Our form has been so up and down in the last couple of seasons that I always start watching these games feeling a little nervous. My initial jitters were just settling when Ridgewell went flying in. It was around the eighth minute and when the screen showed pictures of Walcott writhing in pain my heart skipped a beat. Surely it was not to happen again! Thankfully the agony lasted only a few seconds and Theo was back on.
The nerves were well and truly settled as we produced some of the most sublime football in the first 20 odd minutes. Birmingham had no clue what hit them as our passing and movement was just too quick for them. Fortunately for the blues Cesc and his best mate forgot their shooting boots somewhere. Otherwise the score line might have been embarrassing even before the half hour mark.
Rosicky had a couple of very good chances and he must be disappointed that he didn’t get his name on the score sheet. But the goal, when it came, was a piece of beauty. When the ball normally goes out to Song, I don’t expect to see a defence splitting pass. No disrespect to him but he doesn’t normally try to put a through ball. So it was a pleasant surprise to see him pick out RvP with a fantastic pass. For an instance it looked like Robin would not be able to sort his feet. Then it looked like the angle was acute. But when Van Persie is in such form no angle is too tight. Another goalkeeper might have tried saving it with his foot but I think Hart too was taken aback by the sharpness of this move and the pace on the shot.
The second goal was a result of some great movement and passing from a lot of players. It was a delight to see Rosicky square the ball in a way that gave so many players a chance. What made it better was the fact that we had three players in the box and all in very good positions. The ball found the last man Diaby and his finish was very well taken.
After the second goal we kept the ball for a long time which, as it turns out, was not a good thing as some of our players got bored and went to sleep. On the basis of the ninety minutes I have to say that Cesc, Rosicky and Arshavin had an off day. It’s heartening that we can still win fairly convincingly but the fact remains.
The beauty of our game shares its roots with the strength of our game. It relies on quick movement and positional sense to intercept a pass, to press the opposition and to enable quick passing. But once the players switch off we start to struggle on all fronts. Suddenly the man on the ball doesn’t have enough options. The attack does not look incisive (How many times have you heard Arsene say “we lacked sharpness”.) Ultimately our defence is exposed as we cannot dominate play in the opposition half. Once the visitors realized that we were not really interested in killing the game they started growing in confidence.
As Arsenal fans, by now, we have come to expect the customary gift of a goal. And it duly arrived a few minutes before half time. Many people would be happy to point the finger at Mannone or the Ref for this one and forget all about it. But I urge you to consider the following questions
- How easy was it for Jerome to collect a throw at the edge of our penalty area?
- How easy was it for him to find an unmarked Ferguson at the edge of our box?
- Why wasn’t Mannone stronger or why didn’t he punch the ball away if he had a doubt?
- Diaby and Vermaelen were ball watching when Bowyer moved away from them. Why didn’t either of them take the initiative to move towards him without bothering about where the ball was?
It normally takes a lot of mistakes for a goal to go in, especially if the opposition does not have too many creative players and lethal strikers. The worst thing is that this was not the first time we have made multiple mistakes and certainly not the last. Anyway, I will address our problems in a separate post sometime. This is not a time to dwell on these issues.
As the match entered the last quarter the jitters returned. It’s happened to us so many times that you just can’t stop thinking about the equalizer going in. But as everyone says, Arshavin adds a new dimension to this team. Mannone did well to collect a ball into the box and release El Capitan. Cesc made another long run that reminded me of his goal against Everton. But this time he passed the ball wide on the left to Arshavin. The little Russian ambled in as if he was thinking all the time and looking for an opportunity. The camera angle was perfect and we could see it just as he saw it. The finish was something only Arshavin could have produced. He makes it look so easy and that’s the most difficult part.
So another three points in the bag and as expected Liverpool and Chelsea dropped points. Unfortunately, United managed to sneak a win. But we are still second if we win our game in hand and I am more convinced than ever that as long as our attacking players are fit we are in with a great chance.