Pete Sixsmith has had a chance to review the two Arsenal goals and no longer attaches blame to Simon Mignolet. M Salut cannot forget his disbelief as that cross sailed across the keeper’s lines, without any attempt to move let alone catch or punch, but has not seen replays so accepts Pete’s judgement. Sorry, Simon …
It is difficult to complain about a last minute winner when, as Blackburn, QPR and Abu Dhabi Wanderers will testify, we have benefited from them ourselves. So, let’s accept that these things happen and that Arsenal scored a good goal from an iconic figure to inflict the first home defeat of MON’s reign.
A draw would have been a fair result in what was an engrossing game which highlighted the tactical nous and understanding of both managers. One, all fluent skills and players moving around, the other a pragmatist who makes players believe that they are 25 per cent better than they actually are.
Martin O’Neill set our team to absorb pressure in midfield, allow Arsenal possession and then, make sure that the slick passing Gunners had nowhere to put the ball when they approached the danger areas.
It worked (almost). How many chances did Arsenal create? There was plenty of possession but not a great deal of bite. The reason for that was the phenomenal work rate of Gardner, Colback, Larsson, McClean and Campbell, who chased and harried and made sure that when Rosicky and Song pushed forward, there was nowhere for them to go.
Throw some accomplished defending from Turner and O’Shea into the mix and we never looked as if we were going to lose this game. That we did, was partly due to tiredness, partly due to a very shrewd tactical switch from Wenger and partly due to failing to attack the ball at the death.
The first half was like a chess game, with both sides testing each other, moving pawns about but failing to commit their more portable and fluid pieces. There was a reasonable shout for a penalty in the first half when the terminally clumsy Mertesacker stumbled, stuck his hand out and the ball hit it. Neil Swarbrick looked, thought and waved play on.
We have all seen them given and the thought was that had it been Turner at the other end, the Leicestershire Whistler would have probably fiddled a penalty out of it. By not giving it, he deprived us of our annual view of The Arsene Tantrum – always worth turning out for.
In fact Szczesny (this Arsenal team is exhausting my spell check!!) had more saves to make than Mignolet. He made one very good one and one ordinary good one from Craig Gardner and watched as O’Shea blasted a good opportunity in the general direction of the Aquatic Centre.
The 4-1-4-1 formation works as long as you have pace in the team. With Campbell and McClean wide we have it and it brought reward when Mertesacker stumbled again and McClean did exactly the right thing by putting the ball out of play, by stroking it past Szczesny.
However, the cunning Wenger got his substitutions right by sending on Ramsey, who levelled straight away and Arshavin, who took advantage of the gaps we left down the right to send over the cross that Henry scored from.
Ramsey was a little fortunate with his goal what with it hitting both posts and trickling over the line, but the winner was down to Wenger realising that the withdrawal of Campbell left a gap down that side. Arshavin put two good crosses in before the killer one that gave the points to Arsenal.
Both full backs had been tremendous, marking the much vaunted Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott out of the game while McClean and Campbell did an equally impressive job in supporting them. But, as the toll of two hours in Middlesbrough began to tell, Arsenal began to push us and squeeze us.
The winning goal was a very good one. Arshavin’s cross was a gem, hanging between Mignolet and O’Shea and dropping into exactly the place that Henry wanted it. I was critical of our keeper straight after the game and, like Messrs Suarez and Dalglish, I apologise for getting it wrong. The difference between yours truly and those representatives of Liverpool FC is that I mean it.
However, the young Belgian does struggle at times, particularly with his kicking, which was reminiscent of mine up at Thompson’s Field 30+ years ago. Too many went straight into touch or straight to Metersacker or Koscielny, meaning that we had to work extra hard to get the ball back or to close down the midfield. He needs to work on this and I suspect Westwood may well get a run out on Saturday.
As I munched away on my Lamb Malayan in Darlington’s Garden Of India in the excellent company of M and Mme Salut and Mr and Mrs Horan, I considered that we are a side that is quite capable of beating those around us but just find it a tad difficult to go that extra mile against the top clubs. MON has lost three games, all against top 5 clubs and all by a single goal. With the squad of players that we have, that is an excellent achievement and one that we can build on, starting on Saturday .
And then we can start to think about getting ready to take on the Mags!!