When you support Arsenal, you ride the wave of emotion with regularity. These past four Premier league games, not to mention the two legged playoff against Milan have given us reasons to be angry, frustrated and disappointed in one minute and then, euphoric, elated and relieved the next. This match against Newcastle was just another instalment in the Arsenal emotional rollercoaster, which culminated in a Premier League record. Arsenal became the first team to win four consecutive games after coming from behind.
After our Milan mayhem of last week, we were always going to come bursting out of the blocks for this one. Our tails were up and we were committed to finish off the job in the league, so that we’d have another shot at the European big time next season. Theo Walcott made our intentions known early on, as early as the third minute, whipping in what would be the first of many good crosses. Didn’t quite get the assist on that occasion but it set the tone and this was to be one of his better games.
There was to be an early goal, however, it was not at the right end. As with the ongoing theme of this year, there was a fullback problem. In truth Vermaelen should not have lost the ball in the first place, so Kieran Gibbs can be forgiven for being out of position initially, however when Ben Arfa got the ball, Gibbs probably should have been smarter. The French winger is a big talent, and the fact that Wenger was linked to him a few years ago only adds to that fact. He has a deadly left foot, and I just feel Gibbs was a bit naive to let him cut inside and shoot. Szczesny did get beaten at the near post, but with a deadly left peg like that, it went like a bullet and he stood no chance. Frustratingly it was 1-0 to the Geordies.
As the old saying goes you are at your most vulnerable when you score, and this was one of those moments for Newcastle. This is taking nothing away from our boys, they took the setback of the goal in their stride and put their heads down straight away. They lost this little battle but were determined to win the war. Walcott got the ball on the right and played it in nice and early into Van Persie’s path. Our flying Dutchman showed exceptional skill to control it and turn his defender in one motion, and all of a sudden it was just him and the keeper. There was only going to be one result, its Robin Van Persie, he scores when he wants. 1-1. Blink and you will have missed it.
From then on it felt like the Milan game all over again. Milan’s red stripes were replaced with the white stripes of Newcastle as we ran rampant, and in truth probably should have had 3-4 goals. We knocked and knocked and knocked but couldn’t quite blow the house down in normal time.
Rosicky was in central midfield today and repaid the manager’s faith in him. He had signed the contract that morning and put in a “money where you mouth is” type performance, dictating the play in midfield with controlled passing in a superb technical display. It is worth mentioning that it was his pass that initially found Walcott in space which led to the opening goal. Not only was he quick with his feet but he was also quick in the air, his flying header just after half time was agonisingly close to giving us the lead. The only blemish on an almost perfect performance was his miss of an open goal. The ball fell to his wrong foot and he scuffed it so badly that it went out for a throw. I suppose given that we’ve won the game, we can laugh about it, but it was a dreadful miss.
Speaking of dreadful misses, it was the theme of the second half. Again, we can laugh about it now, but it is a key component of why we’ve dropped points this season. It is where Wenger’s philosophy breaks down. It’s all well and good to get a brilliant pass away and have 99% possession but if you can’t finish, there is absolutely no point. Eventually the other team will sucker punch you and you sit there wondering how you lost the game. As we fluff our lines and fail to finish, we send more men forward as we desperately search for a goal, this opens up more holes in the defence and puts them under pressure, and they eventually score and its is a vicious cycle from there on. Pundits and so-called experts keep saying there’s a problem with our defence, but they are only partially right. If our attackers can simply finish, everything else falls into place, and the defence is under less pressure.
I know that rant probably isn’t relevant for this game, Newcastle didn’t sucker punch us and didn’t really look like doing it either, but against better teams we have suffered. Our finishing needs to improve. Before the dramatic end Gervinho did what he does best and missed an open goal and we talked about Rosicky’s open goal miss too. Even Van Persie missed 2-3 chances that you’d expect him to gobble up. It just isn’t good enough. Our ability not to finish at the top of the table is a mere extrapolation of our inability to kill teams off. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy that we won, but if we are to the be the best we need to kill off teams sooner. Against the bigger teams we won’t get so many chances, so it is crucial when a big chance comes that we take it. I believe if we get our finishing right, score more goals for less shots, nothing can stop us.
Vermaelen then showed our useless attackers how it is done. After a wonderful header in the last minute of normal time, which forced a great save from Tim Krul his moment was about to come. It was the 94th minute with less than two minutes on the clock. There was a throw to Newcastle deep inside our half. In hindsight they’ll be kicking themselves as Gibbs intercepted the ball, and before you knew it the ball was on the half way line with Van Persie holding it up. He then layed it off for Song who found Walcott on the right. All the while Vermaelen was making a lionhearted run from our box to theirs, using the last of the reserves left in the tank, desperately hoping that he can help find a winner. Walcott’s ball was a dangerous one, and the Newcastle defence could only just flick it on, straight into the Verminator’s path. Astalavista baby! The Verminator scored and destroyed Newcastle’s chance of getting anything out of this game. It was a euphoric moment, we deserved that goal after doing everything but score for the rest of the half. A vital three points that puts us within one point of that other North London team.
And so it completed a historic four comeback victories. Wenger talks a lot about mental strength, and it has really shown in these four games. The common theme has been either late goals, which we saw against Newcastle, Liverpool and Sunderland, or coming back quickly after going behind, which we saw against Sp*rs and again against Newcastle (and to an extent against Liverpool). Scoring after just conceding, and scoring right at the death are, mentally, some of the toughest times to score. It takes a mentally strong team, with iron will and determination, and most of belief that they can score during the toughest (after conceding) and most unlikely (at the death) of times. These are the sorts of things that turn a good team into a great team, and I am very proud of this late season momentum that has put us in good stead for a top three finish. I am confident with this newfound belief and confidence that we will finish the season well and prove some of the doubters wrong.