Well, that was a strange sort of a game with a hugely entertaining end that has boosted the festive cheer in Gooner households no doubt. For me this was a family weekend and it kept me fully engaged, ergo the lateness of this report. Hopefully, at least some fans will still be in the mood to read and talk about the game.
I was expecting goals in this one and a close fight. Despite the final score, I think it’s safe to say the game was tight for 80 odd minutes. The final 10 minutes were about Newcastle showing the effects of their midweek exertions and the Gunners producing an exceptionally ruthless and efficient performance.
Arsene picked virtually the same line-up that had won the last two games with the exception of Koscielny coming in for Mertesacker, reportedly due to illness. Newcastle had a predictable, injury-depleted starting eleven.
The first-half was a soporific affair with Arsenal sitting back and Newcastle attempting to attack. There were far too many mistakes from both sides. The overall quality of the game was uninspiring.
At the end of the first period, the visitors had 7 shots compared to Arsenal’s 3. They had more possession, played more passes, and looked like the side that wanted to make something happen.
Wenger’s team struggled in possession and were limited to a counter-attacking approach. On the positive side, the defending was more focussed with the players working hard to hold the shape. They were also looking for quick transitions and were trying to put balls in behind Newcastle’s high line.
By my count, Arsenal had four promising moments in the opening 45 minutes. Theo deftly scored one, had a shot on target – albeit a tame one – with another, and made a complete mess of a third situation. Oxlade-Chamberlain too disappointed with an early opportunity where his touch, decision making, and finally the shot were all below the level expected.
Newcastle had more of the ball but didn’t create too many chances. Arsenal’s shape forced them to shoot from outside the box and there was just one header from a set-piece that counted as an attempt from inside the box, although off-target. Their goal came from a deflected free-kick. Some might say Wilshere should have shown more courage, perhaps if he had been an English lad… well, let’s just leave it at that.
The Gunners came out with greater purpose and belief in the second half. They took the game to Newcastle and the patterns of play were completely different.
The second goal came from pressure applied high up the pitch against a Newcastle throw. Many players were pulled towards the flank. Cazorla’s ball across the edge of the penalty box found Oxlade-Chamberlain in an excellent area. The youngster scored his first League goal of the season with a well-taken strike, partly atoning his miss earlier in the game.
The visitors didn’t take long to equalize. Sagna wasn’t able to track Obertan while no one tracked Marveaux’s run to the back post. Arsenal’s attacking impetus in the second half had come at the cost of defensive shape and discipline. In my opinion, Wilshere was guilty of leaving his man free.
Jack played his part in the build-up to the third goal though. He won the ball high up the pitch and it was his run and chip that created a mess on the Newcastle goal-line resulting in a one yard header for Podolski.
Soon enough, Wilshere was again a yard behind Marveaux. This time the Frenchman created the chance for Dembe Ba to tap home. It can be argued that Gibbs was the bigger culprit as he fell asleep at the back post.
Now it was Gibbs’ turn to make up for his mistake. A well timed run into the box was followed by, for once, a clever cut-back into a useful area.
Newcastle’s third attempt of the second half and their last in the game came in the 75th minute. The game felt like a contest till the 80th minute. After that it was all Arsenal. You could see the visitors were now feeling the effects of their toil at Old Trafford. I wonder how many people would have thought the game would finish 7-3 when it was 4-3 with 10 odd minutes to go.
It really was the Walcott and Giroud show at the end. The quality of their finishing and that of the assists was superb. We haven’t seen such a ruthless display of clinical finishing from the Gunners for quite a while now.
The last few weeks have been good for the Gunners. I’d mentioned the quirk of fate that had lined up five winnable games for them at a vital point in the season. They’ve won three while one has been postponed. But despite the four wins on the trot in the League, Wenger’s side still have a win ratio of less than 50 percent. That shows just how much work needs to be done and the kind of consistency that they’ll have to display before we start forming broader conclusions. For now, it’s just about enjoying the time of the year and the games as they’re won.
Szczesny: Can’t blame him for the first or the second goal but he might have done better for the third. Catching was comfortable, distribution felt a bit rushed at times.
Sagna: Arguably, one of his weakest defensive efforts in quite a while. Conceded the foul that led to the first, was easily beaten for the second, and could have done better to prevent the cross for the third. Work rate was typically excellent.
Koscielny: Made a number of important clearances and interceptions. Was good to see him get tight on Ba when the striker was the outlet for Newcastle in their own half. Passing could have been better.
Vermaelen: The Belgian had a big game in the centre of defence. Like his partner, he made a number of useful clearances and tackles. Didn’t see as much of the ball as he normally does.
Gibbs: Should have done better for the third goal but I don’t blame him for the second. As we’ve discussed all season, needs better decision making and execution in the final third. There was that moment in the second half when he side-footed a shot straight at Krul when four teammates were waiting for a cross/cut-back. Good assist for the fourth goal.
The full-backs had difficult, somewhat disappointing games. Oddly enough, despite the three goals conceded, I find it hard to blame the central defenders for any.
Arteta: Another strong game defensively, particularly from a positioning point of view. But Newcastle exposed the spaces around him in the second half. Didn’t see as much of the ball as the side struggled to dominate possession but passing was reliable as ever.
Cazorla: Wasn’t as much in the game in the first-half as we’d have liked against such a depleted side. Decent assist for the second goal. Passing was below his usual standards.
Wilshere: Very poor defensively. Partly at fault for all the three goals. Good work to create the third goal. Did he pick up an assist for the seventh? Overall a disappointing game.
It feels strange to note this was the midfield’s weakest performance in the last few weeks. But as Wenger says, we’ve to take distance from the score when analyzing the game. When such a Newcastle side dictates play at the Emirates and given the nature of goals conceded, there’s every reason to demand better from the midfielders.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Good to see him get off the mark in the League this season. Should have done better with that chance early in the first half. Another one who had a so-so performance.
Walcott: Will probably be the MotM in most people’s reckoning, was a close second in my book. The placement and execution for the first goal was top class. Excellent composure for the second. The third was cheeky, almost mesmerizing as well. The first assist for Giroud was superb. There is no doubt his was a decisive performance. But it wasn’t without its flaws, particularly in the first half. In fact, if we take the final 10 minutes out, his effort wouldn’t go down as a memorable one.
Podolski: MotM in my book. Excellent assist for the first goal where he made the most of a bad pass from Cazorla. Was involved in the build-up of the second, scored the third, and had the pre-assist for the fourth. Also created a second chance for Walcott in the first half and was involved in a number of promising moments that Arsenal created. The nature and quality of the three goals at the end overshadowed his effort but I think it was more valuable.
The attackers had an outstanding second half. Their effort covered for the imbalance in midfield and the soft goals gifted to the opposition.
Subs: Giroud was back with a bang, and then another – two exceptional finishes. Ramsey had another useful cameo. Coquelin hardly had any time on the pitch.
Wenger: The problem of balance is still evident – In the first half we saw a solid collective defence but little attacking impetus, in the second there was genuine forward thrust but at the cost of gaps at the back. His technically accomplished midfield has not dominated the park against the likes of Wigan and Newcastle, and that too when their form is rock bottom. There’s undeniable room for improvement.Follow @goonerdesi