2012′s been a funny old year, hasn’t it? Arsène Wenger appeared close to the edge in February and then Spurs rocked up to the Emirates, their fans full of exhortations for us to “Mind the Gap”. 90 minutes and 7 goals later, they crawled back to their holes, tails between their legs having been dealt a blow their season wouldn’t recover from. That Arsène managed to guide us into third position by the season’s end was a minor miracle. Fast forward 7 months and, once again, the knives are out; humiliated at home by Swansea and then knocked out of the League Cup by Bradford, surely it was only a matter of time until the greatest manager in Arsenal’s postwar history, and indeed the only manager many of you will ever have known, was on his way out.
Listening to the “Round Table” discussion on the Arsecast as various bloggers, rightly, laid into Arsène a few weeks back, I was reminded of something called the “assassination metaphysic”. As memorably described by Donald Sutherland’s Mr X in Oliver Stone’s JFK film, the assassination metaphysic referred to open talk in the corridors of power that John Kennedy had to go, whilst Kennedy himself remained oblivious to such chatter. The difference here, I’m sure Arsène is well aware of such chatter. And that the events depicted in JFK may not have actually happened. And that, with the greatest of respect to Mr Arseblog and co, they’re a bit less powerful than the secret forces behind the US Government.
The point being, that somewhat improbably, Arsène and Arsenal have ended 2012 on a bit of a high. Following that defeat at home to Swansea, Arsenal have garnered a maximum 12 points out of 12 in the league. Ok, so we have to acknowledge that West Brom, Reading, Wigan and Newcastle are not going to be the toughest four games we will face this season, but as this run represents our best run of form this season, it would be churlish to complain. We’ve done all I hoped we would when writing around the Reading game. And, if we have Mikel Arteta’s penalty taking to thank for six of the twelve points gained this month, then we also seen a couple of positively blistering attacking displays from our guys.
Those of you who subscribe to my 140 character ramblings on Twitter will know that I got a bottle of Absinthe for Christmas. I cracked it open for the Newcastle match on Saturday evening and, well, what a fitting way to begin watching football whilst drinking stuff that can really bend your mind. What really intrigued me about a first half that Chris Waddle (ex Newcastle and Spurs and with no agenda whatsoever) kept telling us Newcastle dominated, was that he couldn’t see something that, when you think about it, seems obvious. I have to confess that I wasn’t 100% sure about it at the time, used as we all are to Arsenal’s first half performance rarely being worth the price of admission. However, listening to Theo talk after the game confirmed it for me. Midway through the first half, the phrase “rope-a-dope” popped into my head. We don’t need to dominate the ball to get Theo in and so I think we were letting Newcastle have the ball and come onto us, content to sit deep and try and hit them on the counter. A total role reversal of what normally happens at the Arsenal and it surprises me that Waddle missed it- after all, he has a “football brain”, doesn’t he?
Think about it. For all Newcastle’s perceived dominance in the first half, what threat did they actually pose to Szczesny’s goal? The goal they did score, obviously, a long range effort from Tiote and….? On the other hand, Theo’s pace enabled him to score a breathtaking goal in the first half, whilst a weak shot with his left foot and a poor pass to Cazorla on the break were the only things preventing us from taking a lead into the second half.
That said, the second half was, very clearly, much more fun than the first. Not that it felt like it for the first twenty minutes. To go back to the boxing analogy, watching the Ox and Podolski land what we hoped were knock out punches only for Newcastle to promptly climb of the canvas, dust themselves off and land a couple of haymakers themselves was slightly excruciating. Particularly the ease with with our defences were breached for those second half equalisers. However, the final twenty minutes was the All Arsenal show. I liked that Gibbs, as Wilshere had before him with his run and delightful chipped cross for Podolski’s goal, made up for his defensive aberration to get forward and create the havoc that led to Theo’s artfully taken second goal of the evening.
Olivier Giroud was promptly introduced and then the fun really began. Back out on the right, six minutes left, Theo landed one of the crosses of the season, a vicious, whipping effort, right into the path of Giroud’s diving head. The ball was speared through Tim Krul’s legs and into the net. Theo was again the architect for Giroud’s second goal just two minutes later. Driving in- from the right- he was impeded by Tiote just outside the box, the ball fell to Giroud, on his weaker right foot and was promptly buried. The best was saved for last, however. A vicious tackle on Giroud out on the left saw Wilshere tap a free kick to Theo. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Theo dance the way he sashayed through two challenges, going down under another before chipping the ball over Krul for a very well taken hat trick. Never mind goal of the season, you’d have to say that was one of the best goals ever scored at Ashburton Grove. Incredibly, there was still time for Giroud to pass up the chance of an eight minute hat trick as he crashed Aaron Ramsey’s cross off the bar from close range.
Much of the focus on the last twenty minutes was how Newcastle folded as a result of having had to play on Boxing Day, where Arsenal had had a week’s rest. A factor, for sure, but I suspect Arsenal may just have had a game plan (yes, really) that factored that in- hence Newcastle’s domination of the ball in the first half, maybe that’s what you call “illusory dominance”? Also, facing a tired defence, the introduction of Giroud gave Arsenal the chance to build attacks in a way that they can’t when trying to play Theo in. Either he gets in, or he doesn’t and we lose the ball. Walcott’s involvement in the three goals that followed Giroud’s arrival also show that being picked to play on the right wing neither limits his movement, nor his ability to impact on a football match.
Obviously, much of the talk post match centred on whether Theo will still be at Arsenal come the summer, or the closure of the just about to open transfer window. I don’t have much to add to that, obviously I don’t know what he’s going to do. It seems unlikely that, having waited this long, he will sign a new deal with Arsenal. However, I see a man developing by the week, enjoying his football and someone who seems genuinely happy at Arsenal so, I remain optimistic- stupidly, perhaps- but optimistic nevertheless. As I do for our visit to Southampton tomorrow.
Happy New Year everyone!
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