Brighton & Hove Albion 2 – 3 Arsenal
0 – 1 Walcott (2)
0 – 2 Özil (23)
1 – 2 O’Grady (50)
1 – 3 Rosicky (59)
2 – 3 Baldock (75)
Morning y’all. I know I’m in Houston; they are talking sunshine, temperatures redolent of an English summer’s day whilst the news has its’ Eye in the Sky showing miles of concrete beneath the wheels of a never-ending stream of cars. It’s 6am; the highways and by-ways are fuller than the M25 before building into the same car park mentality.
A pleasant surprise to find the hotel bar showing football – that’s the proper version not the native version – and doing so the rest of this week. An announcement to build an underground system here is just about the only weird thing left but things haven’t got that strange yet. This after all is the land of bumper stickers which claim ‘gasoline is the only green fuel’.
So to Arsenal, which after all is the reason we are here. To their credit, it was a performance which rarely threatened to build into the upset which saw the shameful exits of City and Chelsea this weekend. An early goal settles the nerves and puts the home side on the back foot, a second reinforces that message. Arsenal obliged by following that plan and for Theo Walcott, the rustiness of his finishing during his previous cameos, appears to have fallen by the wayside.
That’s good news for Arsenal, a little relief of pressure on Alexis and Giroud in the goalscoring stakes. If Aaron Ramsey can find his scoring boots – and he was a touch more accurate yesterday than before – on a regular basis, we’re going to be heading in the right direction.
It’s always tricky to look at a match like yesterday in anything but isolation. Seven changes with all the key personnel dropping out, means that things don’t run as smoothly as we might want. In an attacking sense, Arsène will have been satisfied. Chambers got forward well in support on the right and certainly for most of the match, Rosicky pulled the strings, blew the horns and tinged the little cymbal at the end with a fine volleyed finish for the third.
Wenger got the movement he would have desired, aided no doubt by the confidence the early goals bought for the scorers. Mesut Özil ought to score more you feel, with his well-timed run rewarded with a natural composure in front of goal.
But it was Tomas who was the star with a high energy performance that belied his years. Maybe he is right, maybe the injuries suffered mean his footballing age is roughly one-seventh of his physical age. Perhaps this is his future at Arsenal – if there is one beyond the summer – to be the ‘cup captain’, the driving force in midfield because he played some sumptuous passes and made outstanding runs; things we take for granted from a player of his calibre but underline what a joy he is to watch.
Defensively, the chinks caused by the changes were evident. Both Brighton goals were poor to concede. From the minute the ball spiralled skywards from Rosicky’s poor clearance, Arsenal were in trouble. Chambers failure to even jump exacerbated matters and punishment came with Flamini’s lack of action telling. The second came from a stumble and Koscielny trying to play his way out of the area. Slack marking on the right gave Baldock the time to finish.
Moments like that make the case for the current starting XI – at the back at least – to remain intact. Certainly with the first, the second although Koscielny should have tried to find Row Z, were more to do with the initial stumble. With Gabriel coming according to the manager – bullishly confident on the player – in the next day or so, we can expect pressure to be put on the French defender as well as not seeing two left backs side-by-side in the defence.
Equally, the slump in Flamini’s performances has astonished, emphasizing how misleading statistics are. Coquelin’s emergence ought to have seen his compatriot raise his levels in discipline but yesterday simply reinforced Wenger’s decision to go with the younger of the pair. Where this leaves Arteta is an interesting question. Certainly the Spaniard will struggle to return immediately to the side when he regains fitness but of the two elder statesmen, I would expect him to be the one to keep the pressure on Coquelin’s form which can only be a good thing.
Why, oh, why Arsène did you not do that in the summer, alleviating some of the injury problems. The narrative for the season might – not would – have been different.
The FA Cup remains the best prospect for silverware and along with United, Arsenal will be favourites which probably means they will be drawn together in the Fifth Round. Arsène sought to downplay the tag but the reality is that most of the Premier League has fallen by the wayside so far and there’s no reason to not believe a return to Wembley is possible. You can’t say probable but to not with the cup this season might be classed as disappointing.
Whether I would have said that before the win at The Etihad is an interesting question, that just underlines the positive effect on winning one game on and off the pitch. Arsène underlined that,
We have a good momentum but let’s keep the urgency level very high and we know how quickly the momentum can die in football if your quality drops a little bit. We have a good opportunity to finish well this season so we have to show that we can compete in every single game now and earn our right to win the games.
It’s this which will determine the outcome of the season. Arsenal need others to drop points and to minimise the impact of their own failures. We won’t take maximum points between now and the end of the season and a top four place depends on others dropping more. We’ll see how that one pans out but in the meantime just enjoy a decent cup run.
’til Tomorrow. Or later on today for me, I suspect.