slalom-like run that tee’d up the excellent Nacho in the first half.

What a great day. A fabulous win, a semi-final to look forward to and a hoo-doo undone.

Thank you Arsenal.

stern test importantly navigated 

That, like Crystal Palace before it two weeks ago, felt like a big three points yesterday. There will undoubtedly be those that will look at the score line and simply shrug it off with  an “it was only QPR”, but we were made to sweat a bit for those three points, both in the first half and the last ten (if you include injury time.

As I said with my pre-game ramblings in the morning yesterday, QPR will have had the time away to reflect, prepare themselves and get plenty of rest ahead of our visit to West London, where as we’d played two games since they’d even graced a pitch in competitive action. The net effect of that was that the first half saw a leggy-looking Arsenal come up against a pumped Rangers team who popped the ball around well and when they needed to, went direct to Zamora. 

The first half was watched by yours truly on a somewhat dodgy iPhone stream, but even with the slightly blurry yellow and blue images moving around the pitch, I could still see that we struggled for fluency. QPR however, looked to test us with getting the ball out wide and into the box, with Ospina thankfully on hand when Per or Gabriel, then laterly Koscienly (our new signing seems tailor-made for the Arsenal, after picking up a hamstring injury, replacing the injured Brazillian in the first half) dealt with most balls pumped in and around the penalty spot.

I do love it when Arsène remembers to bring the halftime oranges though. They provided an injection of vitamin C and energy and we looked more cohesive in the second half. In the first 45 Green had maybe two saves to make, but in the second we tested him more, almost within the first minute or two. 

So in hindsight today I can look at the game and see that the goal was coming. You just don’t see it at the time on account of all the fear and such. You know how it is.

Olivier was in the right place at the right time and as Gibbs – who looks to have won his place back from Monreal – rushed beyond Alexis in the box, the handsome Frenchman was the beneficiary with a quick swivel and finish. Loved it. Loved it because it was a real poachers goal. The kind that Eduardo or Wrighty used to love scrambling in. He’s on 13 for the season right now and you have to say that on current form he might just hit that 20 goal mark. Having missed a third of a season. How amazing would that be?

Alexis too got on the scoresheet and you have to say that if anyone should score it should be him. He hadn’t tucked one away for a while and even Arsène admitted afterwards that this sort of stuff plays on your mind when it goes on for a while. I am pleased he scored, but I have to say I was surprised he started, because to me he’d looked a little tired. His fatigue tends to manifest itself as misplaced passes or running into blind alleys with the ball, rather than the lack of running, but you could see that happening with increased frequency of late, so I did wonder if Arsène would save him for United. But ultimately, we should all be glad this morning that he didn’t. 

I thought Özil and Coquelin also had good games too. Arsène said all the midfielders had impressive performances but with those two I think it stands out more. That’s because Özil has been under the spotlight and in for criticism this season, so naturally we all want him to succeed, so when he does we’re all keen to emphasise it. As for Coquelin, he’s the archetypal ‘unlikely hero’ story that gets better and better each week. He got into the team with displays of energy and high intensity with the odd big tackle thrown in each game, but I’m starting to see more and more composure become obvious, with the more game time he’s getting. There was one moment – an innocuous one really – where he simply sheparded the ball out for a thrown in without touching the ball. That’s the simple intelligence that you need in a covering midfielder. Staying fit for the rest of the season will surely see him remain in the team – even when Arteta comes back. 

So we keep third, despite the fact everyone around us also won, but it’s one game closer to the end goal of Champions League football. Next week it’s the FA Cup but for now we can relax in the knowledge that we’re looking good, in form and players are still banging goals in.

See you tomorrow.

Tasty three points and chances taken. This time

With The Management in situ, blue skies overhead, as well as the ability to share some of the amber nectar before the game after a month off it, Arsenal duly delivered exactly what was needed on Sunday lunchtime with a serving of delicious three-pointage.

It doesn’t really matter that it was closer than we would have liked. You don’t complain about a delicious meal being late when it arrives late (well maybe you do, but that’s more than likely to get any money off your meal rather than anything else) and tell them to take it back. You feast on it. Our footballing meal yesterday wasn’t the tastiest, but it certainly hit the spot and as I sit here this morning typing, all I can feel is the satisfaction that a 2-0 win against a good Everton side brings.

The Toffees set themselves up well. They’re poor league position belies their actual quality and in the first half I suspect they even had more possession and more of the ball in our half than we did in theirs. I have to be honest and say I expected Everton to look leggy and sluggish after their Europa League triumph, but they popped the ball around well throughout the game. 

Martinez’s game plan appeared to be to use the strength of his full backs going forward, to which we had to find an answer and you have to say that by not conceding, we had that answer. The defensive reshuffle of Gibbs keeping his slot and Gabriel stepping in for Per looked decent enough, although I do wonder if Gibbs was acutely aware of a break being on, because it didn’t feel like he got forward as much as he has done in recent games. That was more obvious to me in the second half, as Gibbs plays on my side when we’re attacking the North Bank, but he seemed a little reserved. That’s not so much a bad thing I suppose, because we’ve lambasted our defenders for their poor positional play and ability to be too easily caught on the break in the past. 

