I found yesterday’s game against Sunderland fascinating, I must say, looking back on the game in the cold light of a January’s Sunday. Fascinating from before the first whistle was even sounded, because of the pre-match pressers of both gaffers, followed by the subsequent reality of the teams that they put out.
In the build up to the game Sam Allardyce talked up rotation so much, that I thought we were going to get a team of midgety 18-year-olds that were just happy to be playing on grass, instead of churned up mud. Yet when my comrades for the afternoon and I saw the team sheets half an hour before kick off, nothing further could be from the truth. The Walrus had sold everyone a dummy and was trying to catch Arsène out with a bold team selection.
Unfortunately for Big Fat Sam, the dummy didn’t quite work, and Arsène read him like a compelling Jack Reacher novel. The result was an equally surprising first XI that included Cech, Bellerin, Koscienly, Walcott and Giroud starting. I have to be honest and say I didn’t see that one coming in a million years. Perhaps sadly for this competition too, I was almost disappointed, because my thoughts turned to Liverpool on Wednesday and whether the players would be rested in time.
But all of that apprehension melted away after I’d taken my seat in block five and rightly, all eyes were on getting the result this weekend, which is the right attitude for everyone to have. After all, there’s no reason why we can’t go for the league and the cup, so let’s aim for that magical day at Wembley again.
The first half didn’t quite have the same ‘magical’ feel about it though, if we’re all honest with each other. Their young ‘keeper Pickford made a few good saves and looked assured enough making decent stops from Gibbs and Iwobi, but we weren’t exactly bashing the door down. Well, not the opposition door, anyway. We were quite happy to kick our own door down, in the shape of a pretty ropey goal conceded at the hands of Koscienly, who tried to to be a little cute in getting rid of a quick touch back by Gibbs. As one of the more experienced players on the pitch in terms of his first team regularity, I’d have expected a bit more composure by the Frenchman, but perhaps it was indicative of our somewhat lackadaisical first half that we conceded a goal entirely of our own making. Lens’ finish was ok, but the guy had spent the entire game falling over at every opportunity before that and after, so to gift him such an opportunity inside our own box stuck in my craw a bit.
Still, we should not underestimate the ability of this Arsenal team to dust itself off, then regain composure. Which we did with a quite excellent finish from Campbell before the halftime whistle had been peeped by the completely inadequate Martin Atkinson.
Campbell’s goal was as good as his performance. He was excellent yesterday and with every game like that, I become a little more convinced that he may yet have a long-term future at the club. In the second half we were much better, but it was both the Costa Rican and Alex Iwobi who stood out for me.
Iwobi looked composed on the ball, willing to receive and distribute without any problems, playing some very good passes in the second half. This was the first time I’ve seen a performance from him that makes you go “ahh, and that’s what all the fuss seems to be about” and I thought the link up between him and Joel was fabulous at times in the second half.
You could tell that the players had been stunned into action for the second 45. Gibbs and Bellerin beat their men more often, the Ox looked better and hit the post, and even Giroud held the ball up better, getting his goal to secure the win. But it was the Ramsey goal which gave the biggest indication in the difference between those at the peak of their game and form, and those that are on the fringes, because the interplay was superb between Campbell, Bellerin and Rambo to finish it off. I bet Mez was in the stands grinning after a goal like that, because it was one crafted that even he would have been proud of, such was the precision of it.
It was no more than we deserved. The second half was an Arsenal domination and after a Christmas period in which we’ve struggled performance-wise, it was nice to see us back up the result with he actual gameplay, too.
We’re in to the hat for round four and hopefully we’ve bult yet more confidence long in to three really tough league matches. I thought Chambers had a second solid game in the holding midfield role and althoughFlamini will probably play on Wednesday, I fancy he might get one or two more run outs if he keeps up his performances like that.