Some times you’ve just got to take an ugly win when it comes along. Yesterday, up against a resilient Newcastle United team, that’s exactly what Arsenal did.
It felt like a bit of an arduous afternoon, didn’t it? Perhaps the Arsenal players were so happy to be playing at a ‘normal’ time – i.e. Saturday 3pm – that they forgot to actually get going for large periods of the match. There must be some reason behind it, because on paper this was a home banker, not a struggle in the swirling rain. Still, a win is a win, it doesn’t matter how it comes.
I don’t think anybody was surprised to see the team that Arsène picked. Gibbs dropped to the bench for Monreal, Gabriel made way for Koscienly and Flamini resumed his role as the ball winner in the centre of midfield. But what did certainly surprise me was the way in which Newcastle played. They didn’t strike me as a team in the bottom three, that’s for sure, because they made a bit more of a game than I thought they would. In fact, looking back on the match, I would probably have to say that Cech was the busier of the two ‘keepers. Twice he was called upon when a Newcastle player was in on goal and once or twice he made a few good parries from some pot-shots. But as has become the norm for us this season, he dealt with them, making them look routine and as a result earned us another clean sheet. I must admit I wasn’t sure why we were binning off Szczesny for a guy in his mid thirties, as I’ve always felt Szczesny could get to that level, but now that we’re halfway through the season you can really see what a world class goalie brings to your team. Composure, organisation and more clean sheets.
Defensively we wobbled once or twice and I thought the full backs had a difficult afternoon. Monreal is usually Mr Consistency, but he was given a difficult time by a few of the Newcastle attackers, whilst Bellerin gave the ball away a few times and the result was breaking down of our attacks or in one case – where he handed the ball on a plate to Wijnaldum – setting up a Newcastle attack. He’s still a young kid and is going to make those kinds of mistakes, but as long as we aren’t punished by them, then you know we’ve always got a chance of winning the game. Which is essentially what happened yesterday. Defensively we stood firm, whilst taking the most clear-cut chance of the game from another corner. We’re getting good at this corners malarkey, you know? Giroud needs to get some props for his determination, because although he didn’t cleanly win the first ball, he did win the second and that allowed Koscienly to ghost in to the six yard box and stab the ball home. It was somewhat scrappy as a finish and somewhat summed up our afternoon.
2016 has started off with a win. Leicester’s draw means we’re two clear at the top and with Liverpool and Stoke away to come as our next couple of matches in the league, you can’t help but think that we’ll need that buffer, because those places haven’t exactly been happy hunting grounds in the past. Especially Stoke.
Now the players have a whole week before Sunderland and hopefully Arsène will rotate then in prep for Liverpool at Anfield the following midweek. We’re in good form and we can enjoy being top for almost half of January, plus it makes going in to work tomorrow a little bit more palatable, I think.
Right, decorations to bring down, Christmas flab to start whittling away and a hope that Everton beat the Spuds this afternoon. Catch you tomorrow.