We are still alive, although given the performances of recent weeks, it felt as though we came back from the dead. It wasn’t vintage Arsenal, but it got the job done and now we are one win away from an elusive trophy after nine long years.
1. Penalties are NOT a lottery
I never really understood this universal belief that a penalty shootout is just a random stab in the dark, a flip of a coin, a game of random chance. Absolute bollocks. The overall performance of the game wasn’t the best by Arsenal’s standards by any stretch of the imagination, but one this I was extremely proud of yesterday was the way the boys performed under pressure when put on the spot (literally). It is never easy having to tuck away a spot kick, but if you watch closely, despite Scott Carson’s best attempts to clown around on the goal line and deter our boys, their penalties were all but perfect. Tucked away in the corners with clinical pace and precision, even if Carson had his team mate Al-Habsi to assist him, there was no way even two goalkeepers would have saved those. So a huge hats off to Arteta, Kallstrom, Giroud and Cazorla for doing what needed to be done so emphatically. Penalty shootouts might not be the fairest way to decide a match, but if there was one time during yesterday that Arsenal justified their pre-game favourtism, it was the shootout itself.
Wigan’s spot kicks were mostly quite poor, but that is to take nothing away from Lukasz Fabianski. It is never easy being the number two, the “cup keeper” if you like, but he stepped up yesterday and was an absolute hero, the second save in particular was out of the top drawer, strong reflexes and closing down of the angle. I sincerely hope he does stay as in the last year and a half, while not being the first choice, every time he’s been called up he’s done a fantastic job and indeed got us out of jail in the earlier rounds of the FA Cup too. If we do win this trophy we have a lot to thank him for.
2. The mental strength is there
We all have questioned the mental strength and resolve of this team given the humiliations of the past few months. It is only natural to think that the boys cannot handle the big stage, and after Gomez put away his penalty I admit I feared the worst. It is not ideal that the boys only really pushed forward once they’d conceded, in fact it is very frustrating, but they got their just reward with an equaliser, and Mertesacker turned from villain to hero. You only need to see his reaction to the goal and the reaction after the shootout to realise how much this meant to the players.
Look I get it, if it was a “big team” and we’d gone down 1-0 around the hour mark, with that performance I doubt we would have forced extra time. I’m just saying that after the goal, and for much of extra time (where we hit the woodwork multiple times), there was a response, and any doubts about the team not having desire or not wanting to dig deep were extinguished, if not during the game, then certainly during the shootout. It is a big game still, and the pressure is just as big as other big games.
It is a concern that the ‘stage fright’ seems to be there, as the first hour or so did not produce the kind of football you’d expect us to play against a Championship side, however, there are positive signs to see there. This was a ground out victory. Critics out there who say that Arsenal can’t grind out victories on one hand, are now criticising this victory because it wasn’t convincing. Sometimes you can’t win with these critics, but I think just that point really justifies the nature of this victory. We haven’t been at our best recently that’s for certain, but our desire and ability to hang in there and hold on for the win and do what’s required is a positive sign, which I hope we can take into the final.
3. We need our players back, and we need a striker
I know this topic has been flogged like a dead horse, and yes it is harsh of me to be critical after such a morale boosting win, but you have to admit, if Sanogo puts away the 3-4 chances he had, we wouldn’t have had to go through the heart attack of a shootout. Now it is not fair to blame him, or Giroud for that matter. The reason given for Giroud not starting was that he was tired, and I can certainly understand that, but then we were forced to start a promising youngster in a game which was our biggest for many years. The lad has potential certainly, and did his best, but I must point the finger at the manager for not buying a striker in the last two windows. Giroud for all the flack he cops is harsh, the guy is overworked and sometimes does not appear as sharp as he should. He needs another striker of similar ability to share the load, and once again this poor bit of business (or lack thereof) was evident, although we did get away with it this time. A striker MUST be the first priority as soon as the transfer window opens.
We are still missing our midfield stars I feel. Ramsey was back but was relatively anonymous. He will take time to click again, but we need our passers like Wilshere and Ozil back to get that engine room revved up again. I think against Wigan there wasn’t enough of the long passages of passing in and around the box, that nice build up play, and therefore there were less chances produced. Once we get our full complement in midfield back I think this will fix itself up, and the confidence of the team should also increase.
Hull City or Sheffield United await. One of them are the only ones standing in our way to an end to the long trophy drought.
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