Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Arsenal 2 Newcastle 1

It was only a little over two weeks ago when Tottenham supports were taunting us ahead of the north London derby by saying that the gap between the two old rivals could widen up to 13 points after the derby. Two weeks on, we are just one point behind them. The momentum has completely changed in the recent couple of weeks. Arsene Wenger's tone was different before going into the Newcastle clash. He was already talking about the importance of securing a top three spot which does not require qualifying for the Champions League Group stage. We are no longer in the four-way battle for the top-four finish (with Chelsea, Newcastle and Liverpool), finding ourselves now in the middle of a three-horse race for the third and fourth places with Chelsea and Tottenham.

Wenger praised the team's relentless effort throughout the game, but in my opinion, the team lacked urgency in the first half after their good start. They looked comfortable in possession, but they did not make a good use of it. There were more backward passes than we have recently seen and some players were slow to move the ball. Vermaelen's sloppy pass led to Newcastle's counter-attack. Gibbs didn't close down Ben Arfa, giving him time and space to take a shot, which beat Szczezny on the near side. However, I must say that Arsenal did exceptionally well to equalise in less than a minute, which was vital. In the second half, they totally dominated the game and kept mounting the pressure.

In the previous two league games, the opponents were open sides, which didn't test Arsenal's ability to breakdown stubborn defence. Newcastle probably learned lessons from their 5-0 defeat at White Hart Lane. They had their tactics right for this game and didn't allow us much time or space. Arsenal may still not have a plan B, but this game proved if they keep pressurising the oppositions, a crack may eventually appear in their defence. Alan Pardew rued not having been able to replacing Danny Simpson, who was playing through injury, as Newcastle had already used up all three substitutions. The half-time substitution to replace Santon, who had trouble containing Walcott, proved to cost Newcastle expensively. On the other hand, unlike the Champions League match against AC Milan, we had luxury of having fit midfielders on the bench.

Arsenal set a new Premier League record by registering the 4th consecutive win battling back from losing postions, which is an impressive record, showing their character and determination. And in the three games out of those four, the winner came at the death of the game. We like our players' resilience this season, but we hope that they do not make it a habit to give away the first goal. Although now the team and fans alike have belief in the team's capability to overcome an adverse situation with a goal down, it would be nice if they can avoid such a situation in the first place.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 6
With Newcastle registering only two shots on target and committed to defence, he had little to do. However, he shouldn't be beaten at the near post, should he?

Sagna: 8
Convincing and energetic performance both offensively and defensively. His overlapping and link-up with Walcott were excellent.

Koscielny: 7
Didn't put a foot wrong. The yellow card was too harsh.

Vermaelen: 8
Showed his determination to score the late winner.

Gibbs: 6
Although he was good going forward, he was guilty for Ben Arfa's goal.

Rosicky: 8
Another good performance from the veteran player. We are glad to see his contract extended.

Arteta: 8
He was always where his team-mates wanted him to be, keeping the shape.

Song: 7
Battled hard as usual, but his passing was not best.

Walcott: 8
Caused all sorts of problems for Santon and a substitute left-back, Perch, through his runs. Set up RVP's equaliser through an inch-perfect cross and his cross led to Vermaelen's winner. Many think he was the Man of the Match and he had his best game in his career at Arsenal so far. Stephen Hughes, an ex-Arsenal player and commentator of Arsenal Player on the night said "Funnily enough I didn't think Theo was outstanding when I was at the game but, having watched it again, it could be the best game he's played for the club". I totally agree with him. Maybe I should watch the game again.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Lacked penetration on the left flank. It wasn't his best game, but he showed a glimpse of his talent.

van Persie: 7
Although he scored the equaliser, he also missed several good chances. As well as Arsene Wenger, we were also relieved that he didn't get sent off.


Gervinho: 6
67th-minute substitution for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Lively, but missed a sitter.

Ramsey: 7
Came on for Rosicky in the 76th minute and carried on Rosicky's job OK.

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