By Steve Kessel
I woke up this morning with a big smile on my face. Too often in recent years that has not been the case following away games against the big teams. I’m not going to get into the stats of how toothless we have typically been at Old Trafford, we had those rammed down our throats continuously leading up to the game. Let’s talk about how great that victory was yesterday and how sweet this success tastes. I will admit I was excited and nervous in equal measures. As the game progressed the excitement grew and the nervousness subsided as I realised, we really had this game under control.
When the team news broke as was a little unsure. No Giroud and Danny through the middle. The boss had a plan, but it didn’t fill me with confidence. From what I can gather, Wenger made that decision at the last minute. It ultimately proved to be a good one, and I think that Wenger deserves much praise for his approach and general game management, but more on that later.
Welbeck didn’t have the best of first half’s. This more related to his attacking rather than his all round play, as he was putting in a huge effort and winning balls back all over the pitch. He just seemed a little overzealous, as if the occasion was getting to him a little and this was really affecting his first touch. He did have a half decent effort with a header but just didn’t get enough power on the shot. It would have been easy for the boss to make a change at the half and switch him for Giroud, but the boss’s confidence in the boy paid off with what turned out to be the winning goal. Yes we did get a big helping hand from Man U yesterday and our second goal was the epitome of that. However, when Valencia made that terrible back pass, Danny still had a lot to do. De Gea is no slouch and was out quickly to meet the ball, but Danny was on his toes and stayed collected to knock it past the keeper and then confidently into the net with two defenders bearing down on him. His reaction was one of the truest I have ever seen in football, clearly conflicted, but the emotion was just too great and came spilling out. Fantastic. I am not sure that Giroud would have got to that ball first, Danny’s extra yard of pace gave him the finest of advantages over De Gea to win the ball.
The game started interestingly, Sanchez had an early chance and you could see by our shape we were definitely going to have a go. Then Bellerin got a deserved yellow three minutes in and I started to feel that would return to haunt us later in the game. Also within minutes, Fellaini tried to unsettle Coquelin by giving him a whack in his recently broken nose. Fellaini has to be one of, if not the, dirtiest players in the league and he needs to be more exposed for this by the media. In the last game he shoved Gibbs into the keeper, which resulted in a goal and this latest offence just adds to a continuing list of dirty tactics, which in my opinion is the most noticeable aspect of the big Belgium’s game. Thankfully Coquelin was completely unfazed and on the balance of play over the game, seemed to completely have Fellaini’s number. Aside from the ongoing personal battle between the two, Coquelin was spectacular throughout the game, finding the perfect balance to give a thoroughly energetic, yet smart and calculated performance. He was my personal MOTM (though all the Arsenal players covered themselves in glory). The Prem should have an award for most improved player, and I think the lad would get the shout.
Sanchez, Ozil and Cazorla formed an exceptional bond moving the ball through midfield. The combination between the three was a pleasure to watch. Sanchez posed a constant threat and I think their backline was rightfully terrified of him. The Ox was again on fire and provided an incredible assist for the first goal. Wenger implied he only left the field due to cramp, let’s hope that is true as he is in very good form of late.
After a few games out watching Gibbs play well from the side lines, Nacho came straight back into the team and step things up yet another level. A great performance and such a composed goal, you would have got good odds on Nacho breaking the deadlock. It is great to have decent competition for positions all over the field, and seems like a long time since we could say that with a straight face. It was difficult to judge Szczesny’s performance. He wasn’t really at fault for the goal, but when he tried that bit of skill early on, I did find myself shouting at the TV. I don’t think he has won back his place, but again good to have some competition between the sticks.
Later in the game I was getting nervous that Bellerin was going to get sent off for a second yellow, as Young was giving him a hard time on the left wing. In the Swansea game I lamented Wenger for not switching out Chambers who was constantly getting skinned, eventually leading to a goal. This time the boss was proactive and made a switch at right back. Not only did this neutralise the threat of a second yellow, by this point Man U had resorted to their now infamous long ball game, and Chambers is and was much better equipped to deal with the aerial threat. I think that all Wenger’s subs were timely and sensible, allowing us to keep control of the game. Again I applaud his game management on this one.
Let’s take a moment to applaud the referee. Not something I have said too often this season. I will never forget his shocking, no criminal performance in the opening game of the season against Villa two years ago, so when I saw that John Oliver was officiating the match I was less than comfortable. I couldn’t have been more wrong. This was probably the bravest performance I have ever seen from a ref at Old Trafford. Not only this, but he got the vast majority of the decisions absolutely spot on. The diving on display by Man U was shocking, and he sniffed it out right away and with full conviction. I was confused as to why Di Maria was walking until I saw the replay. Definitely a personal favourite highlight of the game seeing Oliver make an expression like Di Maria had just shit on his pillow after feeling him pull his shirt in decent. I even think he got the Welbeck penalty claim right. I don’t think Danny dived, there just wasn’t enough in it to justify a pen. Kudos to John Oliver for completely changing my opinion of him.
Interestingly, going down to 10 men actually seemed to improve Man U, and for a while there at the end, the nerves started to creep back in. These subsided when in injury time Sanchez nearly sealed it following a swift passage of play through the midfield. And then… the beautiful sound of that final whistle. The 15 or so of us watching the game erupted, but we could still hear those spectacular 9,000 travelling Gooners. They were great throughout and I would have given anything to be on one of those two trains the club chartered back to London, would have been one hell of a party!!!
I think that this defeat will negatively impact Man U in the league too. Despite their good run of late, in recent weeks they seem to be coming a little unhinged. Between the spitting, the diving and Fellaini’s dirty tactics, Man U need to be careful about how their brand is being represented of late. Let’s hope I am right, that this defeat triggers a slide down the league and they grab and hold onto the Spuds on the way by.
The results of the draw being displayed on the TV got nearly as big a raw from our group as the final whistle. You have to think we will make it to the final now. As the boss always emphasises, one game at a time! However, on the Wembley pitch Arsenal should have too much for either of those teams. I would expect to meet Liverpool in the final, which would make for a great game. This is not certain though, I do think Liverpool will struggle at Ewood Park, as their pitch is far from perfect. Also, their replay falls just after games against Man U and us, hopefully they will be tired and slip up.
One thing’s for sure, we are going back to Wembley. Let’s make it two in a row, get the record of 12 (the most for any club) and 6 (the most for any manager).
Up the Arsenal!!!