So Arsenal ended the year at the top of the Premier League after edging Newcastle 1-0 at the St. James’ Park. It was a tight encounter and a game of few chances but it was good that Arsenal converted one of the clear ones that fell to them. Arsenal have mis-firing striker Olivier Giroud to thank for the goal that sealed all three points and ensured the Gunners toppled City, who had momentarily seized top spot after beating Palace. Besides the obvious victory, I noticed some salient things and will be sharing them with you.
Giroud finally broke his dock – the Frenchman has come under huge fire in recent times for spurning gilt-edged chances and not scoring in eight consecutive games prior to the clash against Newcastle but he delivered when it mattered the most. When there was no Walcott or Ramsey to come up with the odd goal, Giroud towered above the Magpies defence to nod past Krul and secured for Arsenal the maximum points. Lack of goals certainly leads to frustration and doubt but hopefully scoring an all important one would help rediscover his seemingly lost form. Kudos to Wenger for keeping faith with him even when he must have doubted himself.
Versatile Flamini – Wenger did a strange thing by pulling out Gibbs to bring in Arteta. Frenchman Mathieu Flamini made the switch to left back. Wondered why he removed Gibbs since the Englishman was obviously not injured. Anyway, his decision proved a masterstroke as Flamini kept things tidy on the left flank. That is the plus in having a versatile player. They can always adjust to changing circumstance to help the team.
Arsenal won ugly – it is good to play beautiful football but it is impossible to play it always and the fact that it doesn’t guarantee maximum points makes it unnecessary a times. The hallmark of a title winning team is one that can combine finesse with sheer guile. Arsenal played beautiful football in the earlier stages of the game but after getting the goal and in the twilight of the game, they relapsed to defending. With Wenger bringing in two defensive minded players (Arteta and Jenkinson). The reason for bringing in Jenkinson for Walcott was to shore up the defence at the expense of attack. Wenger has done that many times this season bringing in Monreal and Vermaelen at latter stages of matches. It shows Wenger has learnt from history and is ready to ditch his romantic football for some bullish ones. When you are under assault for 20 minutes from an in-form Newcastle side and stay firm, keeping a clean sheet, then, you deserve an applause.
Bendtner lacks work ethic – the difference between Giroud and Bendtner isn’t in the quality of their finish but how much work they put into the team. Giroud was pulled out for Bendtner in the closing stages of the match. I am very sure what Wenger had in mind was to replace Giroud’s tired legs with Bendtner’s fresh ones so that he could pile pressure on the Newcastle defence and relieve the pressure on the Arsenal backline but the Dane was as clumsy as ever. His chasing of the ball showed a player that had been playing for many minutes. If it was Giroud playing like that, he could be excused since he has played more games than most players but for Bendtner who hasn’t had ample games playing like that, is just a shame. Can’t wait to see his back.
Like Lehmann like Szczesny – the Pole is certainly a good goalkeeper but just like his predecessor, he could pull out good saves and also mess things up. In the first half, he pulled out a stunning save to deny Sissoko but nearly gifted the Magpies an equalizer when he shot straight into Remy’s face when attempting to clear a back pass. It was good that his blushes were spared as calls for an experienced goalkeeper would have rented the air if the ball had ricocheted off Remy’s face into the net instead of outside. He really needs to be more careful. What makes a great goalkeeper isn’t ability to make good saves alone but also the ability to keep things neat and tidy when required to.