Continuing Momentum… At a stroll

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It was a mild afternoon for November, but you could tell the winter months were soon to be upon us. I think it will be the last game for a while without my big winter coat.

I must admit, although I consider myself optimistic, I’m never really confident going into games. I think I’ve always been like that, I don’t think it’s due to our relatively recent proneness to losing games we should be winning. That being said, walking up the road to the ground I just couldn’t see anything but an Arsenal win. Obviously we’ve been doing a lot better recently, but there’s still a long way to go. However, I watched West Brom’s game against Liverpool last week, and I just thought they were poorer than most other teams I’ve seen this year. I got the feeling I wasn’t alone in my view; there was a confident buzz around the ground.

The biggest selection question mark was over the central defence partnership. With Thomas Vermaelen back fit and ready for selection, and the good form of Koscielny and Mertesacker, for what feels like the first time in ages, we have options in central defence. Mr Wenger took the decision to play Vermaelen and Koscielny together, which seemed fair as the big German has played almost every game since he got to the club. The other question mark would be over the right back position. Would Johan Djourou get the chance again, or would Arsene show continued faith in young Carl Jenkinson? Jenkinson got the nod.

The Emirates Stadium observed the minute’s silence for next week’s Remembrance Day before the game. I don’t know about you, but a period of reflection before a game always seems to give a sense of perspective.

It was obvious from kick off what West Brom’s game plan was. They were going to stay disciplined with their shape, and not commit much going forward. From watching their game last week, I can’t say I’m surprised. Considering what they did to us last season though, you could rightly accuse them of lack of ambition.

Arsenal took control of the game early on, and were allowed a lion’s share of possession without being able to find the breakthrough. Walcott, Gervinho and Van Persie were interchanging well, making inroads and finding space in amongst the West Brom backline. Santos and Jenkinson, who were not under any pressure defensively at all, had free reign to join in the attacks. You got the impression that it was only a matter of time until we made the breakthrough.

Just over twenty minutes into the game, Arsenal had the ball in the back of the net. It was from a familiar source with our talismanic Dutchman on the score sheet, he won’t get an easier one all season. The architect of the goal was Aaron Ramsey. He played a fantastic defence splitting pass through the inside of West Brom’s left back. Theo was in behind the defence. He bore down on Ben Foster and attempted to put the ball through his legs. The ball caught one of keeper’s legs, but rolled straight into Robin’s stride, and he simply rolled it into the empty net. One-nil to the Arse-a-nal!

I began, although only very briefly, to feel sorry for Simon Cox. He was the only WBA player to have any real attacking responsibility. They just seemed happy to pump the balls into the channels and let him chase them. Even in the rare occasion he made it to the ball ahead of a man in red, there was no one in a striped shirt within 50 yards of him.

Arsenal’s second goal of the game came (indirectly) from a corner. West Brom failed to clear a corner properly. Alex Song put a deep cross into the far post from the left, Robin had timed his run perfectly. Realising the acute angle made it almost impossible to score; he pulled the ball back across goal. Thomas Vermaelen was still up the pitch from the corner side-footed the ball past the flat-footed Ben Foster. Robin who was gifted an easy opportunity for the first goal, did the same for a team mate for the second.

As the whistle blew for half time, I turned round to Darren and said, “Have they had a shot yet?”………they hadn’t!

As the second half got underway, you got the feeling that Arsenal were not going to put West Brom to the sword. Having gone two goals up without getting out of second gear, you got the feeling they were going to finish the game off without getting out of first.

Freed up by West Brom’s reluctance to put Arsenal under any pressure, Jenkinson was making some fantastic runs down the right flank overlapping Theo Walcott. The pleasing aspect with this was the fact that when in the good position, his delivery into the box was fantastic. He was unlucky not to get an assist in the second half.

With only twenty minutes to go, Arsene felt it was time to make a change, and I felt it was right. The game needed some renewed impetus. Arsenal made a double substitution with Benayoun and Rosicky coming on for Ramsey and Gervinho. The change had an immediate impact. Yossi and Tommy Ros were busy and interchanging passing moves.

They were not on the pitch for five minutes when Arsenal added their final goal. Robin Van Persie moved forward with the ball and played it out to Thomas Rosicky, he found Robin in the penalty area. Robin (who obviously has the whereabouts of his team-mates etched in his brain) played the ball out to the edge of the box to the waiting Mikel Arteta. Mikel side footed the ball into the corner of the net to wrap up the game.

West Brom made a final throw of the dice to salvage some pride, but it came to nothing. It was as comfortable a victory as you can ask for.