Gabriel had one sticky moment in the first half where he allowed for the ball to bounce rather than Row-Z it, but perhaps that was his La Liga self forgetting where he was and the amount of time you get in the Premier League, so we can forgive him that particular transgression. Anyway, he steadied himself well thereafter, making a good last-ditch tackle when it looked like Koscienly was beaten by Lukaku and through on goal. He’s a ‘no nonsense’ defender that will only get better and he’s certainly got more pace than Per, which I’m sure will give peace of mind to Kos that he has somebody else who can challenge attackers in a foot race.

I was also surprised to see Ospina start in goal, as I thought after Wednesday’s indifferent performance he would be losing his place to Wojciech, but I think Szczesny has a bit of a problem now. If Ospina can’t be deposed after a slightly poor game in between the sticks, can he be deposed at all? Unless he picks up an injury, I think Wojciech will see out this season on the bench. Ospina did a good cover job as a sweeper and made a couple of really good saves yesterday too, one in particular which was a fingertipper which would have bought the game level. I still remain to be entirely convinced by him as a long-term option, but he’s doing ok at the moment.

We struggled for fluency at times and half of me wonders how much that was down to Evertone playing well and the other half being down to us looking nervous after the Monaco game. The Ox was both hero and villain on Wednesday with the late show and, whilst he worked a couple of good positions in the first half, he like a few of the players was a little off I felt. His replacement was Rosicky and if the guy doesn’t get a starting spot on Wednesday night I’ll be shocked. He was full of energy, ran his socks off for 15 or so minutes – admittedly everyone else would have been tiring from that time – but got the second goal in injury time, which secured the points and gave us a good seven minutes of injury time which was less stressful than it could have been. Thankfully.

Let’s also be thankful that Ollie G was on the scoresheet too, eh? I did have fears that he’s the sort of player that will let a performance like last Wednesday’s get to him, so he more than anyone else needed to respond with a performance and ideally a goal, which is what he got and we can all be thankful. He’ll take confidence from that and hopefully bag plenty more between now and the end of the season.

Francis Coquelin had a good game too. He was feisty in the tackle and got the reward his game deserved; our adulation and no, not the broken nose! I hope he’s ok for Wednesday because he’s now an important defensive cog in our team.

The only concern Arsène might have is whether he should give Alexis some time on the bench. He was carrying us at the beginning of the season but has gone off the rails slightly of late. He must be knackered because he’s run himself ragged all season and whilst you can’t tell he’s tired through his effort levels, it’s other things like misplaced passes, or running in to blind alleys, that suggest to me that he needs to be given some time to recharge and refresh. Perhaps the QPR game this week offers that opportunity for the manager to rotate.

That’s all I’ve got for today. It was a tough encounter against a good Everton team who created a couple of chances, but unlike us, didn’t take them. Which is the perfect way to respond to the Monaco debacle.

Gritty three points

I don’t know why, but yesterday’s game with Crystal Palace felt like a really big result, in the context of our Premier League season.

There were many people I spoke to during the week who were pretty convinced that we were going to go to Selhurst Park and sweep aside a Palace side who have had a wee bit of resurgence under Alan Pardew, but who have stuttered ever-so-slightly in the immediate past, but I never really believed that the game would be anything other than a challenging 95 minutes (although where the referee worked out those five minutes of injury time was a bit of a mystery to me).

Last season when we played Palace it was anything but plain sailing, but so it was that the home team with their partisan home support, were able to influence the game much more than many would have predicted. Under Pardew you can see that they try to press hard and fast and at times we made it difficult for ourselves with some slack passing of our own, but you can always tell the difference between the top sides and those that languish further down towards the foot of the table. Crystal Palace may not be relegation fodder at this moment in time – nor it must be said do I think they will be come May – but you could tell there was a distinct lack of cutting edge in their forward line.

Pardew is no mug and knew exactly how he could potentially get some joy against our team, targeting Monreal with Zaha’s pace in the first half and looking to get Gayle isolated against Chambers too. In the second half Chambers was run ragged by Bolasie on our right hand side and it was on that side that Palace were able to get the goal they scored in injury time, plus the Murray header off the ball with seconds to go. But again, the fact we were able to take our chances and Palace weren’t able to make the most of the 22 attempts they have, perhaps shows why we are fighting at the top of the league. We have the players to make the difference.

That’s what Welbeck did in forcing the Palace full back to make a challenge on six minutes that led to the penalty we scored. And no Ray Houghton, no Robbie Savage, despite your clear desperation to find fault in decisions given to Arsenal, it was on the line and so is a penalty. Calm down and perhaps stick to playing golf in your retirement from the game.

That cutting edge in the final third means everything, and it was that with which we capitalised through the second goal, a fine through ball from Özil (I think) finding Welbeck and his shot fell kindly to Giroud to tap home. The Frenchman is developing a lovely habit of being in the right place at the right time and is doing it on a fabulously consistent basis at the moment. Long may his form continue.

