Monday, 23 March 2015

Jekyll and Hyde Gunners

Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal

Olivier Giroud

Arsenal’s win against Newcastle on Saturday was the classic game of two halfs. The Gunners dominated the first period, showcasing a series of beautiful, free flowing moves which had their supporters looking on in awe. Unfortunately Arsenal switched off for the entire second half, allowing Newcastle back into the game
and in the end, were fortunate to leave the North East with all three points.

Following a though and dramatic night in Monaco, Wenger decided to rest Per Mertesacker and Hector Bellerin, while Ozil missed out through illness. Gabriel therefore returned to the first team following the hamstring injury he picked up at QPR and once again acquitted himself well alongside Koscielny.

The two central defenders are very similar in their approach to defending, as they both like to defend on the front foot, getting in front of the attacker and seizing possession as quickly as possible. This aspect of their game, alongside the fact they are both blessed with pace, enables Arsenal to step up slightly higher, restrict the space for the opposition ton and therefore win the ball back, higher up the pitch. Given their performance and future potential, Mertesacker must be concerned about his place in the starting eleven.

Newcastle took the game to the Gunners during the opening ten minutes of the game but Arsenal soon took control of proceedings with their technical superiority proving too much for the hosts to handle. Slick and intricate one touch passing, excellent movement off the ball and exquisite combinations were opening up Newcastle almost at will.

It was no surprise therefore when Arsenal took the lead in the 24th minute but given the free flowing attacking moves they had displayed up to that point, it was somewhat surprising that the opening goal arrived courtesy of a free kick delivery. Cazorla’s ball into the area found Welbeck, whose header towards goal was flicked into the bottom corner via the knee of Giroud. The Frenchman took the plaudits and rightly so. As the season has progressed, Giroud has really come to the fore and become one of the best strikers in the league.

Once they had scored the first goal, Arsenal immediately went in search of the second and the quality of their football simply increased, reaching levels of the very best Gunners teams of the Wenger era. Wonderful link up play between Ramsey and Giroud, released the Welshman in the area, but as Krul raced off his line, Ramsey seemed unsure of what to do next and the chance was lost. Shortly afterwards Arsenal almost scored one of the goals of the season. As they surged forward in breath-taking style, the ball was crossed to the back post towards Sanchez, who nonchalantly flicked it over the head of Colback ran round him to collect it, before playing the ball back towards Welbeck, whose cushioned volley flew agonisingly wide of goal.

It seemed only a matter of time before Arsenal would double their lead and so they did, only four minutes after taking the lead, once again through a set piece. It was another perfect Cazorla delivery, this time from a corner, finding the head of Giroud and the Frenchman did the rest, steering his header inside the far post, with pin point accuracy, when under pressure from a Newcastle defender.

It appeared the game was over and that the second half would be a mere formality. However Newcastle had other ideas. The Gunners began the second period extremely sluggishly and were made to pay inside the first three minutes of the restart. Remy Cabella and Ryan Taylor played a series of one-twos around static Arsenal players, with not one man in a red and white shirt tracking the runner. Cabella reached the by-line and cut the ball back to the completely unmarked Sissoko to reduce the deficit. It was now game on and the Gunners had completely lost their way. The slick passing and movement of the first half was nowhere to be seen, with Newcastle applying pressure on Arsenal and the away side relinquishing possession far too easily, with sloppy passing as they also allowed themselves to get outmuscled time and time again. Wenger’s side were a shadow of the team that had dominated the first period as Cazorla Coquelin and Ramsey struggled to regain any sense of control in the middle of the park, Giroud became an isolated figure upfront, while Monreal and Chambers in the full back positions, were being passed far too easily.

Newcastle had a number of opportunities to restore parity, first through Ayoze’s long range curling effort, which flew just wide of goal, shortly after the home side’s first goal. Then Ospina was called into action, showing excellent reflexes to bat away Sissoko’s flicked header, following a corner kick, before the Colombian goalkeeper was at it again, this time flicking out a leg to deny Ayoze’s deflected shot.

Fortunately Arsenal managed to hold on to record a 14th win from their last 16 games. The Gunners showed two sides to their game on Saturday, as during the first half they showed they can still terrorise the Premier League with sumptuous skill and clinical passing combinations, while during the tense second period, they once again showed their newly found defensive attributes as they gritted their teeth to hold on and secure all three points.

With all the other sides around them also winning this weekend, apart from Liverpool, this was another crucial victory for the Gunners as they look to secure a top four finish, whilst also remaining within touching distance of second place. Following a tough set of fixtures in which the Gunners had three difficult away games at QPR, Man United and Monaco as well as a tough home London derby against West Ham, Wenger must be extremely proud to have seen his side win every single game. The manager will now watch his players jet off around the World for the international games and hope no injuries are sustained as Arsenal face Liverpool next in the league in a huge game in the top four race. Wenger will also hope the first half display against Newcastle will be replicated once more as on such form Arsenal can beat anyone.

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