A strong performance in midweek turned into a strong performance on Saturday against Alan Pardew’s Newcastle. Arsenal kept the offense going to record another 4-1 win in what I think, may be one of our best, if not the best, matches we have played this season. It was also the weekend for the NC is Red event with the Camel City Gooners and Triangle City Gooners. Some of us Queen City Gooners traveled up to Winston-Salem to sing loud and proud at Small Batch bar with our NC brethren.
Arsene Wenger announced the lineup and Gooners everywhere were concerned about our lack of depth in the back four. Gibbs and Bellerin flanked Mertesacker and Debuchy to start the match in the absence of Koscielny, Monreal, and Chambers. All eyes were on Debuchy as he got his first start against his old club and in an unfamiliar position no doubt.
Arsenal started brightly with a header by Mertesacker off a corner early in match. The ball hit the bar and bounced clear. It was unfair to the tall German as it would have been a great goal and who doesn’t love watching the BFG celebrate scoring a headed goal? It was a sign that this may be our day even so early in the match as we continued to pressure Newcastle. It didn’t take long for the deadlock to be broken.
Bellerin broke up the play near the halfway line and fed Giroud who passed to Alexis, who crossed brilliantly over the defense where Giroud leapt into the air to meet the ball and it flew into the top corner. 1-0. Welbeck then appeared to put the ball in the net on an excellent chip over the keeper’s shoulder from the left, but it was ruled out, unfairly, for a foul on the defender. That was not a foul, Welbeck was fighting off a challenge while he had possession and he muscled his way clear. Towards the end of the half, Arsenal let the pressure off slightly and Newcastle had a few chances to level the match but Szczesny was equal to the task. It was 1-0 at halftime.
The start of the second saw some Newcastle possession as they chopped our legs every time we had the ball. Alexis, in particular, was a clear target. It was their obvious tactic to take him out the game at every opportunity. We should not be surprised by this tactic at all since Alexis is by far our biggest threat in attack. On Saturday though, the thug-like tactics would not stop us from scoring, because Santi Cazorla found his shooting boots and showed us some of his classy finishing on his birthday. We all know that he capable of a great goal, just look at the free kick in the FA Cup final but his chips for his first and the penalty for his second were pure class. I truly hope he has played his way out of the tough run of form because we desperately need all of our fit players to perform.
Giroud scored an equally impressive goal midway through the second with a clip that sent the ball into the roof after a great cross by Bellerin. The goals seemed to come at perfect moments too. Every time Newcastle looked as if they were going to get back into the game, we scored to pull away. That killer instinct is what we keep lacking in our matches. We never look comfortable after we gain the lead. We actually seem to get worse with a lead. Against Newcastle, we kept pressing the attack and turning the screw not stopping until the win was assured. The Anderlecht match crossed some of our minds, I am sure, but despite our recent poor form I never thought we were going to lose the lead, even when Newcastle got a goal back late on.
The match overall was great and praise has to be given to the players. I don’t want to speak too soon but the squad may be finally starting to click. Defense is still a toss up and without spending in January, that won’t change at all, so there is no reason to keep beating that dead horse. Our starting XI is the main issue and it is hard to see what our best XI is, when everyone is healthy. Our back four is set with whoever isn’t sitting on an operators table, but in midfield and attack it is far less clear. The only player you can say with certainty is Alexis. After that, Giroud, Welbeck and Cazorla and that is about it. It becomes a game of who played well last game and who is healthy.
The form game must be played as we go to Anfield this weekend to take on Liverpool, who as a top four club last season is in worse shape than us. The memory of last season’s embarrassing loss will still be painfully fresh in all our minds and the players. That must be rectified. Liverpool just lost to Manchester United and they will not be looking to make it another loss in a row so they will give us plenty of problems. Apart from being in poor form, they also have a defense that is more ragged than ours so we have to believe that our winning ways can continue.
I am confident, but wary that the ghost of last season will haunt us. You would have to expect that Arsene Wenger has made the squad watch the video of that horrid match over and over until every player wakes up in a cold sweat at night; right after Daniel Sturridge does that ridiculous dance. Then they all hobble to London Colney and create a plan to wipe the smug smiles off the Liverpool fans’ faces. Let’s not forget that the media will be reminding us every minute of every day leading up to the match that that awful day happened. They do love bringing up every time we play poorly. Arsene will be asked about it, as will the players so I hope Wenger gives the media that wry smile in his press conference and on Sunday, we give the media something new to never talk about: a commanding Arsenal win at Anfield (since they never mention our good wins, just our losses).
To all the Gooners who were at the NC is Red event, it was a blast and I hope there are more events like that across this great state. We were all in full voice, out to prove that NC truly is painted the red of Arsenal. I am proud to be a part of such a great club with a great history, but even more so to have fellow supporters like we have in NC and all over the US.
Here’s to a win against on Sunday!
Come on you Gunners, let’s keep this winning train rolling!