What a night it was at the Emirates. Certainly a game when one is privileged to be attending. Luckily for me, I was one of those fighting chilly weather to witness yet another Arsenal come back to go within a point of that third spot in the Premier League. A come back that was richly deserved as once again the team showed courage and desire to come out on top.
Mikel Arteta was restored to the starting line-up as Gervinho drops out and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s went from midfield to the wide attacking role. We controlled proceedings right from the start and was unlucky not to take an early lead when Theo Walcott sped away brilliantly and delivered a sumptuous cross into the box. Robin Van Persie just narrowly missed connecting with it.
Despite the huge amount of ball possession, we failed to find the back of the net. The final pass just wasn’t there in the first half. Unbelievably, even as early as the first half, the tactics of Alan Pardew was clear for all to see. Newcastle were there to take a point back home. Tim Krul wasting plenty of time on the ball before the half time whistle was even blown.
As is customary in recent games, we were the first to concede. An untidy clearance led to Demba Ba feeding the ball right to Hatem Ben Arfa. Kieran Gibbs was his opponent but got his defending all wrong. Under pressure, he failed to show Ben Arfa on his weaker foot and the left footer was always going to cut inside. It was too easy but still a very impressive finish from the French playmaker, beating Wojciech Szczesny at the near post.
There was nothing to fear though. The response was swift and deadly. It came none other from the only striker who scores when he wants. Captain RvP roused the home crowd into action just minutes after we went behind. The creator? Walcott. Tearing past Davide Santon on the right, the cross was perfect though RvP still needed to improvise a little before slotting it past Krul.
The second played out pretty much the same way. Us in the ascendency but just could not find the creative spark to get ahead. Tomas Rosicky was once again the bright spot in midfield but it was too much to ask him to continue in similar fashion for the 3rd straight game. As the clock starts to run down, there were fears if not from the team, then from the fans that we might not win this game.
We waited until the final whistle for it to arrive. The moment was sweet and victory was achieved. Walcott again the architect. RvP couldn’t connect cleanly with the header but Thomas Vermaelen was there to finished it off. Rosicky and Gervinho both contrived to choose the same match to show their inefficiency on their weaker foot before the Belgian rescued us.
It was no more than we deserved and absolutely everything that Newcastle deserved. Howard Webb had unbelievably allowed Krul all the time he liked on the ball knowing that he will add it to the injury time. Fairplay from the referee for doing that but I’d rather he booked the keeper. We don’t pay good money to see such antics. Emirates has the best pitch in the whole wide world and no arguments of having to change sides for goal kicks should ever be accepted.
In the end, it was exemplary and fortunate at the same time that we continued our winning run. Results earlier had set the stage for us to close the gap and several times this season, we’ve failed to take advantage of that. On the run that we were, the expectations were certainly high on the team and it was good that they were able to cope and respond to the pressure in a positive manner.
Walcott the obvious candidate for individual performance award and rightly so. Right and sprightly, he showed endeavour and most importantly, variation in his game that made him such a formidable attacking outlet. Some theorist suggest that the return of Bacary Sagna was the influential factor in Walcott surge in form while others will point to the rivalry with AOC. Pick whichever one works for you.
The other one who should the limelight with Walcott is the man who scored the winning goal. Vermaelen looks to be back to his best playing centrally, you can just see that he’s so much more natural and comfortable there. He wins all the high balls even when Ba is taller than him. Watching him up close is a real pleasure because what you don’t pick up on television are the movements he makes.
For central defender he joins up with the attack a lot and that’s got to be taxing to constantly run up and down the pitch. Here the understanding with Alex Song is crucial to ensure one stays behind to support. The same goes for Gibbs. It’s a great tribute to the determination of Vermaelen and we can see clearly how much we’ve missed him centrally last season.
Whatever has been said of the team since the start of the season, there’s no doubting that the last month, we’ve shown great strength to recover from adversity. Albeit the adversity being a goal behind. Character is beginning to grow on this Arsenal side and that is very positive a thing to take towards the end of the season.
Was a pleasure to be there.