Newcastle 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenalâ€™s record after European games has not been too bad this season – DDWLWDWWW – but you never know how a team will cope both physically and psychologically after being dumped out of the competition, especially when coming so close to confounding the statistics.
The Champions League holds a big sway on the psyche of the players, bigger than anything else, so I always suspected yesterday would be harder than we thought. Turns out the players were weary of both body and mind, because those two halves were chalk and cheese.
Thank heavens for Olivier Giroud, who motored to seventeen goals with his two yesterday, drawing only two behind Alexis. Heâ€™s going to overtake him, isnâ€™t he? Giroudâ€™s carburettorâ€™s, erm, clean (?) while Alexisâ€™s tappets are – ahem – tapping.
There was me thinking the motoring metaphor was worth persevering with. Transpires it wasnâ€™t.
But those two goals were so valuable, with Welbeck forgetting his shooting boots (he had several good chances and for all his good work must learn to take them better) and Alexis in his current goal funk. We werenâ€™t to know it at the time, but Giroudâ€™s knee and head were the cushions for us to cling onto the three points as we ran totally out of juice in the second half.
Iâ€™m sure the lack of Ozil played a part, but overall I think we were just dead beat. So on that basis, those were three of the finest points you will lay your eyes on.
Weâ€™re lucky that our squad options are decent at the moment, and Wenger made the right call by resting some players (in this case, Mertesacker and Bellerin). Had Ozil been fit, Cazorla might have had a rest too. Rosicky, maybe, should have started that would have meant both Ozil and Cazorla out the side.
Walcottâ€™s omission could have been circumstantial. Heâ€™s morphed into more of a home player as Wenger leans toward harder-working players on the road. In fact, the only two games Walcottâ€™s started this season have been at home (Villa and Leicester). Yesterday, Alexis and Cazorla were out on their feet and we were on the back foot. Walcott didnâ€™t seem the right option to bring on when we needed players who could defend.
Iâ€™m not saying there are not other machinations behind the scenes. Itâ€™s pretty obvious, with his contract, that there are. But the problem in its essence is that when he does come on heâ€™s just not doing enough. Personally, I maintain that his injury – one of the worst you can get in football – is still a factor. Not physically, but mentally. (Falcao had a similar injury – and look at him).
I think heâ€™s still finding his way back in his own mind, but on top of that, the team has moved on without him. Heâ€™s a great option for us, but it does feel like he might be off in the summer, and I think thatâ€™s a shame. He might not be as integral as he used to be but every squad has to have different kinds of players, and our squad is better for having him in it. Not every player can be the same, or work in the same way. The trouble for Theo is less that heâ€™s not tracking back or slogging his guts out trying to win the ball back – heâ€™s never done that – and more that the things he excels at such as pace, running at defences, clinical finishing are not working either. When his strengths are not in evidence, his weaknesses are exaggerated.
For Theo, itâ€™s one of those occasions when an international break has come at a good time. He really needs to play and I hope heâ€™s selected for England.
Nine games to go, and Iâ€™m still cautious. While we are only a point of second, we are not that far off fifth either and itâ€™s very much still a case of â€˜hold onto your hatâ€™.
All the more reason to raise a glass to yesterdayâ€™s three succulent, moorish, tasty points.