I was pleased with the performance in general, although I haven’t seen a team as poor as West Brom this season (well…. apart from a certain performance at Old Trafford in August). Along with Wigan, they are looking in serious trouble to me.

Robin continued to look like a world beater with a goal and two assists. Ramsey’s recent good form continued, and he seems to be growing as a player with every performance. I was also particularly pleased for Carl Jenkinson. He’s had a fair amount of criticism this year. He’s definitely not the finished article yet, but his improvement is particularly encouraging. Let’s face it; the lad’s a Gooner….. he’s living the dream, and I for one wish him all the best.

We now enter another teeth pulling International break. I, for one, will just be praying we don’t pick up any injuries. Then it’s Norwich away! I’ve never been to Carrow Road, and I’m really looking forward to it. Still, another weekend…….. another win! What Crisis?

Thanks for reading,

Dave (Follow me on Twitter @bigdavetaylor)

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Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

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“But we can win this” – The phrase from ‘Escape to victory’ that I used as a basis of yesterday’s blog. At no point during the ninety-minutes of our game at Stamford Bridge did those words leave my mind but I must admit that as the teams went in at half time with Chelsea leading 2-1, I had no idea how escape-esq the second half would prove to be…

In the opening exchanges it was the home side who saw the lions share of the ball and while their early attacks down the flanks were fair warning that our full backs had been identified as an area of weakness it was the Gunners who in all truth had the better scoring opportunities.

Inside the first two minutes Ashley Cole let Johan Djourou know that he was in for a tough time at right back and had it not been for Laurent Koscielny there is every chance that a cross from the former Arsenal man may have been turned in by Fernando Torres. Moments later Djourou lost Cole again and this time Per Mertsacker was on hand to block the ball and cut out any danger.

Daniel Sturridge had what was perhaps the blues best chance but caught between having a shot and passing to Torres wasted the opportunity.

It was two early chances created by the impressive Theo Walcott that should have put the Gunners in the driving seat. After the winger had first knocked the ball past Cole and left him in his wake as he rushed towards the Chelsea box and flashed across the perfect pass for Gervinho who hit his shot wide with his right foot. Next Theo played a fantastic ball over the top of the Chelsea defence for the on rushing Robin Van Persie who blazed over the bar. You maybe would have backed both men to score given their recent exploits in front of goal so it was typical that having failed to take the lead we went on a conceded the opener.

Mata under no pressure from an almost bemused Andre Santos crossed the ball into the Arsenal box and it should have been cleared by Per Mertesacker but the German was seemingly unable to lift his giant frame off of the ground and the ball fell to Frank Lampard who stooped low to direct the ball into the back of the net and put the home side in front.

The game really opened up and it was as free flowing as we’re likely to see but neither side really created any chances of merit until the Arsenal equaliser came. Aaron Ramsey played a lovely ball to Gervinho which caught out the Chelsea defence. The Ivorian, with Cech diving at his feet unselfishly cut the ball back for Robin Van Persie who tucked it away.

With half time approaching it looked as if the sides would head in on level terms until another defensive mistake from Mertesacker saw the blues store their lead. Aaron Ramsey, providing some much needed support for Djourou gave away a corner which was taken by Frank Lampard.

As the ball floated into the box there seemed to be little danger. Mertesacker should have been able to clear the ball but almost inexplicably missed the ball which allowed John Terry to score despite the Chelsea captain making minimal contact with the ball.

I think that vast majority of us would have expected to see Arsene Wenger make changes during the break, most likely at left back where Andre Santos had looked nothing like a Brazilian international footballer and more like an overweight hod carrier from Gateshead who had been granted on last ‘Fix It’ by Sir Jim before he passed away. So it was something of a surprise when the same red & white clad eleven made their way on to the pitch for the second half.

But what a stroke of tactical genius not making any changes proved to be by the gaffer. Perhaps the Frenchman gave yet another rousing speech in the dressing room? Whatever went on in there during the break certainly produced a very different Arsenal side.

From the restart Arsenal looked more threatening and it took just three minutes for the Gunners to get back on level terms for a second time. Johan Djourou won the ball from Torres on the touchline and laid it of to Alex Song, the Cameroonian played a terrific ball across she park and into the path of Santos who collected the ball whilst continuing his run towards goal and steered his low left foot shot past Cech.

Just moments after Chelsea had restarted the game a little good fortune fell our way when referee Andre Marriner gave Wojciech Szczesny a yellow card when he quite easily could have dismissed the ‘keeper. Mikel played a long ball over the top, with it landing somewhere between the on rushing Ashley Cole and the out coming Szczesny. The Pole, now outside his box, clattered into Cole who went down in a heap.

