Let’s start with the elephants in the room. Not the penalty but we’ll get to that. First, there’s the matter of Gervinho. The Ivorian was in another one of his frustrating mode in front of goal. Chances after chances came but neither his feet nor his head could find the back of the net. Though, Lukas Podolski takes the cake for the worst miss of the game. That said, he didn’t hide in the game and kept plugging at it. Gervinho was in constant motion and never static, a trade very rare in footballers. He tracked back when required and pressured WBA when it needed to be done. Not quite changing the perception in my mind about him yet, but his performance yesterday deserved a good pat on the back.
The other elephant was of course in regards to the first goal. From the initial look, I really thought that Steven Reid clipped Santi Cazorla’s feet and the penalty was the right call. Upon seeing the replay, I couldn’t be more wrong. Reid took a swing but it was neither dangerous nor had any malice intent but the most important point was that, there was no contact. Cazorla dived and that much is clear as daylight, in my mind. It’s something I don’t condone and would never want to see us resorting to such tactics. He deserves every bit of recrimination that goes his way and will probably not get another benefit of a doubt from the referee for the rest of the season. Arsene Wenger must have a word and be strict with him.
In the end, it was two penalties that made the difference on paper. Both took by Mikel Arteta and both straight down the middle. In fact, that was what I said to my friend when we were watching the game yesterday. Given his last minute miss against Fulham, perhaps he was personally still wary of that miss and did not want to take any risk. It wasn’t a panenka but had the required height to ensure that the keeper could not get his hands to it. That he also took the second penalty in the same manner was unnerving. It takes a lot of guts and confidence to take 2 penalties the same way, knowing that the keeper might just stay on his feet for the second one.
The Spaniard lead by example in the middle of the park yesterday and was true to his words prior to the game. He said that the players were disappointed with the recent run and wanted to make up for it. Arteta and the rest of the team, did just that. You can feel the desire and determination within the Arsenal side that we wanted this game more than the opponent. Bacary Sagna epitomised that when he played the entire game with a bad ankle and never once looked out of place. We were fast to the second ball and competed when there’s a challenge required. Most important of all, we pressed very well as a collective unit. It needed everyone to work hard to make the pressing work and no one can be criticised for not doing their part. Possession was won back immediately and we contained WBA very easily with that tactic.
Thomas Vermaelen looked like that player we saw in his debut season. Tough tackling and all action defender. The maraud forward are less but yesterday was perhaps his best game for us in quite some time. Decisive in his tackles and was discipline enough not to let anyone stray behind of him. Alongside him, Per Mertesacker was another imperious figure. The German must have felt hard done by the referee when many of the decisions went against him but the referee will hang his head in shame when he sees the replay of the game. Kieran Gibbs provided the cover on the left and looks increasingly like how Ashely Cole used to be. Strong when defending but also provided the outlet down the left when we go on the attack.
That said, the stand-out performer of yesterday’s game was Jack Wilshere. I never understand how anyone could be critical of Wilshere. Here is the best English player and he’s playing for us. One with the vision, awareness and the technical ability to match even the best players in the world. Together with Arteta, they ran the midfield and perhaps, the game. For all his troubles with injuries, Wilshere never shy away from a tackle and there’s that big fearlessness about his style of play. It is also encouraging to see him keep standing up after taking knocks and/or kicks. He, will no doubt be playing a crucial part ffor the rest of the season and we can only hope that he stays fit. The other Englishman in the side, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also had his best game of the season, yesterday.
No goalkeeping errors from either side, this time around. The win puts us right behind the losers from yesterday. It was a much needed boost after our recent disappointments. I’m more than hopeful that the players will see what it takes to win games this season. The need to fight and press efficiently because when we do that, our quality will ensure that the other parts will come along. Now let’s go on a consistent run.