This football season, like every one that has passed before, will see Arsenal produce performances that amaze and delight, and others that will frustrate. What will determine how the season pans out is how we are able to dig in and get results when we are doing the latter. Today was one of those, and while many have been critical of a ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ against ten men we may care to consider how important the three points gained today will be.
The team news produced a real surprise. Mesut Ozil’s knee-knack came out of the blue, and let’s hope that Arsene was right when he said it would only keep him out for one week. The selection of Theo Walcott ahead of Olivier Giroud was perhaps less of a surprise, but once again his performance in the central striker role raised more questions than answers. It was good to see that Laurent Koscielny was fit enough to return alongside Gabriel, and they formed an impressive partnership in the match that followed.
Steve McClaren told BT Sport beforehand that he had told his team to ‘get in their faces’ and his charges took him literally. Less than three minutes in Sissoko was shown a yellow card by Andre Marriner for his second foul of the contest, a stamp on Coquelin’s foot.
The first clear opportunity fell to Theo who came out second best in a one on one with Krul. Minutes later we were denied a clear penalty when only Marriner and his assistant failed to spot Thauvin’s trip and push on Hector Bellerin as the right-back ventured into the box. Had we not made the breakthrough later on we would have been bemoaning yet another decision that cost us two points, as on Monday night.
To be fair to the referee it was probably his only mistake all afternoon, although the fiercely loyal Toon Army, not privy to the replays that television viewers enjoyed, howled in dissent when Mitrovic was shown a straight red for an awful studs up challenge on Coquelin. The sending-off changed the nature of the match and the hosts were happy to concede possession while denying us space in the advanced positions. They remained combative, with both Mbemba and Thauvin getting yellow cards before the break.
So often we are frustrated by the two banks of four deployed around the edge of the box that many sides have employed against us. Some days we are able to unlock such defences with speed and precision of our passing. On others, like today, we are a little too patient and one-paced to break down the resistance. This is perhaps where Ozil was missed most.
We looked most likely to score when someone actually attempted to shoot rather than walk the ball in. An Alexis snapshot was parried to Theo but his attempt went high, wide, and not so handsome. If it sounds as though I am being overly critical about Theo then that is not the intention. He continues to see his future in the middle but his finishing is nowhere near consistent enough for that. Today we were crying out for his trickery on the right flank, where Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was having a rare off-day.
Six minutes after the break came the moment of good fortune that decided the match. Theo and Rambo were denied in quick succession by Krul but it was third time lucky for us as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot, heading wide of the far post, took a deflection of Coloccini and bounced in off the inside of the post. From this point our laborious, if patient, sideways football proved advantageous as it simply gobbled up the clock.
Newcastle’s determined resistance had drained them of the ability to produce any sort of effective counter-attack. In the final twenty minutes Arsene changed the personnel with Giroud replacing Theo, and ten minutes later Mikel Arteta coming on in place of the Ox. In the last minute the big Frenchman was put through by Rambo but Krul once again proved to be the master of the one on one situation.
So, not a day that will stick in the memory, but one that has been made better by Chelsea’s continuing troubles in the early stages of this season. If we can keep ourselves three points ahead of them then we won’t be far away at the season’s end. We will have to be far more incisive, however, to achieve that.
The timing of such a performance will add to the pressure on the club to bring in fresh blood before the transfer window is shut on Tuesday. Own goals as leading scorer after four matches is not a great sign. None of us knows for sure what is going on behind the scenes, but Ian Wright expressed his fear that we had put all our eggs in the Benzema basket and may have left it too late to switch our attention to alternative options. We have shown in the past we can close deals at short notice when the situation demands so I guess I will do what I always do in these situations.
Have a drink and chill out. Cheers, ‘holics.