Dear Arsenal supporter,
I felt happy and relieved after Sunday’s game and I hope you enjoyed the moment as well.
That’s how the manager’s email began and it was exactly how most Gooners must have felt, happy and relieved.
Happy St. Totterginham’s day to you all.
Once again it’s gone down to the wire and some last gasp defending but here we are. Champions League football, or at least a chance to qualify for the group phases, sweetens the deal. Or is it the other way round?
Anyway, apologies for the lack of the pregame article. I usually write it late in the night before the day of the game but this weekend was just too hectic and I just didn’t realize when it came and went.
In a way I’m also glad I didn’t write it because the possibility of a draw was looming large in my mind. In the end, it wasn’t the prettiest game Arsenal will ever play but it was pretty effective.
Wenger went with the same line-up that did the job against Wigan despite Giroud’s availability, which again showed continuity is very important to the Frenchman’s system and thinking.
At the start I got a feeling Arsenal wanted to make sure they didn’t lose this game before they thought about winning it. The tempo wasn’t as quick as we’ve seen at the start of some recent games. Fewer bodies were committed in attack and high pressing was utilized very occasionally. The players seemed more interested in holding their shape and keeping things under control.
Despite that, or because of that, it was Newcastle who looked the more threatening team. They were constantly looking to get in behind Arsenal’s defensive line with Gouffran making runs and forcing Mertesacker into choices and actions that made him uncomfortable. At times, their full-backs also made forays down the wings and into space with the best opportunity falling to Cisse from one such burst by Yanga-Mbiwa. By my count, Mertesacker made four or five mistakes in the opening half hour which might have proved costly against a team that had more at stake. I thought Arsenal got away with it initially as the hosts had very little to play for and didn’t really put in enough effort to convert their promising moments into shots on target. Then again, it’s been a problem for them all season so maybe it wasn’t just a function of being safe.
There was also this feeling in that opening half-hour period that Arsenal had an extra gear that wasn’t yet engaged. I don’t know if it was the dreaded handbrake that was holding them back or just prudent and patient tactics. Perhaps, a bit of both.
Wenger’s men did go close on a couple of occasions and both were from set-pieces. Koscielny got his head to a corner and his effort went just wide of the far post. It was a shame no one attacked that region. Later it was his central defensive partner who got something on a Walcott delivery. Coloccini almost headed that into his own net.
The second half was different. Mertesacker upped his game and, along with the consistently excellent Koscielny, did enough to ensure Szczesny’s goal was well protected. I don’t think Newcastle had any opportunities in the Arsenal box despite seeing a lot of the ball.
In fact, the entire team deserves credit for defending well collectively. It was one of those games which I’ve seen from the likes of Chelsea and United in the recent years – Make sure you don’t lose and then find a goal from somewhere.
Arsenal’s goal came from somewhere alright. For the second year in a row Koscielny pounced on a loose ball in the box to make the decisive contribution in the last game of the season. A freakish moment in the box was the most likely source of goal for the Gunners as they weren’t creating many chances or taking risks from open play. Newcastle were poor at defending set-pieces in this game but I doubt anyone supporting Arsenal will complain.
The end was a bit nervy but given the strong run that Arsenal are on, and the observations that I’ve made in the last few games, it seems only fair to give the players enough credit by saying they were in control even if it was from a defensive point of view. Indeed, it’s a pleasant change and hopefully a sign of things to come in the future because there haven’t been many occasions in recent seasons where you could say Arsenal controlled the game without the ball.
Szczesny: Relatively easy day for the Pole.
Sagna: Of the two full-backs, I thought the Frenchman had the easier game as Newcastle didn’t try to get behind him as often. Gutierrez was regularly pulled back to double up on Walcott and that made Sagna’s job simpler. Nevertheless, it was a solid and error-free game from the experienced defender and it helped Arsenal’s quest of keeping a clean sheet. He also did a good job of holding on to the ball and pressing it when high up the pitch. Won the free-kick that resulted in the goal through clever use of his body.
Mertesacker: Really struggled in the first 30 minutes or so. Yanga-Mbiwa went straight through him, there was another occasion when he went to ground without getting any of the ball, and so on. Had that sort of decision making and form lasted the whole game, it would have been tough for Arsenal to shut Newcastle out. But he raised his game after the early hiccups and made vital contributions in and around the box during the rest of the game.
Koscielny: Clearly the MotM in my opinion. Decisive in both the penalty boxes and thus influenced the outcome more than any other player. Perhaps a fitting closure to an excellent run of form in the last few weeks of the season.
Gibbs: Newcastle produced a number of half-chances from wide on their right but I didn’t think Gibbs was at fault. It’s worth noting that Debuchy was the man delivering the ball more often than not when the Arsenal full-back was tucked in narrow. It could be that Pardew noticed Cazorla’s tendency to roam and instructed his right-back to push up at every opportunity. Whether it’s an individual’s fault or that of the system, Arsenal will have to find a way to plug this hole or more teams will exploit it next season and the defence won’t always hold out.
On the whole, apart from a few iffy moments from the German, the back five had a comfortable, even commanding, game that provided the platform for a scrappy but immensely important win.
Arteta: Looked alright in the opening exchanges but didn’t last long. He might have been playing through some pain and it must have gotten beyond bearable limits. I like the fact that he came off instead of trying to be a hero when his body wasn’t responding at the level needed.
Rosicky: Attacking influence was limited to playing the ball out wide on the right. His presence in the central areas was helpful from a defensive point of view and his discipline was commendable.
Ramsey: Another tireless performance that typified the current tactical approach – It was more about hard-work than artistry. Was helping his teammates all over the pitch without really standing out through individual flair.
Cazorla: Debuchy’s adventurous runs will give him and Wenger something to think about before the start of the next season. This wasn’t his most eye-catching display but was still the Arsenal player most likely to make something happen from open play.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: I was a bit surprised when he came on in place of Arteta and remained central. It’s an area he is likely to command in the future but there was little to read from this particular effort. It was a relatively comfortable display from him in an unfamiliar role but was helped by the fact that the team largely stayed together and deeper.
Industrious performances from technically competent players who perform the basics without mistakes can go a long way in paving the path to success, particularly in tough-ish games. This is not how Wenger wants his midfield to play but if they could pull out such displays more consistently (when required) it will show in the final numbers tally and even in the Cup results.
Podolski: Does he get the assist? At least he was there and duelling for a cross that was hit behind him, that itself is a good sign. This might sound strange for a team that likes to play silky, one-touch football, but I get a feeling sometimes he plays the ball too quickly. His teammates are not at the same wavelength and occasionally his pass is too impractical. He will have greater influence on proceedings if he can sync his thoughts with those of his attacking cohorts rather than playing largely instinctively. His pressing and defensive effort in this game seemed better than some of his previous efforts.
Walcott: Gutierrez and Mbiwa doubled up on him almost all the time, but it was good to see him attempting those dribbles. He’s taking more and more responsibility, which is a sign of maturity. At the moment the output is not quite there but the direction is correct. Good game, would have been great if he had converted his chance.
The forwards were isolated at times and had limited offensive impact. Did their jobs in support of the midfield and defence, which made a noticeable difference.
Subs: Giroud had greater presence in the attack and even in front of the defence when he fell back. His tenacity was crucial to Walcott’s big chance. I didn’t really notice Wilshere apart from that sliding foul, have no idea why he was brought on.
Wenger: Hit the bare minimum again after being written off completely. Definitely made a lot of people happy by finishing above Spurs and in the Champions League places. Defensively the team is better but not quite there. I’ll cover those issue and other aspects like balance and individual performances in the season review series.Follow @goonerdesi