As I suspect one young ‘holic discovered this evening not every game goes according to plan. I’m looking forward to seeing what Wind made of the performance in the drinks later. From a comfortable sofa eighty miles away we appeared to survive an indifferent start before wrapping up a place in the knock-out stages of the Champions League for the thirteenth consecutive year (Were you watching Sheikh Mansour?)
Having said that I didn’t share the general downbeat mood of the Sky Studio at half-time. I felt we had woken from another slow start, and let’s face it it took 15-20 minutes to find our level against the neighbours on Saturday, and with a bit more luck would have turned around a goal or two to the good. In the early stages we looked to be playing in straight lines, nobody showing on the angles to receive the ball, and we were wanting time that opponents determined to press the ball would not allow.
Slowly we took the game to the visitors, sharpened our act, without getting much going our way. On another day Laurent Koscielny’s header would have hit the underside of the bar and bounced in rather than smacked the frame head on. On another day the dangerous Lukas Podolski would have converted at least one of the chances that fell his way. This wasn’t another day. Arsenal continued to improve, survived the one opportunity Montpellier had thanks to a very well timed Wojciech Szczesny save, and went in for the half-time energy feast without reward.
“What can Arsenal do to change things?” Ben Shephard enquired of our Nutty. Nigel suggested bringing on Kieran Gibbs at left-back to go beyond Podolski and provide crosses for Giroud to feast on. The memory of that brought a smile to my lips when the skipper burst beyond Podolski in the fourth minute of the second-half, and crossed for the outstanding Olivier Giroud to knock the ball down into the path of Jack Wilshere, who finished with aplomb.
“One-nil to the Arsenal” echoed around the Grove, and my mind was transported back to the first time we sang it, against Paris St Germain as we headed for a European trophy. This game was never going to end 1-0, and I remained hopeful of landing my punt until we reached the added minutes. Midway through the half we doubled our advantage when Podolski played a one-two on the edge of the box with Giroud and powered home as fierce a volley as you could wish to see.
I was praying for my four to come good, and it may have done had Giroud lifted his best opportunity over the ‘keeper. Sadly he wasn’t to get the goal against his old team his performance thoroughly deserved. Rarely have I seen a player in his role put in such a shift. There was even a moment in the second-half when he popped up at left-back to prevent a dangerous attack from developing. His presence at the back for set pieces is invaluable. It looks like we have ourselves quite a player.
The only real scare came when Santi Cazorla (there’s no point in me telling you how good he was, it goes without saying these days) hobbled off after a series of assaults on his legs and ankles. I’m reasonably sure it was just precautionary. Let’s hope so. Giroud also was withdrawn early, but that was just to enable the crowd to express their appreciation for a quite extraordinary effort from the big man.
Individually we have so many players playing so very well. If collectively we can harness all of the good work that is being done then something important may yet be achieved in the six months that remain. That nagging doubt remains. Prove us wrong boys. We really would love you to.
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