Long may our overall form continue too, actually, because we’re stringing together a number of wins that are building some real momentum. With United losing, plus Southampton and Liverpool playing each other today, we find ourselves in third and with a run of matches in the league in which you would expect us to pick plenty of points up from. Victory against Everton next Sunday, followed by an away success to QPR during the midweek after that game, will see us firmly secure a good footing on which to build success in our season. Success for Arsenal would be a trophy and securing Champions League football. We still have a lot to do to get that trophy (I don’t fancy United away I have to say. They will be pants, but they’ve made it an art how they can perpetually skank us in every competition), but if we pick up 12 points from the next four games, I’d wager we’d be halfway there to achieving the Champions League objective.

We’re looking good at the moment. We’re grinding out games when we need to, like today, but we’re also adding the occasional bit of swagger to some of our performances. That’s the Arsenal that we want to see.

Now, bring on Monaco…

Santi the quarterback dominates Boro

Arsenal are a funny old team, eh? After labouring in the North London Derby, then huffing and puffing against a Leicester team with bodies behind the ball, they faced a confident Middlesbrough team and simply swotted them aside yesterday.

I have to hold my hands up and admit I didn’t see that coming. I assumed – wrongly it seems – that we would be in for more of the same as the Leicester game. I thought Boro would be organised, hard to break down and we’d have to scrap right until the last minute.

That it was the score line that flattered to deceive the North Easterners, should tell anybody who didn’t watch the game just how comfortable an afternoon we had. Indeed, it felt like if we really wanted to, I mean really wanted to, we could have won that game by about five or six, something Dave had assured me would happen yesterday before a ball was even kicked. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to his narrative; the Blackburn blip a few seasons ago aside, we don’t tend to get beaten in the FA Cup at home, especially to lower league opposition.

You could tell how in control we were within the first five minutes. The tone of the game was set when Santi drifted into acres of space at least three times in the first five. He had yet another exemplary performance in the ‘quarterback’ role sitting deep and picking passes, but Boro’ simply didn’t pick him up at all at times, which set the tone for the day. Karanka said afterwards that he thought his team perhaps underestimated how difficult repeating the feat of the Etihad was, but I think yesterday’s canter was as much down to Middlesbrough not performing, as it was Arsenal playing superb.

We were superb too. I could reel off the names of players who had good games yesterday and it would just look like I’m writing down a team sheet. Gibbs at left back was great. I noted to my colleague Tom yesterday (up in the gods of the Clock End for a different perspective does give you a better vantage point of tactical set up) that Gibbs was playing very wide – almost hugging the touchline – and it gave our players the ability to stretch the pitch a bit more than when Nacho plays. Monreal is worthy of his starting berth at the moment, so I don’t begrudge him that, but Gibbs playing counter-balances our tendency to be a little narrow when Özil is playing on that side and when Alexis drifts as he likes to do. There was a few occasions yesterday when Gibbs was waving his arms about with a heck of a lot of space and perhaps it was telling that it was his run that was key in the first goal. Santi (natch) found him with a delightful pick out and his ball to the near post was perfect for Giroud to steer under Meijas.

So next to Giroud, who bagged both goals and was the quickest to spot the freedom of the penalty box on a corner to double the advantage just a few minutes later, this time picked out by Alexis from the corner. It was quick-witted and clever but Karanka won’t be too happy about the marking for the second goal.

Giroud has been superb since returning from injury. I haven’t looked up the goals tally for him for this season, but if he doesn’t surpass his season’s best at this rate, I’d be surprised. And let’s not forget that’s including the fact he’s missed a few months due to a broken leg. He’s looking every bit the quality centre forward we need and this season has added big-game goals to his repertoire.

But it wasn’t just the Santi, Gibbs and Giroud show, because a number of players had good games. Take Mesut Özil for example, having scored and assisted in every one of his games since coming back from injury (I think – don’t quote me on that!), he showed once again that he’s coming back into force as one of the stars of the team. His movement, ability to retain the ball and link up play was wizardry at times, to which you can only watch and applaud. He was outshone in midfield by the little Spaniard yesterday, but his performance was still sparkling and yet another good game under his belt will have done his confidence the power of good, important as we enter the business end of the season.

A good solid debut was had by Gabriel alongside Koscienly, who won nearly every header all day, and coupled with Chambers looking decent at right back and Flamini marshalling the midfield, we didn’t give Middlesbrough a sniff until the dying embers of the game.

Arsène can be rightly happy this morning. He’s seen us navigate a potentially tricky tie against a team at the top of the Championship, with a quarter final now awaiting, most likely at Anfield or Old Trafford knowing our luck. I don’t see it being anything else other than that. There’ll be a couple of heated up balls in the pot tonight to make sure it happens. Mark my words.

But who cares? We can go to Anfield or Old Trafford and get a result. We are The Arsenal and with the way those two sides have played this season, even one of those toughest fixtures in the competition, we’ll have to do it eventually against one of those teams.

All eyes now turn toward preparation against Crystal Palace. They may be licking their wounds after an FA Cup exit to Liverpool, but by the time the game on Saturday comes around, I’d expect them to be fired up for us and I think we’re going to have a really tough afternoon in South London. More on that as the game draws near.

For now, I’m going to bask in the glory of victory, dreaming of another FA Cup final in the sunshine.