Written by TotalArsenal
Today, Arsenal had a chance to make a statement of where it stands in the current hierarchy of English football. This was not just a game we needed to win to keep us in contention for a top-four finish – no, this was also a game in which we needed to demonstrate to ourselves again how good we really are. During a transitional year, progress is measured not only by finishing as high as possible – it is just as important to claim the scalps of teams like Pool, the Chavs, and especially, the Oilers. Winning these sorts of games builds confidence, belief and respect: they’ll become part of the DNA of this new, post-Fabregas team.
From the first minute it became clear Arsenal were up for this game. During the first quarter of the game, Arsenal enjoyed 78% possession, leaving Citeh with nothing else to do than chase the ball and set up a fortress around their box. This must have been hard for Citeh, as it’s usually them who keep the ball, and pass it around, better than their opponents. Recently, Arsenal have been a little bit lob-sided towards our right, but we were constantly able to switch our attacking play from side to side in the first half. Although we threatened a lot with our energetic and innovative attacking moves, we did not manage a clear attempt on goal until the 16th minute. RvP made a perfect connection with his head to Arteta’s corner-kick, but his effort hit the back of Vermaelen’s head, whose own run had taken him to just under the Citeh’s crossbar. RvP was just so unlucky not to score.
Soon after that, MC had to withdraw Toure who got injured during a strong challenge by Song. Rather than the tried and tested De Jong, Mancini decided to replace the Ivorian with the relatively (PL) inexperienced David Pizzaro. Undoubtedly, this was a big blow for Citeh, as Toure has been a consistent force in midfield for them in recent months.
Citeh had only one half-chance in this half, and it came from a ball through the middle that almost reached Balotelli. However, Sir Szczesny did fantastically well in anticipating the danger and with a quick and timely run he reached the ball before the Italian hothead.
During the rest of the first half there were no more clear attempts on goal, as Arsenal dropped off a bit and MC were able to regain some possession, albeit without threatening our goal themselves. Balotelli was keen to grab all the attention with another petulant performance, and he should have seen a straight red card for his nasty, studs-up challenge on Song. The referee appeared not to have seen the incident, so the Italian got away with it. Luckily, Alex somehow survived the charge. After that incident, Balotelli fouls our RB, Sagna, twice, and he finally gets a yellow card. He should have had a second one for a handball before the end of the first half, but once again, he got away with it.
Arsenal started the second half tentatively, with a lower tempo and less hunting down of the opponents compared to the first half. This allowed Citeh to have more possession and create a few chances. After 8 minutes, Citeh create their first proper chance with a decent, weighted ball into the box by – the until then very quiet and timid – Na$ri towards Zabaleta and Aguero who, however, stand in each others way, resulting in a weak effort on target.
In the 63rd minute, Song produces another of his trademark, fine, lofted balls into the box towards the continuously alert RvP. For once, the yet again very impressive Kompany has not anticipated Song’s ball. Robin shows his top-striker instinct by heading the ball straight towards goal, beating Hart in a flash, but the post is in the way. Once again, Robin is unlucky, and I am starting to feel a bit uneasy; thinking this might be another one of those games against Citeh, where we play well but are just not clinically/lucky enough to win it.
My uneasiness grows further when Baloteli tries an overhead kick from a header into the box by Kompany – luckily he fluffs his attempt – and, soon after that, RvP is, agonizingly but correctly, ruled just offside, after yet another fine passage of attacking midfield play by Song, who found RvP in the box with a weighted pass.
The good thing is that Arsenal are all over Citeh again, and that the Oilers are starting to look tired in the second part of the second half. There is only one team who really want to win this game by now.
In the 76th minute it looked like we would finally, FINALLY get our reward. But yet again, it was not to be, as Citeh survived three attempts on goal in the space of a few seconds. Rosicky passes the ball into the box towards Theo who does not hesitate: he does not take a first touch, but strikes on goal with a low and placed shot towards Hart’s right corner. Hart manages to just get a hand on it, diverting it towards the post where the Belgian Rottweiler is ready to pounce. FFS, would you believe it! Inexplicably he slips, AGAIN, and his fluffed effort ends up with Benayoun who, two yards from goal, also cannot manage a clean contact and Citeh, miraculously, escape once more!
After that, I was convinced we would have to settle for a draw, but then, THEN the moment we had all been waiting for, still came. And it could not have fallen to a better, more deserving person: Mikel Arteta! After vacuum cleaning the ball away from Pizarro, Arteta moves forward, and I am sure we all felt that this was the moment. Arsenal’s Engine Room sees a rare opportunity to have a shot on goal. As soon as he lined up, I felt it would go in. Arteta cleverly uses Lescott’s body to block Hart’s view and unleashes a pile-driver from 25 yards towards Hart’s left corner. The England number one has no chance and at last we have our goal. Simply orgasmic: 1-0 to the good guys!
In the last minute of the game, Ramsey had a great chance to make it 2-0 and he should have done better. It sadly looks like my prediction that Aaron will become a victim of ‘fans fulfilling prophecy’ is coming through. He looks to be low in self-confidence and is starting to believe his critics. Arsene has got some work to do with Aaron over the next few weeks to get his pecker up again.
At the end of the game, Balotelli made sure he got some more attention by making another reckless challenge on Sagna, resulting in a second yellow card, and a sending off.
But, today’s game is not about Balotelli and how he let his team down. It is about a very mature and professional Arsenal TEAM beating a ‘collection of highly overpaid individuals’, supposedly fighting for the title, at a pivotal moment. And in a way, I am happy Balotelli only got send off at the end, as it would have been hard to argue now that an earlier dismissal had not weakened Citeh and therefore did not have a crucial impact on the result.
Instead, we beat them fair and square, 11 against 11, when they HAD to win to stay in contention for the title. There was a lot at stake on Sunday: this game was about putting the Oilers in their place, to show that class is indeed permanent – that it cannot be bought so easily. Beating Citeh is a scalp we badly needed, and it has taken away any remaining doubt that this new Arsenal team has become a force again – one that will be fighting at full strength for the top prizes next season.
Szczesny: fine, confident performance, remained focussed throughout the game: 8.
Sagna: super warrior as always, worked incredibly hard and did not let himself get provoked by Balotelli once. Supported our front men time and again, and he is a total team player: 8.5.
Vermaelen and Koz: very powerful, energetic performances, bossing their area with ease and composure, great support to our midfield as well. 8.
Gibbs: fine performance, unfortunately had to go off early. 7.5.
Song & Arteta: what a duo today. They are working together better and better and totally bossed the midfield, even before Toure went off. Song has so much to offer: is there a more all-round midfielder in the PL at the moment? Arteta had a great game as well and also showed what a complete midfielder he is for us, and of course he scored the all important goal. For me, they are both Man of the Match today (with Sagna not far away). 9.5.
Rosicky: worked hard and always wants to attack quickly and incisively but does still miss accuracy at times. He did a lot of chasing down opponents and is also a total team player: 8.
Benayoun: a good team performance, he also did a lot of chasing down opponents and supported Gibbs well. 7.5.
Theo: was not given any space by Citeh, as they were well aware of his danger and provided plenty of protection for their LB. He still worked hard to be a constant threat as he stuck to his role well, and he put in a fine team performance too: 8.
Robin van Persie: worked his socks off, always making clever runs and making himself available. Very unlucky not to be on the score sheet today, despite having to combat with one of the finest CB’s in Europe: Kompany. 8.5.