It was exactly a year ago today that Arsenal battered Newcastle 7-3 with Theo Walcott grabbing a memorable hattrick. Despite the swashbuckling entertainment served up at the Emirates that day, I much preferred today’s slender 1-0 victory because it highlights how we’ve matured as a team.
Last season’s Arsenal let down their brilliant attacking play with poor defending and were frustratingly inconsistent. For example, we followed up that hammering of Newcastle with a disappointing draw at relegation-threatened Southampton on New Year’s Day. The last couple of matches, however, showcased our new-found resilience and mental strength. We were flat for an hour against West Ham but hung in there, eventually overpowering the Hammers thanks to Podolski’s brilliant cameo.
Today wasn’t much better in an attacking sense to be fair — we hardly troubled Krul all match and it seemed fitting that we nicked the only goal of a scrappy game from a set piece. What’s important is that we were defensively sound in midfield and at the back, something we weren’t last season as a 7-3 scoreline illustrates. Newcastle had plenty of possession but only forced Szczesny into one good save and once we took the lead we didn’t look like relinquishing it unless we made a mistake (which Szczensy nearly did with his careless clearance straight into Remy’s face which thankfully flew just wide).
Mertesacker and Koscielny show what victory means to them
We may have dazzled against Newcastle a year ago, but what’s the point of winning 7-3 only to throw away two points in the next match? I’d much rather see us grind out a couple of unconvincing away wins, “winning ugly” as it’s often called, as it shows me we have the stomach for a tough battle and are willing to put in a shift — something I wasn’t really convinced about last season.
I was pleased to see Giroud finally score. He’s taken some stick over the past few games and justifiably so because he’s missed a lot of chances, but the man has never stopped running and working for the team in all that time. His head never went down, he just picked himself up and missed the next chance!
To be fair to Giroud, he has been overplayed by Wenger and has looked burnt out for a few weeks now. While he was fresh he was banging in the goals for us, scoring 10 in 18 appearances up until November 23rd as he played every Premier and Champions League game (except one) since August — that’s a very good record. But then fatigue set in, and because Wenger failed to bring in an adequate striker over the summer, poor Giroud hasn’t had the chance of a rest. No wonder his form has dipped, the guy is knackered, especially considering the amount of work he does in a game. He must surely now be rested on Wednesday against Cardiff — Bendtner should be an able enough deputy for that game.
The situation reminds me so much of when Wenger sold Fabregas, failed to buy a replacement and had to play Ramsey there instead. Now Ramsey had literally just recovered from being Shawcrossed, but instead of being eased gently back into first team action he was asked to step into the boots of the best midfielder we ever had — no wonder he struggled for a while with that burden to carry. Just as people are getting on Giroud’s back now, Ramsey took a lot of stick because some fans couldn’t see the bigger picture. Overplaying players to cover squad deficiencies is one of Wenger’s most annoying traits — look how he ran Wilshere into the ground a few seasons back, for example.
As I’ve said before on this blog, Giroud isn’t good enough to be our first choice striker, but he’s an excellent player who works hard and is a valuable member of the squad. He should be playing 15-20 games a season as back up to a Suarez/Higuain who’d be playing 30-35 games. Instead, it looks like Giroud will have to play 50 games this year because all we have as back up is Bendtner (and no, Podolski can’t play the lone striker role because he doesn’t have the physical presence).
There is of course the remote possibility Wenger will buy a striker next month, but I can’t see it for two reasons — firstly, he rarely buys in January and secondly, Chelsea are in the market for a new striker and will outbid us even if someone like Diego Costa was available. We will have to wait until the end of the season and hope Wenger grows some balls and sorts it out then, instead of pussying about for three months like he did with Higuain and Suarez last summer.
So anyway, we’re top at the turn of the year after coming through our tough December fixtures by nicking two vital away wins. It has got our league campaign back on track after the disappointment of the Everton, Man City and Chelsea games. Here’s hoping the new, mature Arsenal can banish the frustrations that the brittle swashbucklers of the last few years inflicted upon us.
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