Well happy Monday to you! Isn’t it a fine Monday for us to be sharing? I’m sure you feel the same, especially after a hard-fought home victory for The Arsenal. Yep, I’m feeling just fine and dandy, thanks to goals from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Lukas Podolski to set us up with another big game in the FA Cup at home to Everton. Not quite content to see us have an easy ride, are they, these footballing Gods? That will have been three out of the top six we’d have had to beat to get to the semi’s where, you just know there will be Momeychester City lurking if we progress. Ah well, let’s count those chickens once they’ve actually hatched, eh?
As for yesterday, I think it only right we give Arsene a tip of the cap this Monday because let’s face it, when the team was announced yesterday there were plenty of mumblings of discontent. The feeling amongst a lot of the fanbase was that prioritising competitions wasn’t a luxury we could be afforded, yet with five or six changes to the first team (depending on who you think is a current starter), it seemed as though Arsene had decided that he would rather sacrifice the FA Cup than anything else.
Bringing in Jenkinson, Monreal and Sanogo wasn’t exactly thought of as a move we could really make, yet the managers faith in his squad to do the business was rewarded yesterday. I thought most of the team was superb yesterday. Jenks rarely put a foot wrong, Monreal had some wobbly moments at the start but grew into the game, whilst Sanogo have us the first glimpse of the promise that Arsene and his scouting network have seen.
He’s a big lad, isn’t he? Fending off Agger and Skyrtel is no mean feat, yet our Postman-in-waiting showed some great hold up play and even a couple of decent touches too, although he did have a couple of fresh air swings at the ball so you can see he’s a work in progress. It doesn’t mean he’ll be turning into the next Didier Drogba, but this was a rare start that showed he might just has something about him (providing he stays fit).
Indeed, it was the young Yaya who was instrumental in putting us in front in the first half, bringing the ball down under pressure from Skyrtel, rifling a shot against Gerrard’s back only for it to fall to The Ox to touch in. He was another fine performer on the day and in the opinion of the commentary team on BT Sport, the Man of the Match too, rightly in my opinion. All day his direct running caused a problem for the Liverpool team and his arrival from injury shortly after Theo was confirmed to be out for the season has been a timely re-introduction indeed. Arsene may see his long-term future in the middle of the park, but if short-term needs dictate him being deployed on the right of that three-pronged attack, then surely it is a case of ‘needs must’.
The second half gave us exactly what you need in a game against big rivals in the form of a Lukas Podolski goal which provided a two-goal buffer. Podolski too had a good game – penalty concession aside – and I jokingly tweeted an open letter to Arsene asking him to play Poldi more often. There is clearly the reluctance on the managers part to play our effective German, but yesterday he was imperious, running his socks off and supporting Monreal defensively, as well as once again providing a killer touch in the business end of the pitch. He must surely warrant more starts with performances like that, no? When you have such a clinical finisher, playing them in the big games is a no-brainer, because they will take the few chances afforded them. You don’t have to look too far – Giroud’s late miss on Wednesday from a Sagna cross – to see what an impact a natural born killer in front of goal can do.
I’ve singled out the squad players at the moment, but the regulars were also pretty darn good, don’t you know. Özil carried on from where he left off against United and looked like the Özil from the start of the season. It almost feels like he woke up Sunday morning last week, saw the savagery of the British tabloids, then decided to show them a footballing ‘f*ck you’ by making his mark on a couple of big games. Equally, the much maligned defence last week was back in its groove and deserved a clean sheet. Yes, the defence was breached in the second half, but if you take away the clumsy challenge of Poldi inside the box on Suarez, I don’t think our back four would have been breached. Both Per and Laurent looked shaky for the first ten minutes and Sturridge probably should have put Liverpool ahead, but it’s what we should have expected from a team whose game plan is to blitz opponents early and coast to victory, as opposed to our more cautious opening approach leading to pressure in the second half to breach the oppositions defensive line. Overall, defensively we looked strong once again and it bodes well for the upcoming tie against the best that Europe has to offer.
It would be remiss of me not to talk about the contentious decisions made by Howard Webb yesterday, for which both teams profited in different ways. There was most certainly a second penalty from The Ox on Suarez To which Howard had a perfect view, but one can only assume that the way the Uruguyan threw his body around, only counted against him. In unsurprisingly hypocritical manager form, Brendan Rodgers said he had no idea why it wasn’t a stone wall penalty, whilst following that up by saying Webb got it right when Gerrard scythed down the Ox shortly after that incident, for the ref to give a free kick but no second yellow. Two wrongs don’t make a right, but Liverpool fans bemoaning bias towards the home side would do well to remember their own fortune towards their skipper.
A word on Fabianski, another fine performer on the day who did nothing wrong in goal and even produced a fine stop when Sturridge was one-on-one and bearing down on goal. It’s clearly a frustration for him that he hasn’t had more game time, but the form of Szczesny is what it is, so if that means that Fabianski is playing in his last cup run for Arsenal, then I hope it’s a good one that sees him show just what he is capable of to potential buyers.
Overall you can hardly call it a ‘vintage’ Arsenal performance, but I’m getting used to this Arsenal side and their efficiency in victory. Last season United won the league at a canter with a side widely described as ‘average’, yet nobody could argue that they weren’t efficient in winning game after game. If somebody could tell me now that I had to watch Arsenal grind out 2-0 after 2-0 between now and the end of the season, but there’d be something shiny at the end of it, I’d bite their hand off and start working away on the arm until I hit the shoulder.
Onwards and upwards, towards a tantalising Wednesday night time against Bayern, where there might just be some revenge to speak of on Thursday.
There are those chickens again.