Ramsey - outstanding yesterday
I wouldn't say I enjoyed the game yesterday, as such. But as I always say, as long as Arsenal win then I've had my entertainment. Despite not playing very well I would say it was a deserved win, not least because of the cynical way Norwich went about their business on the day. We struggled up to the point that we introduced two class players from the bench. You can't underestimate the impact of Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Their combination in the build-up to the second goal was simply the sort of football that Gervinho couldn't possibly play, as evidenced by his heavy touch when going past the goalkeeper before half-time. For me they must both start on Tuesday against Everton, in place of Gervinho and Jack Wilshere (who was as bad yesterday as I've ever seen him - clearly he wasn't fit and ready to be on the pitch).
The first-half yesterday was pretty turgid stuff after we'd failed to take advantage of early pressure. Arsenal very quickly ran out of ideas and Wilshere was a passenger in the middle of the pitch. That left Giroud isolated and Cazorla familiarly invisible at times. To say Aaron Ramsey was running the midfield on his own would not be an understatement. I thought Rambo was brilliant yesterday and he never stopped running. He made one incredible tackle on the halfway line where he slid in Vieira-like to win possession back. For me it was his best performance since he got the winner against Manchester United nearly two years ago. For the first time since his broken leg I would say Ramsey is currently in the starting line-up on merit. I have criticised him heavily on this website this season (and last season for that matter) but I have to hand out praise where it's thoroughly merited. It would give me great pleasure to be proved wrong and for Ramsey to go on and become the player we hoped for before Shawcross assaulted him. Arsene Wenger has shown a lot of faith in him, despite the reaction of the crowd at times. Maybe he is still right occasionally.
After half-time it was a lot of more of the same really. We passed the ball back and forward in front of the Norwich defence without ever threatening. It was no surprise when they scored from a set-piece. The officials completely missed the fact that it was a dive from Kamara to win the free-kick in the first place. I'll talk about the media reaction to the officials and their decisions below. When the ball was delivered we saw Turner (who TV showed should have been red carded before half-time for an elbow on Ramsey) move towards it while Koscielny and Sagna moved in the opposite direction. The end result was the proverbial free-header in to the corner. If you ever needed an example of the utter waste of time that is zonal marking then this was it. Steve Bould was famed for the way he attacked the ball in the air. Quite how he can allow his defence to concede so many goals in this way, regardless of any influence from the Manager, is beyond my comprehension.
The Norwich goal was the catalyst for Arsene Wenger to make a couple of good changes. Gervinho and Wilshere went off, and Podolski and Walcott came on. We had one or two opportunities to get in behind that we didn't take advantage of, and Podolski saw an exocet of a shot come back off the bar, via the fingertips of Bunn in the Norwich goal. You began to think it might be one of those days, but then The Ox was also introduced (incidentally, bringing him on and switching Ramsey to right-back was a silly change, but we got away with it as Ramsey forced the corner from which we got the penalty). Oxlade-Chamberlain immediately ran at defenders and tried to make something happen. It put Norwich a couple of yards closer to their goalkeeper when we got the ball and that brought it's own pressure.
When we got the breakthrough it was, apparently, controversial. From my seat in the East Upper it was the most obvious penalty you're ever going to see. That it took the linesman (the only decision he got right all day, by the way) to give it instead of the referee says a lot about Mr Jones and his ability at this level of the game. Throughout the match Kamara had shoved Kieran Gibbs in the back in every aerial challenge and never had a foul given against him. Robert Snodgrass kicked and kicked all day, without censure until injury-time. Bunn produced a Tim Krul kind of display of time wasting which also included some manhandling of the ball boy behind the goal, but again was unpunished by Mr Jones. That he didn't give the penalty himself merely summed up his performance (both of the officials had earlier failed to award a spot-kick after Whittaker fouled the flying Theo Walcott). Arteta just about got the penalty in the net, and we were going for broke from then on.
The second goal, as described above, came from a touch of quality between Chamberlain and Podolski, while the third saw the linesman miss Walcott being offside before Poldi produced a trademark finish. In between those goals Lukasz Fabianski got his defence off the hook with an outstanding save with his right foot. It my be as important come the middle of May as any goal or save we've seen all season.
The media reaction to our win has been predictably negative. There has been nothing about the outstanding nature of the comeback to score three goals in the last six minutes. There has been no condemnation of the niggly play and time-wasting tactics of Norwich. There has been no criticism of Kamara's dive that led to the opening goal. Turner looks like he's going to get away with the elbow on Ramsey. Instead there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that the linesman gave the penalty, despite being further away than the well placed referee. Surely the fact that the correct decision was made is more important than the proximity of the official who gave it? Not so for Tony Gale on Sky or Alan Hansen on the BBC. In fact they both made a case as to why it shouldn't have been a penalty. According to these two cretins it wasn't a penalty because shirt-pulling "happens all the time" in a game. Oh, so that's alright then. It got me thinking back to the last World Cup when the likes of Hansen and the assorted British media moaned and moaned about the way shirt pulling was ruining football. Indeed, it had to be stamped out. If a referee actually gave a foul or two for it then it would stop, we were consistently told. Fast forward to April 13th 2013 and you get this sort of reaction:
"Arsenal got a penalty, you say? For shirt pulling? Since when has that been penalised? If we're giving penalties for that then we might as well give up on the game."
The double standards displayed are extraordinary. Hansen appears to still be bearing a grudge for Michael Thomas' last minute winner 24 years ago. I don't begin to understand what Tony Gale's problem is but he is getting more and more anti-Arsenal with every TV appearance he makes. Hansen and Lineker even accused Martin Keown of bias towards Arsenal on Match Of The Day last night, shortly followed by Hansen putting 3 Liverpool players in his team of the day (they drew 0-0 with bottom of the league Reading yesterday). Sky's Goals On Sunday programme this morning, presented by that World Class talent Chris Kamara, tried to say that all of our goals should have been disallowed!
All of this rabid anti-Arsenal sentiment is a sure sign that we are winning football matches. The cretinous media personalities can't stand it when we are doing well. George Graham used to use that hatred of us to fire up the players. Wenger and Bould should do the same. They want us to fail. They want us to come up short. It's vital that the players make sure it doesn't happen.
The win yesterday, and the way it came about, put me in mind of a game at QPR in November 1990. We'd struggled to break them down, conceded a goal and everything seemed to be going away from us. The players showed a terrific will to win that day, as yesterday, and came back to win 3-1. For Oxlade-Chamberlain you could read Kevin Campbell's impact on that game in 1990. It was certainly very similar.
There is no doubt we'll have to produce a much improved display against Everton on Tuesday, but the spirit and character on show yesterday will also be crucial over the next month. If we could win our next two games it would be absolutely massive before a difficult finish against four teams who all have something to play for.