Preston North End 1 – 2 Arsenal
Olé Ole or Ra-Ra Rambo; I couldn’t really decide which one to go with. Both Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey scored different kinds of cracking goals to put Arsenal into the fourth round of this season’s FA Cup.
Footballing clichés aside, this was a game of two halves. In the first, Arsenal were abysmal; probably the poorest performance by the team so far this season. In a rare candid moment, Arsène absolutely slated the XI:
“We are top-level Premier League and we were dominated in the first half. Preston had chances you know and I believe we were just not at the pace of the game or the pace that the game demanded.”
That’s relatively speaking obviously but even the manager couldn’t have expected the positive start to the second half he got. Aaron Ramsey’s strike, as instinctive as his miss in the first half was timid, was outstanding. He took full advantage of the shield provided by the defenders in the goalkeeper’s line of sight. As if he had a chance of saving it with a clear view of Ramsey’s shot.
The equaliser convincingly took the wind from Preston’s sails. The urgency of the first half was nowhere to be seen. Any desire or conviction that they could hold out for 15 minutes or so was blown away by the ferocity of the strike.
And fair play to Ramsey. It hasn’t been his best season for which, in my view, player and manager are equally culpable but the Welshman’s always struck me as a couple of goals short of full confidence. Hopefully, this can be the moment which kickstarts a scoring run.
How did we only go in one-down at half-time?
There’s no two ways about it, we were bloody awful in the first half. Relatively speaking, of course. There were some bright moments – going forward toward the interval we were forceful with Ramsey and Giroud both having good chances. OK, better than good chances; we should have been level.
Or more than a goal behind. Just we rued our missed chances, so did Preston. They at least had the one moment to cheer.
It was an appalling goal to concede with the defence undermined by lethargy in the tackle. How can a Championship player pirouette on the ball when facing supposedly superior opponents? Wenger’s answer at the press conference tells you his view.
Peculiarly, Ramsey and Giroud said in their post-match interview that they were surprised by the intensity Preston showed in the first half. It was an utterly baffling comment to make. Either the players weren’t listening in training or they went into the game with the wrong attitude. To be honest, I can believe both.
The home side had other chances to extend their lead, on meaningful chances alone, the one-goal lead was probably a fair reflection. Preston were better, there’s no question, but as badly as we played, there were still opportunities to score. Arsène rightly gave Simon Grayson’s men praise for the speed of their attacks and willingness to fight for each other. It was the execution of a gameplan which every ‘minnow’ has.
But it comes at a cost. The physical exertion, combined with Ramsey’s delicious strike, had a mental impact. I’d call it ‘negative’ but I’m sure that would be misconstrued.
Oli Giroud to the rescue
Giroud had one of those games. I thought he was Man of the Match but Ramsey, Lucas Perez and Iwobi were also in the running to varying degrees. The French international was in a physical battle and that environment is one which in which he thrives.
It wasn’t much of a surprise that he was captain. I’m struggling to think of a more experienced player on the pitch in yellow. Giroud responded well to the responsibility. Arsène may not rate the captaincy but players do. It’s a source of pride and in his compatriot’s case, a motivational tool. Giroud was involved in the game and didn’t slip to the fringes as he has done in the past.
And the goal was an excellent summary of his game. He battled for the angled pass and won the header, flicking the ball perfectly into Lucas’ path. The Spaniard’s next move underlined the gap between the two sides. A backheel in the final minutes of a cup tie, away from home and executed exquisitely? “You got a lot of technique”.
Giroud got lucky with the goal which got Arsenal out of gaol. It deflected but the build-up alone was worth the admission money. Deflected in via the defender’s boot but it didn’t matter; Oli was having his moment and why not? This was a last-minute winner, not salvaging a long-lost point. Take the spotlight, sir, and enjoy it.
Danny Welbeck returns
Danny Welbeck returned for a decent ten-minute outing. Welcome back, sir; a good effort of goal, a ‘sighter’ as we might call it. It’s a positive for us – god knows what it is for him – but we need to see him fit for the rest of this season before take his inclusion for granted.
It’s one of those moments when you know it can be a huge boost for the team but banking on it to ignite any sort of challenge for any trophy is a dangerous game to play. What will be interesting is if he can keep fit. Jack Wilshere has stayed fit at Bournemouth despite being injury-prone at Arsenal. If Welbeck remains fit despite staying at the club, there’s a strong case for suggesting that the club has learned the lessons of the past on the injury front.
But today was all about reaching the fourth round and we did it. As Arsène put it, “I didn’t want to go home and be out”.