A strange but brilliant game, and not just because of the scoreline. On paper (well, screen) it looks comfortable - but as the manager acknowledged afterwards, it was anything but for much of the match. Had it finished 4-4, in symmetry with that dark afternoon at SJP, no-one would have been that surprised. Nor would they presumably have been quite as angry – this is a less well-resourced Arsenal side, and much of the anger on that day, rightly, was at the size of the lead let slip. For much of today’s game we were only ever a goal ahead.
Semi-interestingly, Arsenal posted much less possession than usual – 44%, the lowest amount in a league game this season. Due to debilitating man flu, I watched the game at home, the only upside of which was a better view of the team’s shape than I’m normally afforded from my berth at the back of the North Lower. To me it looked from the start like Arsenal intended to sit in two narrow banks of four and hit Newcastle on the break.
You can debate whether, as the home team, that’s an attacking enough policy – but given that the first Walcott goal came on the break, and we ought to have had another through a counter attack that broke down, it seems a perfectly reasonable gameplan. Where we ran into trouble was failing to win the back higher up the pitch. In the second half the midfield and forwards were far better at closing down, and consequently Newcastle much less comfortable. Anyway, tactical talk is making my fever return. Let’s crack on with the broad brushstroke judgments I’m far more comfortable making.
(Hmm, that reminds me, I did call this team unwatchable a few weeks ago. I should probably update that by saying they have two settings: agonisingly drab or goal-crazy mental. I prefer the latter.)
- Theo Walcott – Quite a performance from the contract rebel (until we hear otherwise, that’s what he’ll be). So the temptation has to be just to enjoy it while it lasts. This game was Walcott in excelsis: Brilliant, with his Henry-esque first, his whipped cross, and best of all the mazy run during which he managed to get up from a blatant foul in the box to chip past Krul – surely a potential goal of the season candidate. But he was also maddening at times, with his underhit pass to Santi on the break, and his no-pass-at-all to an unmarked Poldi. Perhaps it’s unfair to gripe after a hat trick and an assist, but if anything it only shows he’s got room for improvement. It also makes a mockery of those, including me, saying he simply can’t play through the middle. Clearly he can. Probably not always, but sometimes, and with real impact. It’s going to be a big blow if he does choose to leave, and with fourth still on a knife edge that is not a choice which should even be considered in January, regardless of what it may ultimately cost the club’s coffers in a lost fee. I maintain that of all the players currently on the books, Walcott is the one who probably owes the club something.
- Theo’s agent – Kerching
- Lukas Podolski – In the wake of the Bradford debacle, people were openly asking just what does Prinz Poldi do? Well, based on what was his best performance so far in an Arsenal shirt, he scores, assists, and works like a stevedore. More of the same, bitte.
- Olivier Giroud – His cameo included a tremendous headed goal from that stunning Walcott cross, an even more tremendous finish on the deck, and he ought to have had a hat-trick at the death but crashed the ball against the bar. It’s tempting to call missing the easiest of the chances Giroudian, but in any case it was a fertile ten minutes for the French swiwmwear model, who’s celebration would also seem to hint he’s knocked up Ms Giroud. (Lucky girl.)
- Demba Ba – A decent two-goal audition, with the volley not as easy as it perhaps looked. And hey, at that price it’d be rude not to.
- Jack Wilshere – Would have ended up in the column below for his duck that deflected Ba’s free kick into the net, but made up for the mistake with the bustling run and dinked cross that set up Poldi’s goal. That’s what winners do, and that’s why he’s here.
- The Ox – Needed that goal. His performance up until then had been typically erratic - particularly in terms of passing – and I can only assume he’s largely avoided criticism because his raw potential seems so obvious. Nonetheless, with Gervinho rightly dropped and Theo’s future still tediously uncertain, now is the time for The Ox to cement a starting place.
- Arsene Wenger – Four wins on the spin, including two clean sheets, and up into fifth with a game in hand. Things are looking up for Le Boss. But let’s hope that doesn’t mean they’re also looking down for those who think the squad still desperately needs additions, particularly with a run of fixtures in January that looks as tough as December has been soft. I should also note, though, that Arsene’s subs, both against Wigan and Newcastle, have helped stemmed the flow, and though we still look super shaky at the back, he deserves credits for making those calls.
- Alan Pardew – If a week is a long time in football, then eight years must be an absolute ice age. What were the Toon hierarchy thinking? And is he deliberately trying to get himself the boot? I know I would be: that must be some payout.
- Kieran Gibbs – Heir to Glen Johnson’s good-going-forward-but-a-bit-shit-at-defending fullback throne? Speaking of thrones…
- Bacary Sagna – Someone in the comments recently complained that Bac is way too ponderous on the ball. Add to that the ease with which he’s been skinned a couple of times since coming back from injury, and perhaps the silly free kick that led to Newcastle’s first goal, and maybe you can see why the club isn’t rushing to offer a long-term contract. I still think for the sake of experience and a smooth transition he’s the kind of guy we need in the squad, but suspect the manager may think differently.
- Cheik Tiote – I am a small, *small* man, but seeing Tioooooooooote! stripped of the ball in the build up to one of our goals provided a little bit of payback for his wonderstrike in the 4-4 horror show.
- Me – I also missed being at the first Spurs 5-2.