Well. Where to start after yesterday’s drama, eh?
Sometimes in football, the greatest ever goal that can be scored, is one that comes in the dying embers of a match when your opponent has no time to respond whatsoever. It’s like your favourite meal followed by your favourite movie all wrapped up into one second of jubilation. That it was Danny Welbeck scoring after spending ten months on the sideline, made it all the more captivating, making for a fabulous Valentines Day for Gooners everywhere.
Now with the benefit of hindsight, I can let you in on a little secret, because I had a secret weapon I unleashed on yesterday’s game: The Management. Yep, I bought my wife along to the football on Valentine’s Day, the lucky devil that she is. “So what’s so ‘secret weapon’-like in that?” I hear you ask.
She’s never seen Arsenal lose. She’s come to The Arsenal for the best part of ten games and she’s still to see a defeat. More often than not they win and a lot of the time it’s by three goals. Yesterday we couldn’t manage the final part of her skills as a good luck charm, but that we scored a goal in the last second, I’m going to count it as three because that’s how good it felt.
And at the final whistle it felt good too. The stadium was near fully packed, we’d just beaten the league leaders to reduce the points deficit to two, we’ve got another great striking option returning to the squad and the belief that this win will give will hopefully be massive. There were one or two who said that the atmosphere was poor during the game, but I didn’t see that, although admittedly I’m in the corner where everybody stands and sings throughout the game so perhaps my perspective is slightly skewed. But the atmosphere on full time was brilliant. It was a mixture of relief, of belief and of celebration. We haven’t won anything yet by a long stretch, but after a pretty disasterous January, at least it still feels like we’re in there with a bit of a chance.
As for the game itself, it’s nice to know that despite a horrific refereeing display by Martin Atkinson, we can still come out on top. It didn’t feel like it in the first half though. Atkinson decided that he’d pretty much ignore any Leicester foul if he could – Wes Morgan on Özil a case in point – yet found himself most obliging when it came to Jamie Vardy essentially running in to Monreal and kicking his legs to win a penalty. If that’s what you’d call ‘clever’ as many pundits put it, I want to see more Arsenal players knocking the ball past defenders in the box and kicking their legs out to ‘win’ penalties. Ahh, but there’s a caveat to that, isn’t there? Whichever player decides to try that, needs to be British, so it’s just Walcott, The Ox, Welbeck or Ramsey that can try it. Otherwise ‘Johnny Foreigner’ in the Arsenal team is a disgusting diver. And there’s no place for diving in the English game, is there?
Anyway, perhaps there was a bit of karma in the second half, when Leicester were reduced to ten men after Simpson was booked twice for two pretty average fouls. The second one was right in front of me and if taken in isolation I thought it was harsh. But you can’t take these in to isolation, can you? Because Simpson had made at least half a dozen fouls before that and so his first yellow was justified in terms of a totting up process and the second was a foul you just don’t make if you’re already booked. Ranieri thought the sending off was ‘severe’, but I wonder what he would have thought about Drinkwater’s over the top challenge on Ramsey that went unpunished? Not even a foul was given. It should have been red.
Our two goals themselves were well worked. You have to give Giroud some credit for the knock down right in to Theo’s path for him to hit home. He took out two defenders with his assist and it left Theo with still a bit to do, but he made it look easy, which is Theo in a nutshell. He misses an easier chance against Southampton when just faced with Forster, but puts away a chance like that when the angle is tight and the ‘keeper looks to have covered his goal well.
The second goal was superb in terms of the delivery from Özil and deft in terms of the flick from Welbeck. He too has his moments. Danny will bag a goal like that and like Walcott, often misses chances, but as long as he does keep popping up with important goals we can hardly chastise him. Not after a day like yesterday and a goal as significant as that could prove to be.
Some ‘props’ must go to Arsène too. We all chide him when he makes changes that don’t work, or when they come at a predictable time, but yesterday he got it spot on. At the time it was a little scary seeing Coquelin come off for Welbeck, as we really went for it, but given Leicester were sitting so deep it makes sense given the benefit of hindsight. Well played to Le Boss.
We’re all happy, still riding high on the crest of the victory wave, but there were some concerns from the game. Alexis still hasn’t clicked and maybe he just needs more games, but he was caught in possession a lot yesterday, gave the ball away a lot and his shooting radar also looked off. Likewise with Özil. I thought he got better in the second half, but he was also caught in possession a few times and struggled overall I thought. However, big players find big moments, even when not at their best and Özil did that with his superb delivery for the winner.
Defensively we’ve lost Koscienly and Gabriel from the weekend. I don’t know what the prognosis is, but hopefully it is short term, because I’m not sure that a Mertesacker/Chambers central two quite works as well as we’d hope. In many ways the sending off benefitted those two as much as anyone, as it left Vardy isolated and as a result one centre half and one quicker full back could always cover him on the counter, but although they’ll probably play together in the FA Cup next weekend, I would hope one of the two players is back for Barcelona, then United the weekend after next.
We did a lot of huffing and puffing in attack yesterday and eventually got the result we needed, but I still think we need to do more in the final third, because we’re not scoring enough goals. We’re fortunate that the defence has managed to tighten up; but sometimes you just need to have those types of games where you just outscore the opposition regardless of how many you concede. That’s not happening to us and I just hope we can find more fluency in the final third over the coming weeks and months.
But let’s not end today’s blog on any kind of perceived ‘downer’, because after you beat the league leaders with a last minute goal, the overriding emotion has to be of happiness. I shall take that with me everywhere I go today.
Catch you tomorrow.