This season Arsenal have been addressing the criticism their fair minded critics have been throwing at them over the years. Contrary to seasons past the gunners are now able to grind out results in the dark physical games and have created a plan “B” in the long ball for when their charming plan “A” is not working.
However despite these great steps forward I must admit I was worried that the one step the gunners could not take was getting over a crushing defeat quickly an effectively. Looking back to the recent past fans can remember what happened after Man Utd stopped Arsenal’s epic unbeaten run and when they lost the Carling Cup Final after putting in such a brilliant performance. In both circumstances they crumbled their season away in a very worrying fashion.
The 5-1 Carling Cup defeat to Tottenham ranks right up there in Arsenal’s history of crushing defeats which could have such an effect and the fear of God ran through me that it would happen again. The opponent, as it was 3 days before, was Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle and if ever a managers introduction was going to have a positive effect on a team it was going to be this one…….. isn’t it? So surely the omens are all against Arsenal? However as with all the problems which were rectified earlier this one too followed suit and I am an overjoyed to be proven wrong as Arsenal quite frankly took the Toon to town for the second time in 4 days.
Phillipe Senderos kept his place in the team after a very competent performance the first time around against Newcastle and again put in a solid performance this time. Abou Diaby started in the place of the injured Rosicky and after a “would he, won’t he go on loan” saga Theo Walcott had a place on the bench in his first game since the club decided he is staying put.
Newcastle did not feel to give bad boy Joey Barton a first team place just yet and apart from the suspended Emre and injured Mark Viduka had a strong squad to pick from.
The game kicked off and its story was the same in the first minute as it was in the last, Arsenal quite simply dominated Newcastle off the park. The passing was slick and smooth, the gunners were toying with Newcastle all over the pitch and for all their possession they should have created more chances and more goals but it did not quite happen that way and neither did it matter anyway.
This was not one of those halves where Arsenal fans were uber-frustrated that they could not score but it was a real laid back, fun atmosphere and it was obvious that Arsenal were going to win this from the off so any lack of real chances did not seem to bother the players or fans because this was far too inevitable.
The best move of the half came when Flamini was played down the right side of the area and crossed a glorious ball into Adebayor who thundered a volley just over the bar. It would have been a fantastic goal if it had gone in and one the man from Togo is more than capable of scoring but this time his effort just eluded the back of the net.
It was not however going to end a goalless half because five minutes before half time the Flamini-Adebayor link tried again to make the breakthrough and this time Given had no choice but to watch as the ball crashed into the back of his net. Yet again a great through ball put Flamini into a prime crossing position and the Frenchman laser guided the ball onto the head of the rising Adebayor who powered the ball into the corner.
It was 100% deserved and everyone celebrated wildly, loving the mature, composed performance they were witnessing on a cold Tuesday evening. The half time whistle went and only the Newcastle fans were not eagerly awaiting the second half, they needed a goal and there was about as much chance of that happening as there is seeing a decent and constructive debate on BBC 1’s “Question Time”, quite simply it was not going to happen.
The second half begun and the Newcastle players were visibly putting up a better fight and managed to produce passages of possession and creative play in the Arsenal half but not to the extent that the Gunners defence was seriously challenged and when the gunners had the ball they moved it around with as much ease as they did in the first half.
Kevin Keegan put on Barton on 57 minutes to try and battle their way back into the game and the Toon army pressed on looking for a chance to pull level. When the 70th minute ticked over with the score at 1-0 the Newcastle players probably thought that one chance could be their route to get an unlikely point and you could see their resolve to find it going forward but one minute later an absolute hyper-strike ended any Toon dreams of an equaliser.
Mathieu Flamini had been absolutely outstanding for the gunners, much like he has all season and he had contributed as much in attack (compensating for the off form Fabregas) as he had in defence and if anyone deserved a goal it was him. A passing move on the left had presented Flamini with the ball 25 yards out on the inside left of the area. He could have passed as there was barely room for the shot but he wrapped the outside of his boot around the ball and launched a rising and curling shot past Given into the top corner and sent the Gunner’s fan Fan-Daby-Dozy.
Flamini raised his hands in the air after scoring the greatest goal of his career and fellow goalscorer Adebayor polished his boots with an invisible cloth in honour of the exquisite goal he had just witnessed.
Newcastle were spent and their resolve died right then. Wenger brought on Bendtner and Gilberto into the fray whilst Keegan put Shola Ameobi on to gain him give him an appearance bonus. Eight minutes later and the dis-spirited Newcastle defence was breached again when Clichy’s long ball was placed in the path of Fabregas by Bendtner and the ball flew into the top left hand corner of the net.
With the game 1000% in the bag Wenger thought it safe to bring on Theo Walcott and the young Englishman saw out the closing stages of the game.
Newcastle’s best chance came in the dying minutes when Nicky Butts free kick hit the bar and bounced onto Almunia’s hand and out of play. It would have been scant consolation for a poor overall performance and the final whistle blew with Keegan’s men desperate to go home and forget about the Emirates for a very long time.
The win put Arsenal at the top of the league but only for one day as Man Utd defeated Portsmouth the following evening but it was a crucial victory which assured everyone that Arsenal will not crumble after a bad defeat and will not let one game ruin an otherwise fantastic season.
This year Arsenal have turned around their lack of result grinding and alternate plays and have also addressed their tendency to collapse after big defeats and also, as may have gone slyly unnoticed, their lack of headed goals. Everything that has gone against the gunners in the past seems to be defeated by the mentality and resolve of this new Post-Henry Arsenal. Are there any other demons for us to face? I don’t know, answers on a post card but what I do know is that we have the ability to do this and it does not matter that the world and his wife are adamant that Man Utd will win in the end, all the requirement to win the league are to be found at the Emirates stadium, it is up to the boys to do it and by Zeus it would not surprise me if we did.