Cut out the Gareth Bale stuff
I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday. The effort was there in every single player. Arsenal deserved the win yesterday. There were enough chances created and missed to mean that the fact we only scored from penalties was almost irrelevant. Everything that was bad about last week against Swansea was not there against West Brom. It was a very decent, hard-working performance from the boys. I was going to write "honest" in there as well but that would not be true given how the first penalty came about.
I have to say that I can't abide diving. There can be no doubt that Santi Cazorla did just that for the first penalty yesterday. Yes, Steven Reid was swiping at him in the penalty area and, from my vantage point over 100 yards away, it looked a penalty. The referee was a lot closer and he was conned by Cazorla who not only threw himself down but also pretended his ankle was hurt for a few seconds. As an Arsenal supporter I can not dig out the serial divers like Gerrard, Rooney, Suarez, Drogba and Bale and then condone what happened with Cazorla. I haven't had a chance to read too much about it today as I've been at work (which was rather busy) but I suspect not too many Gooners are having much of a pop at our Spanish international. These will be the same people of course who used to complain about Emmanuel Eboue being a diver and that being one of the main reasons for disliking him. It's amazing how when it's a crowd favourite it becomes "acceptable". I was pleased to hear Arsene Wenger saying he would speak to Cazorla once he has seen it. I hope he does. The problem it has given Arsenal, and Santi in particular, is that Sky and Match Of The Day are highlighting it. Of course this suits their anti-Arsenal agenda - you never see them showing endless replays of Bale diving, for example. The last time an Arsenal player was caught out like this it was Eduardo. Before him Robert Pires. I don't ever remember that pair diving again, but they were forever labelled and decisions often did not come their way as a result. Luis Suarez has started to suffer in a similar way (though he also still does a lot of diving and play-acting). Arsenal got the benefit of Cazorla's dishonesty yesterday, but in the longer term it's something that could come back to haunt us. I can just see the League Cup Final in February and us not getting the last minute spot-kick that would win us the trophy only to be denied by a referee with a doubt in his mind. Anyone defending Cazorla should think on.
Aside from that penalty Arsenal were pretty good yesterday. It wasn't a vintage display, of course, but given recent results it was never likely to be. There was some decent football but what I really liked was the determination. Cazorla was closing down high up the pitch, and he was being followed in by Giroud and Wilshere and Arteta and Gervinho and the much improved Oxlade-Chamberlain. From the off The Ox was making some superb runs and roasting his full-back. I've been critical of him all season but he was excellent yesterday.
Throughout the game West Brom's Olsson was getting away with kicking and pulling Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman didn't back down which was very encouraging, but most impressive of all was the way Jack Wilshere went flying in there to back up Giroud. Jack is tiny, but he wasn't having a big centre-half getting away with it like that. I wouldn't want to argue with Jack Wilshere. Yesterday he was heading back to his best form. There was one moment in the first-half where he took off midway inside his own half, beat two opponents, and then strode down the pitch at pace. It was just the sort of run that Patrick Vieira used to make, and the sort that Abou Diaby was giving us at the start of the season. Welcome back Jack, we've missed you (I just wish he would take a shot occasionally - in the second-half both he and Lukas Podolski missed open goals by insisting on taking a touch before shooting).
There are two other players I want to really single out for praise from yesterday - Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker. Arteta has had a difficult few weeks. He has been struggling to hit the heights he reached early in the season, but he was certainly back at his best yesterday. When he might have been dropping off a bit physically towards the end the Manager made a fine substitution (make a note of it) by bringing on the outstanding Francis Coquelin to do the running and tackling. Mertesacker, meanwhile, gave a lesson in how to read the game. He was seemingly always in the right place to cut out the through-ball. Towards the end, when Lukaku went through the middle, he started to win every aerial duel simply because he jumped, thus using his considerable height to maximum effect.
The second penalty was also down to the general incompetence of referee Michael Jones. This guy is out of the Stuart Attwell school of refereeing. Shortly before the penalty he gave a free-kick against Mertesacker after a Bobby Moore-esque tackle. It was as clean a challenge as you will ever see. I don't believe that anyone in the stadium, apart from Mr Jones, thought it was a foul. Mertesacker dropped to his knees in disbelief. With that in mind I fail to understand how the referee then didn't give a foul against The Ox in the lead up to the second spot-kick. Having mis-controlled a simple ball Chamberlain virtually rugby tackled his man in trying to win it back. He even stopped for a split-second expecting the whistle. There is no doubt that he was then taken out for a certain penalty afterwards, but it simply shouldn't have got that far. If it had been the other way around, which it certainly could have been on another day with this referee, we would have been screaming blue murder.
One final thing to mention is the idiots sitting behind me yesterday. In the first-half one of these clowns was shouting at "number 27" and "number 12" as he obviously didn't know the names of Gervinho and Giroud. When he came back after half-time he asked the old woman with him if there had been any changes. She told him that we had brought on Alex Chamberlain, but she didn't know who had gone off! The Ox, of course, had been on the pitch throughout, but neither of these fools had noticed! The idiot behind eventually topped it off by screaming at Giroud to "get onside" at one point in the second-half while a West Brom player was stood near the goal-line playing him on. I really don't understand why these tourist f***wits turn up to football. Maybe they do it just to annoy me.
I'll be trying to get something done first thing tomorrow, before work, giving some exclusive news about next season. The information is direct from Ivan Gazidis and I want to get it on here before Arsenal announce any of it themselves on their website. Look out for it - it's good news for a change, though there is also some typical Gazidis spin on the business of the Club. If I can't get it on here in the morning it will have to wait until this time tomorrow.