Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle
I must confess that with the late flashing wide of a shot by van Persie, the shinning of a presentable chance by Rosicky (it fizzed off to the corner flag), the air swipe by Gervinho about a yard out and Vermaelen’s header scooped away from under the bar, I thought the evening’s three points had gone begging. ‘You can’t bat away that many chances and expect any sympathy’ I mumbled, or words to that effect, and duly penned a frustrated tweet along those lines.
Fortunately for me I didn’t press send, because as it was sitting there in my Twitter holding pen, three minutes into the added time kindly earned for us by Tim Krul’s majestic fannying about ([he] “could not have taken a more languid approach to goal-kicks had he dressed as Noel Coward”, said Henry Winter in the Telegraph), the ball broke out of our penalty area, it arrived after a bit at Song, who curved it wide to Walcott, who curved it back into to the box like an exocet. It caused pandemonium and fell for Vermaelen to sweep it in gloriously and deliciously.
How did Vermaelen get there? Well like the rest of this side, he just didn’t give up, lung-busting up the field as the chance unfolded. His persistence paid off.
Honestly, we deserved that. Newcastle defended doggedly and had one or two adventurous moments of their own – they were never going to play a Tottingham-esque kamikaze high line – but for our second half possession alone, and our 23 attempts to their four, we merited more than a draw. Quite how we didn’t score more than one goal until injury time can now become one of those pleasant pub chats of no great consequence, but it damn-near cost us.
Walcott, incidentally, had a tremendous game. Most of the danger came from the right, with he and Sagna dovetailing nicely and taking it in turns to curl crosses in. Makes a change from trying to squeeze down the congested middle, doesn’t it? Walcott’s pin-point crosses created both our goals, and there should have been more; there was an early one to the toe of van Persie that the Dutchman was an agonising inch away from.
So too Rosicky, whose transformation – and I am fiddling with my worry beads as I write – is pretty remarkable. You can argue all you like whether three or four good games a new contract makes, but if you take it at face value, he’s one of our best players at the moment. Tigerish in the tackle, dogged in possession and dangerous with the final ball: Yes, this really is the Rosicknote of old.
Overall though, it was a tireless performance from Arsenal and the spirit many of us so questioned in January and earlier in the season is very much in evidence now. The players are up on their haunches, they’re fighting for lost causes, they’re working as hard off the ball as they are on it. With full-backs and a fuller squad, we look better balanced. Best of all, they’re a joy to watch again. Five league wins on the nose, four of which we’ve had to come from behind – apparently a Premier League record – is testament to that. We’re now very much in the hunt for third.
Long may it last.