Having been to watch Killing Them Softly with Jo, Jen and Chris yesterday lunchtime, we arrived in The Lost Hour in Greenwich in the 6th minute of 5 minutes of the injury time scheduled at Anfield. The pub, needless to say, was rather busy. One of the first things I saw was Judas embracing Patrice Evra at the final whistle. Not a sight I ever thought I’d see and one that was, I must admit, fairly fucking nauseating.
Clearly, I wasn’t really interested in the Liverpool- United game, I was there for the Arsenal. Jo, Jen and Chris were there, it seemed, largely to keep me company. Phone now back on after the cinema, I saw the team news and, I have to say, my initial confidence (and, if you read my blog on Friday, you’ll know I was confident) about our chances of getting a result dipped a little. It wasn’t just seeing Aaron Ramsey coming into midfield, or Gervinho “spearheading” the attack- no, it was both of those things. As for our defence, Laurent Koscielny coming in for Thomas Vermaelen is hardly a problem, so that wasn’t a worry. But I did think we might lack a bit of penetration.
For City’s part- as I thought with them being at home, they fancied it; Silva and Sinclair on the wings, Aguero and Dzeko up top. I think they played into our hands a little bit because we totally dominated the first half. And, with a bit more composure, would surely have taken a half time lead into the dressing room. Ramsey sent Gervinho clear on goal, only for his first touch to take the ball straight into the arms of a grateful Joe Hart. Carl Jenkinson, carrying on where he left off in midweek, showed desire and great pace to get down the right flank, and composure to pick out Podolski. Regretfully, Podolski- for once- wasn’t quite as composed and blazed the ball over the bar. Gibbs got into a great position on the left only to chip his cross over everyone gathering at the near post to a great swathe of green grass at the far one. Gervinho, again, got a shot away at the near post but it brushed the wrong side of the goal netting.
City, by way of contrast, offered a sweet, fat nothing. And so it was that when Keiran Gibbs conceded an unneccessary corner towards the end of the first half, a goal seemed inevitable. Well, it did to me. The ugliest man in football, Lescott, duly obliged and the champions were one up. It might have been two almost immediately afterwards, but Mannone made a good save to deny Dzeko. Perhaps a crucial moment in the game. Not only would a two goal deficit have been harsh on the Arsenal, it would have left us a mountain to climb.
As I feared at half time, Mancini decided to try and tighten things up and replaced Scott Sinclair, who’d got nothing out of Carl Jenkinson, with Jack Rodwell. Whilst I don’t remember Arsenal being in too much danger in the second half, the onus was on us to get ourselves back in the game. Somehow. And, it never felt like-as long as Gervinho was stumbling around up top- it would happen.
Giroud and Walcott arrived for Podolski and Diaby and, with ten minutes left, Santi Cazorla fired in a shot from the outside of the box that Joe Hart did very well to divert over the bar. Relief wouldn’t last too long for City, because Lescott failed to clear the corner properly and Koscielny battered the loose ball into the roof of the net to spark a raucous celebration on and off the pitch. And, it has to be said, amongst the horde of Gooners gathered in the pub.
Koscielny very nearly went from hero to villain just moments later. Mannone did well to block a Vincent Kompany overhead kick and when the ball fell to Koscielny, his attempted clearance found Sergio Aguero six yards out and with the goal beckoning. From the angle though, he screwed the ball just past the far post. I’m not sure how my heart stayed in my chest there.
Gervinho might have won it for us, but his shot from the edge of the box was, in keeping with the rest of his game, slightly wayward. On the evidence of this display, we need Giroud up and running as soon as possible.
I don’t want to finish on a whinge. There’s no need to. Carl Jenkinson continues to improve by the week and whilst, for me, Bacary Sagna goes straight back into the team when fit, we don’t have to worry so much when he isn’t available now. Aaron Ramsey gave a timely reminder to us of his abilities, and I thought he had a fine game. Mertesacker… well, what can you say about this guy? A poor signing, we’ve been told. The German proved yesterday that, if you know where to stand, you don’t need to be Billy Whizz. He made countless interceptions and was a huge part of the reason Mannone was, comparatively, rarely troubled. And as for Mikel Arteta… his distribution is so simple, and so good, that you do notice on the rare occasion he loses the ball. Not that he did it that often.
It feels to me, now, like we have a proper, serious, team. Gone, by and large, are the flakes, the Wenger “projects”, the prima donnas. In their place we have a team of professional adults, a team that are prepared to go and put in the hard yards. It would have been easy, yesterday afternoon, for heads to drop. Particularly when Lescott got that goal. But we never looked like doing that. If it was said that an Arsenal win on Sunday would be a big statement about the qualities of this team, then I reckon a draw here will have served just as well.------------
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