Like I said before the game, away days at St. James park are always hard. Yes, we still manage to win there, but our last three meetings with the Toons (now four) finished with a solitary goal to separate the two teams: 1-0, 2-1, 1-0 and 1-0.
However, there are different kinds of hard. Yesterday’s game proved hard to win because from 15th minute onwards Arsenal played 11 vs 10. We generally find it tough going to beat deep sitting teams with even squads, but that sending off ensured attacking was never really on Newcastle’s mind. Even late introductions of Perez and Cisse didn’t change that: McLaren’s side finished the game with only one shot (off target) and 26% possession. On the up side, Cech racked his second consecutive clean sheet without breaking a sweat, something he thoroughly deserved after putting in a monumental performance on Monday.
Just when I gave up predicting changes to the team, three happened at once: Kos for Chambers (expected), Oxlade for Ozil (the German suffered a minor knee injury) and Walcott for Giroud. The last change took me by surprise and eventually proved ineffective:
“I expected more space for Theo Walcott. At the start it looked quite promising but after 15 minutes it was a different problem for us. There was no space behind their defenders, the service through their lines was very difficult and they defended very well.”
In these 15 minutes, Walcott squandered a brilliant chance after being set up by Bellerin. Theo reappeared 15 minutes later (to spurn another opportunity after Krul parried Sanchez’s effort straight into the Englishman’s path) before vanishing in his entirety.
As Arsene always does, he persevered with his starting XI up until 70th minute and so Theo wasn’t subbed earlier. During these 70 minutes, Walcott made 17 (!) touches: 3 shots (1 on target), 12 attempted passes (10 completed), 1 dribble and 1 ball recovery.
What I’m driving at is that Walcott was utterly useless up front. Despite his shortcomings, Giroud did more in his 20 minutes and that includes a shot in frustration and spurned big chance late on.
Aaron Ramsey, MoM
Yes, he was my Man of the Match. This game showed he is not a playmaker (Ozil, we need you), however we wouldn’t have won the game had it not been for Aaron Ramsey.
The Welshman had an 89% pass accuracy (89/100 passes completed), made 5 ball recoveries, created 5 chances for teammates (all from open play) and finally, his only shot on target (of two attempted) led to the only goal scored.
Aaron is not a 10 and I doubt he won’t feature there with a fit Ozil, but he made a vital contribution in this position yesterday.
He had one of the best passing accuracies on field (69/73 – 95%), his long pass led to the penalty incident and his only successful dribble led to a dangerous free-kick, however it was his defensive contribution (as always) which played a massive part in keeping a clean sheet.
5 tackles (3 on the flanks, so he most likely stopped three counter-attacks), 11 ball recoveries, the Frenchman drew 3 fouls, one of which was a straight red for Mitrovic and finally, he showed immense maturity. It was obvious Steve McLaren sent out his goons to “rough Arsenal up”, yet Francis kept his composure and didn’t commit a single foul, let alone get a yellow. Bravo.
Putting the result into context
This performance was far from what is needed to mount a proper title challenge, however, let’s not diminish the importance of this win. Looking at other results, I realised just how vital it was.
City continued their impeccable run by beating Watford and now have 12 points in four games with 10 goals scored and 0 conceded, while both Liverpool and Chelsea lost (both at home). United, meanwhile, have a tricky away trip to Swansea later today and you don’t need me to remind you how Swansea played against us and United last year.
Yesterday Wenger said he remains open to strengthening in any position:
“We are open and we are in the transfer market. If we find an exceptional player in any sector, we will do it. At the moment I don’t know if something will happen or not.”
The Frenchman also remains positive overall and I do think we are in for a late surprise. If you ask me, I think Arsene has a striker in mind, though I’m not quite sure who that might be. I’m still convinced in the market where strikers are at a premium it’s easier to buy a winger and try Sanchez at centre-forward. The Chilean had a very positive performance yesterday. He took 7 shots (4 blocked, one off target, the other two made Krul work hard), created 2 chances and even had 6 ball recoveries. He also drew 5 fouls, some of which earned a yellow for the perpetrators. A lively performance from him, looks like he’s almost at his best.
Right, that’s your lot for today. A bit short from me, but not much to talk about really. Hope we’ll add another arrow to our quiver when I next write.