View From The North Bank: Arsenal 2 Newcastle 1
We’re making a habit of these dramatic victories and to be honest, I’m enjoying it. A nice comfortable 2-0 home win might be a relief but why do that when you can squeeze every last drop of theatre from the occasion? We’ve been treated to some exhilarating Football lately but more importantly we’re also building a spirit that should be an essential part of the club’s future.
If you’ll allow me a cliché I think it’s accurate to say that last night was all about the desire and belief we’ve developed recently. The most striking thing for me was that the fans seemed to be equally as involved as the players. The Emirates feels like it’s finally found its voice.
It’s debateable whether the fans are responsible for lifting the players or vice versa. Ultimately, it should be a reciprocal thing. Some of the team’s performances have been well below par this season whilst some of the support from the terraces hasn’t been worthy of the name. In the last few weeks we’ve seen players roll up their sleeves and fans roar them on for 90 minutes. The momentum we’ve built up is something for everyone involved with the club to share in and be proud of.
In keeping with recent trends we allowed our opponents to take the lead. To be fair to Newcastle, in the opening exchanges they looked relatively ambitious. Ba was predictably dangerous whilst Obertan, Gutierez and Ben-Arfa all offered able support. The latter did well for his goal although there’s always a question mark over a goalkeeper when they are beaten at the near post. It wasn’t an error as such but Szczesny will look back and want to do better next time.
Even as the opening goal struck the back of the net my instinct was that we could recover. The crowd rose and whipped the atmosphere back up. At the restart I thought we could still win, we’d just made it a bit more difficult. Within a minute we were back level. I can’t remember an awful lot about the build up although it must have been pretty direct. Van Persie’s execution for the goal was typically elegant. He wriggled clear of his marker with a couple of deft touches and dragged the ball back inside the near post. The fact that we expect him to score even in difficult situations is testimony to his incredible talent. When he equalised last night it was hard to disagree with the crowd’s assertion that he scores when he wants.
The rest of the first half was still relatively bright. Arteta kept the ball ticking over, Rosicky buzzed around and Walcott looked dangerous. It’s perhaps not pretty to watch but you have to give credit to Newcastle for their organisation in seeing out the first half. They didn’t give us many spaces to exploit.
We started the second half with a renewed vigour. Perch was on for Santon in the Newcastle defence. Whether this was because Santon had been exposed by Walcott I’m not sure but the change didn’t halt the in-form winger. Walcott was first class last night. The majority of his crosses were put into dangerous positions – Van Persie should have converted the first of the night early on – whilst his decision making was better than he’s usually credited with. The highlight of his second half for me was when he burst into the box and checked back to shake off Coloccini. He created space in a congested area and picked out Rosicky who couldn’t add the finishing touch. I personally can’t remember a better performance from Walcott in an Arsenal shirt.
Despite Newcastle playing for a draw we never dropped the tempo. Tim Krul’s time wasting was an annoyance but every time the ball was back in play we seemed to win it and then attack at pace. As has been the case in the last few weeks much of this was down to Tomas Rosicky. He is playing with a commitment that has spread throughout the side. He chased relentlessly to make tackles and force errors but has also rediscovered the driving runs and incisive passing that endeared him to us in his first season. His contract extension is well deserved and a real boost for the player and club.
As the clock ticked down the chances continued to rack up. Gervinho should have done better after a poor corner skidded across the box and caught the Ivorian on his heels. Van Persie stabbed tamely at the keeper and Vermaelen had a couple of headers denied. As the five minutes of injury time were flashed up by the fourth official there was a still a belief in the team and the supporters. Even when Newcastle won a corner and a couple of throws, looking to eek out a draw, we still encouraged the players on. It wasn’t entirely unexpected when they responded.
Like the first goal recollection of the build up escapes me, I just remember seeing Vermaelen burst into the box and throw himself in to put the ball beyond Krul. I checked for an offside flag and found nothing. Absolute delirium on the North Bank. I can honestly say that the reaction to our last three home performances, assisted by the win at Anfield, have been the best I can remember at the Emirates.
As I mentioned earlier on, the atmosphere in the ground has been improved by a better relationship between fans and players. There were a fair few moans from disgruntled fans just a few weeks ago. I have always argued that you should give unequivocal support during the 90 minutes but I appreciate that it’s easier to give that when the players are busting a gut. The commitment of Koscielny, Song, Vermaelen and Rosicky has stood out whilst so many others give the impression they really love the club. Szczesny celebrates every goal like a fan whilst Van Persie’s reaction to the winner was particularly sweet.
Some people will argue that we don’t want to see players taunting each other. Well, they might not want to see it but I certainly do. As a lifelong fan of the club I want to see players who care about the win as much as I do. Krul’s time wasting had been a joke all night – assisted by the apparently complicit celebrity referee Howard Webb – so who can blame our captain for rubbing his compatriots nose in it when he eventually came unstuck? Bollocks to what the media or other clubs want to see, I want to see my players showing pride for my club.
There might be some justification in arguing that our good form has only put us where we ought to be anyway. I would agree that we should be a top four team at the very least and should aspire to more however, in the context of what’s happened this season to be a single point behind Sp*rs with 10 games left is a fantastic achievement in itself. We are told that them up the road were credible title contenders less than six weeks ago. We had to put up with many commentators suggesting that they were the most exciting team in the league. I think that view might’ve changed in the last few weeks.
Again, we have the luxury of a week off to help heal scars and ready ourselves for battle next week. The Everton game will be tough but for now let’s concentrate on enjoying last night and celebrating the revival that so many thought wasn’t possible.
Keep The Faith.