Only three weeks ago after the FA Cup exit away to Sunderland and the disaster in the San Siro even the most positive of Arsenal fans was starting to doubt that this team had the necessary cojones to get us back in to the Champions League qualification places. Two morale boosting wins in the Premier League against much feted domestic opposition and the demolition of the Italian Champions elect at The Home of Football and all of a sudden the despair and gloom around the club has gone, players returning from injury, the media saying nice things about the boss, and the players, life was okay again.
In truth in those three games we were the underdogs, written off at home against the cretins from N17, no chance of overcoming the deficit against Milan, and surely we couldn’t beat the Carling Cup holders at their place. Last night we were favourites again, some will tell you that we don’t do being favourites, too often have we have seen us close wide open doors on ourselves when presented with the chance to catch up or to extend our points advantage. But somewhere between two nil down at home to the Lilylivers and beating Milan 3-0 the Emirates became a fortress, it became a mass of positivity, restored faith, vocal support, proper support. And the players they became warriors.
With two minutes to go pegged back in our own corner to defend a throw in the game looked up, the critics were sharpening their knives ready to rehash bottling stories. This squad decided they didn’t want to read that tomorrow, they scrapped for the ball from the throw in, first Gibbs, then Ramsey, then Arteta, the ball finally breaking to Song who moved it quickly to Van Persie, trying to take on three striped shirts whilst support arrived, there was Song again who moved it out wide to Theo. Theo took his time as red and white shirts filled the box and delivered an inviting chipped cross, neither Van Persie or Ramsey could make a decisive touch, and as it bounced down Vermaelen arrived to smash it home past the onrushing Krul. And then everything went a bit mental.
This team with no heart no passion no desire, well they showed they had to all in spades, Vermaelen epitomised this spirit, after having his knee accidentally stamped on he had limped around for ten minutes of the second half while he ran it off, and somehow he found the energy to sprint the length of the pitch to be on the end of that cross and bravely finish taking another clout from Krul. The mass bundle proof if you needed any that this group of players cares, and they care as much as us about finishing above the shower down the road. Whilst Wenger is playing down the chase for the Spuds the players are mentioning it in every post match, maybe Pat Rice has had a quiet word in their ear. “Listen lads, we don’t finish below them, it doesn’t happen, go get ‘em”.
Before that thirty seconds of brilliance there had been another ninety minutes of a football match, well 70 minutes of football and 20 spent waiting for Krul to put the ball back in play. Newcastle came with a game plan, flood the midfield, don’t over commit, nick a goal if possible and then soak up everything Arsenal could throw at them. For the opening ten minutes the game was scrappy, if anything we were over eager to retrieve the ball sometimes getting in each others way or the ball bouncing away and back to an enthusiastic Newcastle midfield. Tiote is perfect fit for the way Pardew wanted to play past night, chasing and breaking up play, and able to give it to those more gifted than him.
The first chance fell to Robin, a good leap from Sagna flicked the ball on for Theo to chase, no player has personified our turn around in fortunes as much as our young marmite winger, he burst into the open space and delivered a fizzing cross along the ground to the back post where a despairing slide from Van Persie failed to connect. Clearly Robin didn’t want to yet.
Around the 15 minute mark Arteta intercepted a Tiote pass, Vermaelen couldn’t do much more than push the ball back out and Tiote picked it up again played it to Ba, Cabaye joined in and pushed it to Ben Arfa, Gibbs chasing back was easily wrong footed as the skilful Frenchman put in on his left foot and produced a very good finish to beat Szczesny at his near post. I have watched it a few times and have decided that he could not have done much about it, it was a very good finish. Gibbs had been caught out of position but only because he was trying to win back possession from Ba.
Maybe the payers had heard that no team had ever won 4 consecutive games from behind in the Premier League, and as we haven’t set any records for a while they decided they would like to have a crack at that one. Within 30 seconds of the restart we were level, good work again from Theo, Sagna and Rosicky, set Theo free down the wing, he delivered another first time cross which found the Boy Wonder, this time he decided he did want to, his first touch was sublime taking the defender out of the game the second touch put the ball onto the trusted left foot and his third touch was despatch past Krul.
