Monday, 30 December 2013

One nil to The Arsenal...

It was smash-and-grab, it was nail biting and it was nerve racking. But it was worth it, as we finish 2013 on top of the pile, thanks to Giroud's head snatching a 1-0 win for us. It was very much similar to the victory that we grabbed previously at St. James', and it felt just as sweet.

We travelled to Newcastle with several key players missing. The absentees included Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal who missed the match due to illness while Ozil suffered a slight shoulder injury which is likely to keep him out for the next 2-3 games. The traffic on the treatment table seems to be growing by the day as it already includes the likes of Ramsey, Chambo and (what was his name again?) Abou Diaby, of course.

We went into the match knowing only a win would help us stay on top at the end of the year. And win we did.

Team lineup:

Vermaelen's absence meant the Mertescielny pair was reunited, while the rest of the back five kind of picked themselves. Flamini came in to replace Arteta while Wilshere slotted in Ramsey's role, after returning from his 2 match ban. The attacking consisted of a very unfamiliar trio of Walcott, Rozza and Santi. Giroud (as usual) spearheaded our attack, with Podolski left on the bench once again.

First half:

The first half was a very tight affair with many half chances for both sides, but the more clear cut ones fell Newcastle's way right at the end of the half. I feel we started both the halves very brightly. Newcastle had no answer to Arsenal's tiki-taka possession football, as barely any team does. However, as both halves wore on, Newcastle grew into the game and put us on the backfoot.

Rosicky and Cazorla kept ticking it for us without really hurting them, while Wilshere always looked to run into traffic and surrender possession. Theo hardly made any runs behind and was poor on the ball, quite honestly. Overall, our build up play to their box was good but the final ball always went astray, reminiscent of the frustrating old Arsenal.

There was a a moment in the match when I really missed Ozil. It was around the 20th minute, when Newcastle were caught on the break by Arsenal. Cazorla, with the ball at his feet had the simplest task of playing the ball through to Giroud who had made an excellent run. However, he passed it straight into the defenders legs, killing off the move. Had the ball been played by Ozil, Ollie would have indisputably found himself one-on-one with the keeper.

Newcastle should have taken the lead at half time, had it not been for Chezza (I love this guy!). He pulled out a top corner save from Sissoko's excellent effort, palming the ball over the bar. Luckily, the resulting corner saw a looping header by Debuchy hitting the bar and then being cleared off the line.

Second half:

This half started extremely similar to the first one with the mighty Arsenal dominating, but still failing to cause Krul any serious danger.

NEWCASTLE 0-1 ARSENAL: Arsenal earned a free kick in the middle of opponents half. With Theo stepping up to take it, I was damn sure it would result in a goal kick to them. His crossing has been poor since he has stepped foot into Arsenal, but on this occasion he proved me wrong. I'm glad he did, to be honest. His delivery was excellent and the faintest of touches off Giroud's head was enough to see him score. 1-0 at long last.

I loved Giroud's hold up play. Yesterday, it was immaculate and sometimes excellent. I remember a highlight of the game when he made the defence stare at him with awe as he plucked a long ball from the air, chested it, juggled it with both his thighs and feet and finally brought it to a halt.

He was all over the Newcastle back four and worked his socks off for the team. Make no mistake, while another striker is still required, this guy is a true team player. He thoroughly deserved his goal and it would do him a world of good to his confidence after breaking his drought. Moments later, a bit of calmness would have certainly doubled his tally for the evening, but it wasn't to be.

Later, Gibbs got injured which saw Flamini play at the LB position again (never imagined this scenario in his second spell), which meant that Gibbs was replaced by Arteta to shore up things. Wenger was quite happy with the 1 goal lead as he brought Jenkinson on in place of Walcott to resort to a BACK FIVE consisting of 3 central defenders. It was a back to the walls approach by us - symbolic of Wenger's growing pragmatism in recent games - as we tried to cling on to our slender lead. We invited pressure onto us but dealt with their aerial attack surprisingly easily, clinching an important victory for us.

In the aftermath of the win, a delighted Arsene said:

"There is something in the team that is special on the mental front where we have many times been questioned. But we have shown that at West Ham when we were 1-0 down, we have shown that again today when we were a bit backs to the wall in the last 15 minutes.For years we were younger [and less able] to resist this kind of pressure but we have always been up there at the top. There's a great solidarity and a great spirit in the side."

And he's right on the money. This is an Arsenal side finally coming of age, getting 3 points when it matters most. This is an Arsenal side that will adapt to Stoke City's footballing philosophy if need be to cling on to 3 juicy, precious and decisive points. This is a mixture of George Graham's gritty Arsenal warriors that held on to one-nillers as well as of Wenger's "beautiful football" artists, which is proving to be a deadly combination thus far.

We've played attractive football against the likes of Norwich, Napoli and Liverpool, but we've abandoned those philosophies for 3 vital points against teams like Dortmund, Marseille and now Newcastle. Critics who are yet writing us off from being title contenders are completely off their rocker - not that I really care.

This is a new look Arsenal, one built on a mixture of pragmatism and attractive football. And I like it.

-Cesc (Follow me on Twitter @adwait122)