When I saw the New Year day’s fixture list, Arsenal looked like the only team that was guaranteed three points as their opponents faced tricky opponents on slippery grounds. City were at the Liberty Stadium against Swansea. Their away form and Swansea’s good home record meant we could be seeing some dropped points. Chelsea were away at the St. Mary’s and with the Saints proving a difficult side to play this season and Chelsea still unconvincing, dropped points were yet again on the cards I thought. Arsenal were at home against Cardiff, a side that has an awful away record. This gave the Gunners, me especially the hope that we could widen the gap after week twenty.
To my utter disappointment, City eked out a win while Chelsea were battling to a win but Arsenal found it difficult to break the duck and tick tuck, time was going. In the 80th minute, Arsenal got a goal from an unlikely source Nicklas Bendtner. After a cross headed by Sagna was well saved, the Danish striker finished emphatically from the rebound. He might not be so loved but should Arsenal win the league by a point or 2, Bendtner would have made a name for himself whether or not he leaves in the winter or summer.
Getting the opening goal, Cardiff had no reason to defend stoutly again as they were on their way to losing three points except they come out to fight. That they did and allowed Arsenal to pounce as Wilshere intelligent pass found Walcott who exquisitely chipped the goalkeeper to give Arsenal the much desired win and cushion of +2 to the goals difference. With the way the league is going this season, points alone don’t matter, goals also do.
Here are the things I noticed from the match.
Bendtner to the rescue – I must confess the Dane is not one of my favourite players but I celebrated when he got the goal. It was a priceless one. For the goal, he showed great movement and alertness to react to the saved header but he needs to work on his work ethnic if he is to stand any chance of lasting the season at Arsenal. It was sad that he got injured scoring or celebrating the goal.
Podolski fails striker audition – when Giroud was mis-firing, the clamour was for Wenger to try out one of his wannabe strikers Lukas Podolski. With Giroud injured, the lot fell on the German. He did his bit but was just not half as effective as the Frenchman. Apparently, his best position isn’t as a central striker but on the wings or behind a central striker. That way, he can feed off loose balls.
Mental strength tested but passed – Arsenal faced another test of their mental strength and that they passed well. The Gunners had to keep trying until they got the goal a little over eighty minutes. If you ask me, it is the making of champions. You might not get it at first but don’t stop trying. If you try long and hard enough, you will get it.
Another clean sheet – Arsenal didn’t only win, they also kept the deck clean. Szczesny saw to it with a very good save from point blank range. Arsenal looked out of sight but Szczesny ensured he got his ninth clean sheet in twenty league games. Can you beat that? With the clean sheet today, After week twenty, the Gunners have the best defence having conceded just nineteen goals.
Enterprising birthday boy- today was Jack Wilshere’s 22nd birthday and he did really well as he was at the heart of most of Arsenal’s attacking moves. He struck the bar and got a well deserved assist in the dying stages of the match.
Wenger’s substitutions were spot on – the Frenchman got his substitutions spot on today both in terms of personell and timing. With Arsenal finding it hard to break down Cardiff, he pulled out one defensive midfielder (Flamini) in favour of an attacking midfielder (Rosicky). He also pulled out Podolski who was struggling to impress himself as a lone centre forward for Bendtner who was more suited for the role. With the Dane injured, no other striker or attacker to bring on, he brought in Vermaelen. At that stage, we didn’t need to score again to win all three points, we only needed to defend the goal we scored and that was a defender’s job. Incidentally, we grabbed a second when he came on.