After over a month in which I’ve frequented The Emirates, that performance and result yesterday was just the tonic required for a first home league game of 2015.
Everything about yesterday went exactly how it should always be, in the ideal world of a Gooner, with a relatively very early goal, complete control of the match from start to finish, plus the welcome sight of returning players from injuries. The only blot on the copybook was the dislocated shoulder to Matthieu Debuchy, having taken a nudge by an Orc into the advertising hoardings in the first half which by the look of some of the pictures on Debuchy’s face, was a bloody painful one.
It always feels good when you can put a team of clobbers to the sword like Stoke, despite some more shoddy refereeing by Jon Moss – who whilst not making any critically incorrect decisions – was still able to get lots of little shockers here and there, but thankfully to little effect. A home crowd has influence, no doubt, which is why the elbowage of Peter Crouch was kept to a minimal on a sunny Sunday lunchtime.
So a three-nil win, three precious points, plus an opportunity to sing “three-nil, and you can’t go home” to the away fans. After the regular abuse we get up there, it feels somewhat justified, methinks.
Pre-game all of the talk was of the interesting selection decisions made by Le Boss, as confirmation came through of the trouble Szczesny has caused for himself by the inclusion of David Ospina to the starting line up. There’s more to the smoking story than meets the eye, obviously, but I thought Ospina did ok. There’s no doubt it was somewhat of a gamble given the opposition, but there was certainly none of the aerial bombardment that we’re used to seeing from that lot, so in hindsight it looks like a good thing. That’s so for a number of reasons; a) it shows Szczesny that his position is not automatically secure and may prove the kick up the jollies he needs, and b) it shows Ospina that if he works hard and shows good form, then he’s got a chance of starting.
I thought Ospina did well. He wasn’t tested too much, but he didn’t look like he was overawed by the situation, plus he demonstrated that he’s a different type of ‘keeper to Szczesny. He’s certainly smaller, but he’s a talker, taking time out to walk up to the defender on the halfway line during some of the corner kicks and give out instructions. He also prefers the safety on his line more than our Polish number one. There were times where you just know it would have seen Wojciech sweep up and hoof the ball forward yesterday. Ospina preferred to let his defenders deal with it. It’s interesting because both styles have their benefits, but I think it’s good that we have two ‘keepers with two different styles, because it means Arsène can rotate a little depending on the opposition. In theory that is.
Defensively we were never really troubled and with Per and Kos back in the heart of the team it was good to see us keep a clean sheet and look so comfortable. Nacho too had a good afternoon, elbow to the face from Crouch aside, so it’s pleasing that the squad appears to finally be looking like its getting back to full strength.
The midfield inclusion of Rosicky was a surprise, but with Ramsey perhaps not completely ready yet, the Czech midfielder showed that nobody has a guaranteed place in the side. He popped the ball around all afternoon with confidence and with Cazorla pulling the strings and Coquelin tidying up behind them, it felt like the balance of the team was right.
As for the front three, well, they all performed too. The hero of the afternoon – as seems to be commonplace these days – was an always energetic Alexis and his first goal was a perfect example of everything he is. Winning the ball back after giving it away, jinking past two defenders and picking out the smallest angle to the goalkeepers near post. How, or why, Barcelona offloaded him beggars belief. But boy, are we profiting from it. The second half saw his second of the game and whilst you could probably question the ‘keeper for his part in spilling the ball into the net, it was a clever ‘under-the-wall’ job that had Begovic blind-sighted, so perhaps we should just marvel at this Chilean that Arsène convinced to join.
All this hyperbole and I’ve not even mentioned the excellent goal by Koscienly to nod us in to a 1-0 lead early on in the game. Assist provided by Alexis. Natch.
Yesterday was like it should always be against mid to lower table teams. It was controlled and comfortable at home. I’d blogged pre-game about how we had to become flat-track bullies by beating the teams that were – in theory – not as good as we are, and yesterday the team did exactly what we all expect of Arsenal in these types of games. Given that next week we go to City for our usual humbling, yesterday’s three points was probably even more important, but we need to look at an increase in those types of performances. We saw it against Newcastle in December and we’ve seen it again this weekend just gone. What we need to see now is an increase in our ability to collectively say “we played well yesterday” after a performance like that against the Aston Villa’s, Everton’s, Leicester’s and Swansea’s of this world.
A good day had by all and an important confidence-boosting victory. Roll on next weekend. Maybe.
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