The rest of the half was a bit scrappy, Newcastle didn’t seem to know what to do next, the plan had been defend, nick one, defend, well they didn’t appear to plan for what happened if we equalised. They didn’t commit, and they started to time waste, I know teams need to regather their shape, but this is an opponent that before last night still had a chance of Champions League football, they are not going to get relegated, they had already scored once, where is the sense in defending and being satisfied with a point? Robin had words with Krul, Krul had a few back.
As the half played out Robin had another chance but his strike found the Emirates crowd, a free kick into the hands of Krul and Theo had a scrappy chance off balance from a corner. Whilst we had been good down the right, we were a bit lop sided, Oxlade Chamberlain rarely getting into the game, and Gibbs not advancing as much as normal due to the attacking threat of Ben Arfa.
From the restart of the second half Arsenal dominated possession, territory and Newcastle, they had occasional forays into our half, mainly from a long ball to Ba, but the two of Koscielny and Vermaelen dealt comfortably with everything thrown at them, both picking up knocks and injuries as they refused to retreat.
Rosicky was everywhere for Arsenal, a diving header from another Theo cross which Krul saved, some great footwork, a spin and a reverse pass into Van Persie which the latter could only fire at Kruls feet. Another chance fell to Rosicky but his tiring legs could not muster the necessary power after Theo pulled it back for him and the ball went disappointingly out for a throw in.
Arteta and Song picked up loose balls, we harried in numbers and won the ball back in advanced positions. Ox started to come into the game as the Newcastle defence and midfield tired and was unlucky with a volley from outside the box and later opened up some space for himself in the penalty area before shooting wide.
Gervinho replaced Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Ramsey came on for the tiring Rosicky. Neither took anything away from the team thanks to the volume of players returning from injuries our bench now has some quality on it. The two subs combined to produce a cross which no one could reach, but good pressure high up on their goal line by Gibbs regained possession, he fed Van Persie, but again he could not find the finish, or just didn’t want to.
The best chance of the half probably fell to Gervinho, an Arteta cross travelled across the box and found him unmarked at the far post, he couldn’t sort his feet out in time and it drifted agonisingly wide. Arsenal were now camping in Newcastles half, Song produced a wonderful cross which Vermaelen met well only to see Krul tip over. Theo was next to be denied by good defensive work by Collocini. It just looked like it was going to be one of those nights where we couldn’t force it home.
And then Vermaelen thought “if Robin doesn’t want to tonight, I sure as hell do.”
All that was left for Robin to ask Tim how much time he wanted to waste now. A bit of a melee ensued and Robin was held back by several team mates, actually I need to commend Arteta here as he intercepted Krul as he ran out of his box to confront Robin, although the Boy Wonder seemed in control he as certainly enjoying the bit of gamesmanship. Do I want my skipper to behave like that? Well actually I don’t mind if he does from time to time.
Szczesney – 7 Didn’t really have a lot to do, but dealt with most things comfortably and very good distribution last night.
Sagna – 8 Tireless support of Theo, and solid defensively
Koscielny – 8 Fearless in tackle, fast across ground, and a good reader of the game
Vermaelen – 9 Warrior
Gibbs – 7 Starting to show why Wenger has faith in him, good going forward, disciplined defensively. Tidy on the ball.
Song – 8 The kind of game we love to see from him, everywhere needed to fight fires and good use of the ball. No lazy fouls, no lazy touches, no hanging on to the ball.
Arteta 7 – struggled first half to find players and get a foot on the ball, finds a teammate more often than not.
Rosicky – 8 A good performance by the newly re signed Czech, he actually is “Like a New Signing”.
Walcott – 9 Constant threat to Newcastle in behind, good runs, and good delivery.
Oxlade – Chamberlain – 7 struggled to get into game first half, found the ball more in the second and gave flashes of what he is good at.
The Boy Wonder – 9 Another world class performance from our leader, the first goal was evidence of his form right now and why he got the 8, the extra point was for his winding up of Krul, he would have had a ten if it weren’t for some off shooting second half.
Gervinho 7 – some good touches and passes, made threatening runs.
Ramsey 7 – found the pace of the game immediately, found some good passes, was in the melee that led to the goal.