Newcastle United 1 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 Giroud (24)
0 – 2 Giroud (28)
1 – 2 Sissoko (48)
It’s a fine line. Idealism and reality on either side, aesthetics and pragmatism. Add in fatigue and the lines become very blurred indeed. And let’s be honest, they blur on a game-by-game basis.
Arsenal took three points yesterday at St James Park and that is the bland statistic that the history books record. And when we look back in years to come – curmudgeons chewing the fat about seasons past with whatever beer happens to be in our hand – we will more likely than not, remember the bland statistic of victory than the performance.
Thank God for that. Perhaps while you’re thanking him, you could ask him where it came from because he seems to be the only one who knows. Let’s be honest, that second half performance was horrible. The first half continued the work of Monaco, asserting control over the game, dictating the outcome. It’s alter ego emerged in the second, no sense of rhythm and frankly, fortunate to get away with any sort of result, let alone three points.
Tell me Dr Jekyll, do you Mr Hyde well?
There was a sense of a European hangover with key players seemingly jaded. Fortunately David Ospina was not one of them; thankfully so. The Colombian proved to be the difference between the two sides in a second half with crucial saves – many of them instinctive – underlining the importance an in-form goalkeeper plays to any side, let alone one challenging for European places.
Speaking after the game, Arsène felt that tiredness was the sole reason for the collapse after Sissoko scored early in the second half. It certainly reinvigorated Newcastle and is the only aspect of the win which provokes any sense of consternation. Olivier Giroud’s brace brought his tally to nine in nine. It’s the sort of form we need going into the final stretch of the season. He capitalised on the generosity of the home side, a poachers luck with the first, a goalscorers instinct with the headed second.
Giroud is producing the performances Arsenal need at the moment and his confidence is growing. Given the performance against Monaco in the first leg, that he has not shirked his responsibility to the team and deserves credit for it. He isn’t an Henry and no matter of spurious interpretation of statistics is going to change that, but he’s never claimed to be. He is an international on ability and if he stops scoring, Arsenal not finding the net speaks more about the rest of the team than Giroud. No striker scores in every match and if the team misfires when he doesn’t, there is a serious issue in the squad that the manager will need to address.
The first half movement scared Newcastle into submission. Sanchez and Cazorla buzzed around the centre, drifted wide and wrought havoc, feeding a lively Welbeck. It’s a pity that Danny’s shooting boots had been left back in Colney because his efforts merited a goal. All the while, the defence shut the door and kept Newcastle hemmed into a cycle of meaningless possession. Monreal continued his masterclass on the left whilst Gabriel produced a seamless transition in the centre.
How it changed in the second when the midfield became jaded and disappeared, exposing the back four. Arsène waited ten minutes too long before bringing Flamini and Rosicky into the fray; it made little difference with the tide not stemmed with the changes. The ball became tainted and possession disposed of as quickly as Newcastle had in the first.
With the international break upon us, the question is whether the performance matters? With no game for a fortnight, we know that the next performance is likely to be as equally disjointed. This win keeps the run going in what, despite the three wins, was a mixed seven days. Disappointment mingled freely with pleasure at the Premier League form.
Whilst the next ten days are disruptive, they can be useful. It’s an opportunity for the players to freshen up, to have a break if they aren’t with their countries or to just take in a change of scenery. Yes, they will train but the football is less intense. That can also be the downside, those on international duty lose their club focus. With Liverpool the next Premier League opponents, they have to regain that quickly.
Analysing this type of match is fraught with danger; you get too focussed on the performance, taking it out of context of the season. We want Arsenal to win every match with a ten out of ten performance; it doesn’t happen and more to the point, never has, most likely never will. Sometimes you have to win ugly, play badly and nick a point. Arsenal played badly for forty-five minutes and took three.
We know there is still strengthening to do in the squad and God bless him, an injection of defensive confidence wouldn’t do Calum Chambers any harm at all, but this is a group of players who are doing the best they are able to at the moment have hauled themselves into a position where their ultimate destiny for the season rests in their control. They are showing what seems to be Arsène’s favourite characteristic; resilience.
And at this time of the season, that’s no bad attribute to have.