There were two targets before the game yesterday. One, is for us to win the match and the other was to hope that Shalke win theirs too. In the end, both targets were achieved and that counts as a very good night. We are now through to the next stage of the competition and can look forward to more Champions League football after the turn of the year. But there’s more to be gleaned from last night than just that, there was also the cream on the top that was the first goal.
On the scales of sublime goals scored by an Arsenal players, that probably wouldn’t even go into the top 20. Yet, what I felt when Jack Wilshere scored the goal was almost similar to when Thierry Henry put the ball in the net against Leeds last season. Wilshere’s return from an entire year of football, capping his comeback with a goal. Now, I do realised this is not his comeback “comeback” match but the goal puts things into perspective. We’ve missed the boy and we’re all damn glad that he’s back. There’s more work to be done but we’re starting to see signs of the player that we last saw in 2010.
When that goal came, it was just after the restart of the half, after quite what was simply an uninspiring first half. On one hand, you could credit the defences of both sides that little or no chance were created at all in the opening 45 minutes. On the other hand, you could criticise how poor both teams were offensively. Remember, it’s always a bit of both and never just the one extreme. As good as we were in ensuring that Wojciech Szczesny had an easy night, we were awful going forward. Players just didn’t seem to be on the same wavelength. Whenever we have possession, we carelessly gave it up through a combination of poor passing and movement.
Had we hit the hour mark without scoring a goal, then it would make the players start to doubt thing. So thankfully Wilshere scored when he did. Lukas Podolski doubled our lead in the 63rd minute with a brilliant take of the ball. We’ve known and seen before he joined us, that he possesses a cannon like left foot than can hit the ball with venomous power. Yet, until now we’ve seen little, if any of it. The ball was going straight at the keeper but such is the power of the shot, that the ball flew past Geoffrey Jourdren before he could even react.
Both goals that we scored came courtesy of Olivier Giroud’s last touch before the goalscorers did what they did. Yes, some do call that assists. The Frenchman showed on occasions last night that he still has a heavy touch in him when receiving the ball with his back towards goal. But showed all his qualities when he’s on the front foot. His awareness of the movement of his team mates is very impressive. Always looking around to see where everyone are before receiving the pass. A nicely cushioned header for Wilshere to finish the first and the lovely chip pass for Podolski to slam in the second. Giroud may not have got on the scoresheet himself but we would not have won without his contributions.
I’m a little worried about Santi Cazorla though. Not his form because he was once again very good in his ball control and passing. Not perfect but maintaining a high standard, but he’s playing a lot of football at the moment and getting hurt all around. Any team, just like Montpellier last night will target Cazorla for some rough treatment to put him off his game. As long as that’s not over the top, it’s probably an acceptable tactic. You can’t have the opponent running rings around you. Cazorla got a lot of kicking last night and I’m worried that the injury ghost might catch up with him someday. He’s an experienced professional who should know how to handle himself but I’m just hoping we give him a little bit more protection, be it from the players or from the manager who could have taken him off earlier.
In fact, the last game of the group stage is just to determined who will finish top. To me, it makes no difference. Yes, it would be easier to just get drawn to weaker teams all the way to winning the trophy. You wouldn’t find me grumbling if we won the trophy that way. However, from a personal preference, I want to see us up against the best. For that to happen, we need our best players fit and available. For that very reason, Laurent Koscielny and Cazorla should both miss the final game of the season in order to save them from getting another yellow which could mean missing out on the first game of the next stage.
Job done, for now.