As I watched Wenger’s team close the gap on third-placed Spurs last night with a hard-working and determined performance, I noticed the following:
Robin van Persie has become an excellent captain
Some captains bellow instructions to their players throughout a match like Tony Adams while others lead by example. van Persie falls into the latter category, leading the line so well and scoring a ridiculous amount of goals. Last night though he demonstrated another important attribute — passion. He was so passionate about wanting to win that he got annoyed with Tim Krul’s time wasting. Then, when he felt a sense of justice after Vermaelen banged home the winner in time-wasting time, he let Krul know about it and seemed happy to fight every Newcastle player as it threatened to kick off. Finally, he motioned to the crowd as if to say ‘Come on!’ and pump up the atmosphere. You could almost see the adrenaline dripping off him.
I like that. Gary Neville said in his analysis on Sky that he liked it too and then the presenter missed the point entirely when he asked if RVP should show more restraint as captain. Bollocks to that. There’s a time for diplomacy and a time for showing what the match (and hopefully the club) means to you. Supporters want to see that their captain cares and the players will take their cue from it too. If RVP was a medieval King he’d be out in front on his horse leading the charge on the enemy and I love that about him.
The celebrations spoke volumes
Not just from the players’ ecstatic bundle on the pitch, but on the bench too. When the winner hit the net Rosicky darted from his seat and jumped around like a madman. Even Santos — who could be forgiven for being apathetic given his lack of involvement recently — leapt up in delight and hugged a smiling Wenger!
While the performances in Milan and Sunderland showed a lack of desire and spirit, that moment — and the performance all night to be fair — was the complete opposite. Has there been some sort of team meeting since the Sunderland debacle in the FA Cup? It certainly looks like Wenger (or somebody) has fired them up and it’s great to see the team playing with determination and passion to get a result.
Wenger summed it up nicely when he said we showed a “relentless effort from the first to the last minute.” This was epitomised by Vermaelen who ran the length of the pitch to get the winner. It’s something I and many bloggers have been calling for all season and is the least we can expect from players paid obscene amounts of money to wear the red and white. We pressed them and imposed our tempo on them, more so in the second half which we totally dominated. Before the Spurs game we’d only really performed like that in three or four games this season. Yet in the last two weeks we’ve worked hard against Spurs, Milan and Newcastle (and even against Liverpool we dug deep whilst being outplayed). Hopefully it’s a sign things are coming together, but we’ve had false dawns before this season so who knows.
Walcott was outstanding
I’ve said before that Theo is a confidence player and he’s also very inconsistent. That’s still the case, but his confidence is very much up after the Milan and Spurs games and we saw just how good he can be last night. His final ball was (mostly) excellent as he created both goals, although I felt he should’ve done better with a late effort which flicked off Collocini.
Harry must've been twitching like crazy when this went in
But it was the fact he wanted the ball which impressed me most. Sometimes he shies away from it or plays a simple pass backwards and then runs away from the play, making me question whether he really wants the responsibility. Like that time in the first half against Spurs when he hurriedly passed to van Persie, who had three men around him, rather than drive into the open space and shoot.
Last night though he was vibrant and eager to get involved. He even tried a few tricks, letting the ball run between his legs at one point, and gave his marker Santon such a torrid time that he had to be replaced at half time. He was easily the Man of the Match — let’s hope this form continues and that we’ve seen the back of nervous, timid Theo for a while.
Experience is a key ingredient
The resurgence of Rosicky coinciding with our recent good form is no accident. He’s 31 and has been around the block a few times. Along with Arteta (30 in two weeks) his attitude and determination has been superb. The Czech worked hard and made a couple of important slide challenges, while Arteta seemed to be everywhere keeping things ticking over. There was a time Wenger would ship out anyone approaching 30 so I’m glad he has recognised we need some wise old heads about the place and given Rosicky a new contract.
Tim Krul is a twat, just like his manager
If you’re going to time-waste from the 20th minute you should expect some complaints from the opposing captain. If you wind him and the fans up by continuing to time-waste throughout the match then expect some stick when you concede a goal in time added on for, ironically, your time-wasting. If you can’t handle that and run 40 yards out of your goal to cry to the referee that a mean Arsenal player is making fun of you and it’s not fair… then you are a twat.
Speaking of twats, I’m so glad we put one over on Alan Pardew. I still loathe the smug bastard for goading Wenger after West Ham’s late winner all those years ago and notice he did the same thing to Martin O’Neill last week. What a vile, unsporting mug he is. I would’ve loved to see Wenger charging aggressively up the touchline towards Pardew when Vermaelen scored, eyes bulging, mouth snarling as he launched into a knee slide which stopped inches from Pardew’s feet. But that was never gonna happen because, for all his faults, our manager has far more class than his Newcastle counterpart.
The winner was late, but not lucky
When we scored in injury time to beat Liverpool, we mugged them. It was as undeserved an Arsenal victory as I can remember. But our winner last night was just reward for a dominant display, especially in the second half. Newcastle came to frustrate us with just Demba Ba up front who they lumped long balls to all night, but we battered them as we strove to get through their massed defence, having 59% possession and 21 shots to their 5.
RVP is still our only reliable finisher
Those 21 shots were mostly wasted though. There were some bad misses, most notably from Gervinho, Rosicky and Walcott while van Persie was unusually off target with a few efforts. We shouldn’t have needed our centre back to get us the win because it should’ve been done and dusted long before that. Notice Wenger’s reluctance to introduce Chamakh despite us needing a goal? He has no faith in him — ditto Park — and if van Persie doesn’t carry his excellent form into the last 10 games the goals may dry up. Others have to step up to the plate and stop relying on Captain Fantastic to make the net bulge.
Defensively we’re still poor
While I’m having a moan I may as well mention our defence. It was put under pressure a few times in the first half and Newcastle had some joy. The goal was extremely poor as Vermaelen’s sloppy clearance was punished and Gibbs naively allowed Ben Arfa inside onto his strong left foot to shoot past a badly positioned Szczesny.
Also, as the attack developed it was four Newcastle players against our back four. How did it get to 4 v 4? Where was Song? It’s all very well that Song thinks he’s Pele with his excellent assist record this season, but first and foremost he’s a defensive midfielder. It was far too early in the game for him to be caught upfield leaving the defence exposed.
We’re coming to get you!
At the beginning of the season my Spurs-supporting friend and I had a £50 bet on who’ll finish higher out of Spurs and Arsenal. Last month he smugly offered to accept £49.50 as full settlement. Somehow I don’t think he’s as confident right now. If we think ‘Two nil and you fucked it up’ is a good song, imagine the fun we can have with ’12 points and you fucked it up’!
But there’s a lot of football to be played yet and we still have some problems. We can’t keep relying on injury time winners, but the key here is to avoid the trap my friend fell into — complacency. If we keep our focus and repeat the same determination and effort that we showed tonight, I’m confident I’ll be £50 richer come May 13th.
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