September 24, 2012
It’s a mark of how good we were yesterday that most Gooners this morning will be responding to an away game against the champions, arguably our hardest match of the season, a game which we were losing with only eight minutes to go, and still be disappointed that we only managed a point.
Put simply, we were excellent. For large swathes of that match we made one of the most expensively assembled sides in history look frankly a little bit average. In the first half particularly our crisp one touch passing in the middle of the park was virtually unplayable. The decision to start Aaron Ramsey out on the right, only for him to drift in and overwhelm them in midfield was an inspired move from a manager who supposedly doesn’t do tactics.
Ramsey himself was the revelation of the game for me. He was busy, buzzing and confident. His touch was superb and he was always looking for the forward pass. It was the best I’ve seen him play since he came back back from that injury and frankly the first time he’s approximated the form he was showing before he was so cruelly taken out of the game. Having clearly tested the patience of a whole lot of fans with his displays last season I’m delighted and excited by the prospect of having the old (young) Aaron back.
It seems at the moment like every time you blink this squad gets that little bit stronger.
It was Ramsey who provided us with the chance of the match when he slid Gervinho in with a beautifully weighted ball in the first half. Unfortunately this just wasn’t Gervinho’s day and his first touch was woeful. Being around thirty yards from Joe Hart he had a huge margin of error but still somehow managed to overhit it and watch the ball slide harmlessly toward’s the keeper’s arms. After that point he never quite regained his composure and having only just managed to assemble some kind of fragile confidence you do worry what longer term effect that might have on his extraordinarily delicate ego. Can we not send him on some kind of hypnotherapy course for self-assertiveness?
Of course all of our fine work was undone in an instant when we gave away an unnecessary corner five minutes before the break which was defended poorly allowing Lescott to leap and head home. A lot of the focus on Sky’s coverage was on the apparently ludicrous decision to opt for a zonal marking system as if Arsenal are the first team to ever adopt it. But the problem wasn’t with the system. The problem was that Vito Mannone came for a ball which he got absolutely nowhere near and that neither Laurent Koscielny or Lukas Podolski made a whole lot of effort to get to that ball ahead of Lescott.
It was a familiar sinking feeling to go in at the break a goal down having had by far the better of the play. And in fact if this had happened last year against a team as big as Man City I think we all know what the outcome would have been. No points and a world weary Arsene Wenger bemoaning the chances that we didn’t take. Thankfully that wasn’t the case this time.
Second half City brought in Rodwell for Sinclair in an effort to address their midfield issues and in fairness it worked well for them. For the first time in the match we faced some pressure but we dealt with everything they threw at us fairly comfortably despite the fact that we were pushing and looking for an equaliser. Per Mertesacker deserves special mention for his role in the centre of defence. I lost count of how many time we were outnumbered on a City break and a pass looked set to split the defence only for a long, rangy, Big F—ing German leg to come out and intercept the play. His positioning and awareness of the danger were top notch and proof as if it were needed that you don’t get 82 caps for Germany at the age of just 27 without knowing a thing or two about defending.
Still, we needed to change things up. Diaby and Podolski looked particularly tired after recent exertions and they were the ones to be replaced on 70 for Walcott and Giroud. The changes worked. Gervinho added a bit more pace pushed out to the left as did Theo to the right and Giroud provided more of a focal point to the attack, doing a good job of holding the ball up and bringing people into play. The added width seemed to allow Cazorla a bit more space in the middle and he came within inches of getting us back in it with a little run and a stinging shot which Hart just managed to tip wide.
From the resulting corner roles were reversed as this time it was Koscielny profiting from a Lescott mistake. His loose clearance fell to Kozzer who reacted like a striker to flash the ball into the top of the net. You could see the joy and relief it brought to the team as someone shouted ‘bundle’ and the lot of them proceeded to leap on Lolo’s back. I slightly feared for his health for a minute there but thankfully everyone seemed to come out of the bundle unscathed.
We could even have had a winner too. Gervinho again found himself in a peach of a position at the edge of the box, only needing a cool head and a curled finish to put us ahead. Unfortunately ‘cool head’ is not high on his list of attributes and I think he might have hit the roof of the stadium.
Disappointing but as I said, the fact that we’re bemoaning not taking the full three points yesterday really does show how far this team has come. If we can outplay the champions on their own patch then really what’s stopping us from putting together a real run for this Premier League title?
The squad looks stronger by the day. There was a time when the loss of our captain and first choice centre back to ‘flu on the morning of a big match would have been cause to throw up our hands in despair. Yesterday we just welcomed back Laurent Koscielny. In a few weeks time we’ll be hoping to get Bacary Sagna back in the squad. But could you really argue that Carl Jenkinson deserves to be dropped?
For the first time in a long time we seem to have the balance right between youth and experience, skill and brawn. It may not have had the thrills and spills of a 6-1 against Southampton but the level headedness and composure needed to come back and grab a point from yesterday could be the key to a sustained title campaign this year.
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