The game and the Arsenal had really come to life. With just ten minutes of the half gone Theo Walcott put us in front for the first time in the game with a goal that was equally comical as it was brilliant.

Theo won a free kick just inside the Chelsea half after Cole had crashed into him, I didn’t see who took it because the cameras were busy showing Ashley’s usual barracking of officials which seemingly goes unpunished time and again. Anyway I assume it was played short between Theo & Robin because when the picture returned to the action both men were storming down the line, Robin almost shielding Walcott and the ball, as the pair cut inside Theo seemed to slip over and with the Chelsea players stoping Nd complaining about a free kick that was never given he got up just as quickly as he had gone down, skipped past a couple of defenders and struck a wonderful shot from a tight angle which beat Cech and put the Gunners 2-3 up and in the driving seat.

As the game sated to approach the 80th minute both managers made substitutions, in Arsenals case first Carl Jenkinson replaced Djourou and a few minutes later Tomas Rosicky came on in place of Theo Walcott. These substitutions were seemingly made to tighten things up a little and help us hold onto our lead. Of course what happened instead is the blues pulled a goal back to make it three a piece.

It was unsurprising when John Terry got his name on the score sheet in the wake of the racism allegations that have dogged him this week and it was even less surprising when Juan Mata scored because if anyone was going to score against us it was going to be the guy we almost signed in the summer.

Take nothing away from the Spaniards finish, it was fantastic, but the fact that Marriner had missed an obvious fail on Santos in the build up still irks me this morning. Szczesny rolled the ball out to Santos who played a short pass into the path of Raul Meireles, as the Brazilian attempted to move in and intercept the former Liverpool player he was intentionally blocked by Romelu Lukaku. Meanwhile Meireles passed to Mata who struck a sweet left foot shot to make it 3-3.

While Chelsea celebrated the Arsenal players complained, however justice was to come.

With just six minutes remaining Arsenal so often caught out by playing a high defensive line punished Chelsea for doing just that. On the half way line Terry played a short pass to Mikel, who passed to Ramires. The Brazilian played it back to Terry who had no one around him and was under no pressure. The Chelsea skipper turning as the ball passed him slipped to the ground and an on rushing Robin Van Persie was quick to collect it. The Dutchman showed tremendous composure to take the ball around Peter Cech as the Czech dived at his feet as he entered the penalty box and to cooly slot home and make it four goals to three in the Gunners favour.

Whilst Terry falling over and Robin nipping past him was great to see, my favourite shoot was from behind the goal where you see the Chelsea and England skipper get back to his feet and make a futile attempt at giving chase before quickly realising there is no point and giving up just as Robin rounded Cech.

It was incredible but given our defensive vulnerability late on in games the remaining five minutes us stoppages before the final whistle see,ed a life time away.

Wenger replaced Gervinho with Thomas Vermaelen with just a few minutes left in an attempt to make sure we held our lead, he needn’t have worried as Robin made sure we extended it and went home with all three points.

In the second minute of added time Arsenal once more attached the Chelsea goal, at one point it was four against two in the Gunners favour, and passed to Van Persie and the skipper clinched his second hat-trick of the season.

While Robin will take all the plaudits this morning there were some other big performances out there yesterday. Theo Walcott was a constant threat, everything he tried came off and if he could produce that level of performance week in week out he would be up there with the very best. Laurent Koscielny was fantastic at the back once again, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. I really can’t see the Frenchman being the player to miss out if and when Vermaelen comes back into the starting XI at centre half. I thought Gervinho, Song and Arteta all had great games and Thomas Rosicky was superb in the fifteen minutes he was on the pitch but Aaron Ramsey was just a cut above everyone else on that pitch yesterday.

The Welshman is now an integral part of this Arsenal side and it was fitting that during the post match interview with Sky when Rambo was asked to present RVP with the man of the match champagne the skipper passed it straight back and told the youngster “You deserve this”.

It’s another great stride in the right direction for the Gunners. Yes we certainly had our moments yesterday and another three goals conceded and the defensive misgivings of Mertz, Santos & Djourou at points can not go unaddressed but the way the team came back from trailing the game twice, came back to win when pegged back to 3-3 with just ten minutes to go and the fact that we’ve managed to score FIVE goals away from home at a ground where goals are hard to come by for any visiting side far outweigh any negative aspect this morning.

The celebration of the players, along with our fantastic away supporters, shows you just how much it all meant to them. That kind of celebration and camaraderie would not have gone a miss had the allied side of POW’s managed to beat their German opponents in Escape to Victory. And as our heroes yesterday displayed just what it meant to them after the final whistle in my head I could hear those Parisian chants once again…

Victoire, Victoire, Victoire, Victoire….

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