Grateful thanks to Takeabowson for stepping into the breach at short notice, particularly as it dawned on him he might be commenting on a proper hiding. Fortunately that didn’t transpire. Thanks TaBS for helping out again.
“Bit busy tomorrow mate. Do you fancy writing this one up?” asked the Guvnor over the pre-match pints.
Rueful grins were exchanged. The prognosis amongst the conoscenti for a successful afternoon was that it would take a significant realignment of the stars for Arsenal to take anything from a City side fresh from emphasising their local hegemony in Manchester with some style. I hesitated. Writing this one up looked to be something of a poisoned chalice, and having vented my spleen somewhat after the anaemic and one-paced display against Swansea, I could only do “Desolation” once in any given week.
“There’s a pint of lager in it for you if you do …”
Well there’s an offer that I usually (always) find difficult to refuse. The deal was duly sealed with fingers firmly crossed.
As team news filtered in, it became clear that Arsene had resisted any urge to make what limited changes his injury-ravaged squad afforded. Sanogo, Kallstrom and Gnabry all remained on the bench, with Podolski for Oxlade-Chamberlain the only change to the starting eleven that had looked so flat against Swansea. The message was clear – We go with what we have, with Arsene’s renowned faith in his players once again to the fore. There were, however, two significant changes to how the team set up, if not to personnel. Cazorla was restored to a more central role whilst the more mobile Flamini rather than the ailing Arteta was given licence to play the slightly more advanced role of the double pivot. Both decisions would yield dividends.
Initial impressions appeared to bear out pre-match concerns. City dominated possession in the opening quarter of the game and knocked the ball around with a swagger and a confidence that has been so sorely lacking from our game in recent weeks. Twice they were able to make significant inroads down Arsenal’s left in the early stages, and when Podolski was carelessly caught in possession on the quarter hour mark, their goal duly arrived, care of two passes and a helpful riccochet from the post. 1-0 down then, and at that stage it looked like it might be another long afternoon.
This was the moment of reckoning. Would the goal provoke another implosion of confidence that we have become used to watching when Arsenal are up against title challengers? Not a bit of it. Roared on by a nervous yet defiant home crowd, Arsenal began to feel their way into the game. With our big German effectively marshalling the troops at the back we remained solid and cohesive, and that sense of solidity began to spread throughout the whole side. Though genuine openings remained scarce there was a willingness on the part of the boys in red to mix it, to go toe to toe, to compete, and to show that they would not be lambs to an oil-funded slaughter. This was to be no abject surrender. Half time arrived with the score still at 1-0, but there had been enough to suggest that hopes of a comeback were not merely the preserve of the fanciful.
A Podolski cross had had the City rearguard panicking. Rosicky, injecting drive and momentum at every opportunity had taken a tumble in the area, and whilst Dean was probably correct in his assessment that he had gone looking for the outstretched leg, I’ve seen ‘em given. Flamini had had the ball in the back of the net, the linesman’s flag cutting short the premature celebrations. Still behind then, but City knew they were in a game.
Two crucial minutes in the second half changed the game. Sczcz spilled a cross and the ball thankfully rolled just wide of the post. A second City goal at that stage would surely have put the game to bed. Having used up a life, Arsenal seized the momentum. First Cazorla, back to his very best, stung Hart’s hands with a fizzer and then with Arsenal keeping City firmly on the backfoot with a fine passage of one touch passing we got our reward, Podolski’s cross swept in with some aplomb by Flamini. His celebration said it all. Enough is enough. The frustrations of the last week were to be banished.
The goal was more evidence of that old adage that goals change more than the scoreline. Belief flooded through the side and it was Arsenal who looked the more likely side to go on and win. It was crucial that we scored again whilst on to top. The opportunity duly arrived. Cazorla played Podolski in but his shot found the inside leg of the fortuitous Hart and went the wrong side of the the post. It was to be the closest we came in the remaining half hour of a thoroughly absorbing contest to turning one point into three.
Back in the Pub, the mood was in stark contrast to the one that had followed the draw on Tuesday. It has been a while since a home draw has been greeted like a win, and though there was a little frustration that we hadn’t managed to turn such a full hearted display into victory, the performance was such that it will hopefully give succour for the rest of the Season.
Reasons to be cheerful then? Certainly. Will parts two and three follow as we head into season-defining games at Goodison Park and Wembley? No idea. Time to buckle up and keep singing Gooners.