As I type people will be struggling to find ways home from the Grove in the wake of a solid performance that yielded three important points. We are now just a home win away, against West Brom next Sunday, from a Champions League qualifier in August. Hopefully the final day at Norwich will not come into the fourth place equation. More, I hope all will get home safely tonight.
The match tonight (if I finish this before midnight!) started as so many have lately. We prize possession above all else in the opening phase, possibly scarred by our experiences at Anfield and Stamford Bridge. Just as it looked as though the visitors might get some sort of a foothold we started to apply more direct pressure, and one man in particular was at the hub of that greater ambition.
Mesut Ozil came close to opening the scoring but his volley was off-target. Were that opportunity to pass the ball into the net then he could be trusted to provide the finish. His distribution and close control tonight were a reminder of why we had to shell out a club record fee to acquire his services. “I’d love to know what Arsenal fans think of him” said Gary Neville afterwards. I think most would take to task those in the media who have rounded on him in his debut season in the Premier League.
Alongside him Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla flourish. When the three are together and on song the Arsenal midfield has a fluidity and purpose that shines through once the groundwork has been laid. We struggle without any one of the energy and drive of Ramsey, the vision and distribution of Ozil, and the dancing feet of Cazorla. Once the early phase had been negotiated tonight they again delivered a masterclass, the like of which we so sorely missed as the title challenge fizzled out in the one-paced and careless approach of spring.
We had the advantage when Santi’s perfectly directed free-kick fell between defenders and the hesitant Krul. The ‘keeper, no stranger to wasting time on occasion, dithered instead of attacking the ball and Laurent Koscielny notched another important goal against the Magpies. The dangerous Lukas Podolski almost doubled the lead but the ball brushed Krul’s thigh and went for a corner. A close range header from the same player was saved. Arsenal were attempting to cut loose.
The second goal arrived as the half was drawing to a close, and saw a scrappy end to a lovely move. Olivier Giroud was twice denied at point blank range by Krul before Ozil got the tap in his performance merited, but his offside position did not. In the assistant referee’s defence he did have the last defender between him and the goal but Krul was further upfield by a step. A tough call and for once one went our way, perhaps. Time remained for Santi to go close with a fierce drive. The half-time cigarette and an orange, I mean dietary supplements, will have tasted better. Times have changed.
Now I was obviously thinking the ‘holic pound was on at this point. I thought we might have to score an own-goal for the Newcastle one I had predicted, but surely we would notch another two? As it panned out, no. We started brightly, chances went begging, and Gouffran might have notched the one for the visitors I had secretly yearned for, but Wojciech Szczesny was not going to be beaten tonight. Midway through the half Rambo and Ozil combined to provide the perfect opportunity for Giroud to head home his 21st goal of the season for the club.
The Frenchman is much-maligned, and possibly suffers from comparison with those that have gone before him leading the line for Arsenal, but what more did the critics expect of him this term? He is not at fault for being the only striker we could depend on for virtually the entirety of the season. He has been run into the ground, and still gives it his best shot even when running on empty. The dealings of the summer may deliver a replacement, rather than someone to merely share the load, but what an option he would provide were that to transpire.
Appreciating that now he needs to have his crucial guns available for the FA Cup Final to come, Arsene withdrew Mesut, Rambo, and Giroud. It afforded them a deserved good hand from a rapidly dwindling crowd as the tube strike took centre stage in peoples thoughts. I say that, but of course there is one other consideration tonight…
For the nineteenth consecutive season St Totteringham’s Day is being celebrated by many, this scribe included. Whatever may have disappointed us about this season, let us not forget that our friends and neighbours were telling us in August how their £109 million pounds worth of new investment in players had created once again the much-fabled powershift in North London. That huge outlay on what proved to be yet more under-achieving pondlife has used up funds that would have been better spent on a new stadium, but they are in a catch-22 situation that we have already successfully negotiated. Stadium or team? They have gambled, and failed spectacularly, on team. Love it.
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