Some finish that was
It seems hard to believe that most of the same players have been involved in Arsenal's last three matches. Defensive frailty remains utterly prevalent and a decent side will probably be too good for us, but the intensity of Arsenal's play in Istanbul and yesterday was in incredibly marked contrast to the game at Stoke. Maybe the close-quarters abuse directed at Wenger and the players at Stoke station last Saturday has had the effect of shocking a few people in to playing properly.
I would have liked to write after the excellent win in Turkey but I had a long week at work and simply didn't have the time to get down to writing. Let's be clear that very few people fancied Arsenal to get a result in Istanbul from the time the draw was made. Given the way we often play away in Europe, and the fact that the game had effectively become something of a dead rubber, there was little worth being optimistic about before kick-off. However, Lukas Podolski looked more up for the game than I've ever seen him, and I particularly enjoyed the way he was in the ear of the referee whenever Melo was trying to maim someone in a yellow shirt. In front of goal Podolski showed just why he is such a valuable, and criminally under used, player for Arsenal. I'm 100% certain he won't be around next season, but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be. He scored two really good goals, hit the bar, and brought a great save from the goalkeeper on Wednesday. When he gets the ball in front of goal I believe he will score, and that is not something I can say about Giroud or Welbeck (and definitely not Sanogo - his lack of quality was summed up just seconds after Podolski's first goal when Ramsey put him in on goal, only for Yaya to trip over the ball as he tried to control it).
One of the features of the other night, I felt, was the move of Oxlade-Chamberlain in to the centre. Whenever he's played there in the past he has been dominant and Galatasaray had no answer to his pace, power and skill. Ox's ability to carry the ball forward gives us something different in the middle of midfield and he brought the best out of Aaron Ramsey on the night. As for that goal by Ramsey, what can you say? Quite simply it was the goal of the season.
The second-half in Istanbul was much different without Flamini and Ramsey on the pitch, and actually the opposition had plenty of opportunities to give Arsenal a problem. I really wanted to see Chuba Akpom come on up front in place of Sanogo. With the way Ox and Joel Campbell (I thought he had a fine game) were running with the ball we needed a pacy outlet for them to find and stretch the defence. I am convinced Wenger doesn't want to give Akpom his chance as he would show up the difference in class between himself and Sanogo. However, in the shadow of a 4-1 away win in Europe that has to be a relatively small complaint.
It was no surprise to see Ramsey getting injured just as he hits a bit of form. It seems we are forever cursed with the never ending chain of muscle injuries. I don't know how much Arsenal's fitness and conditioning people are paid but it's far too much. Thankfully, following his rest in midweek Santi Cazorla was back yesterday to replace Ramsey. This meant Ox dropped back alongside Flamini and I didn't feel he had such a good game as on Wednesday. With Alexis, Welbeck and Giroud also back we had a very strong front four.
I mentioned earlier the intensity of our game and there was a lot of good closing down yesterday. Having said that, I watched Match Of The Day last night and heard Danny Murphy praising Arsenal for having eight outfield players pushing on to Newcastle from the kick-off. Is this not the same thing that has been criticised when our play breaks down leaving just the two centre-backs within fifty yards of our goal? It just shows what nonsense punditry is on the television.
The first goal was a direct result of good pressure on the ball from Arsenal. Debuchy attacked a header on the halfway line, and then Bellerin stepped in to nick the loose ball as it rebounded forward towards Arsenal's half. From there Giroud linked well with Alexis and I loved seeing a cross that is actually aimed at a big centre-forward for Arsenal for a change. Giroud had the run on his man and leaped high to score, but normally our crosses are aimless or along the ground. With Welbeck and Giroud in the side it really is a weapon Arsenal must learn to use properly. It's really not difficult, which is probably why we concede so many goals from balls crossed into the box. The quality of Alexis made the goal and he really is a diamond in this Arsenal team. Considering he is only a small guy he is brave and tough. Not many players of his diminutive stature would have kept getting on the ball so keenly after the early assault on his chest by Tiote (I bet the FA don't investigate him).
Danny Welbeck scored a brilliant goal to make it 2-0 but Lee Mason had other ideas. He certainly couldn't be accused of favouring the home team and he seemed almost to apologise for finally awarding Arsenal a penalty in the last couple of minutes. He should be asked why Dummett wasn't red carded for the foul on that occasion as Welbeck was in on goal. Mason's decisions throughout the game were nothing short of bizarre. The inconsistency of the man was wretched and yet again I find myself questioning whether there is a sinister element to the way Premier League games are officiated. There isn't a single referee at the top level in England who is up to the job, and they are slowly ruining the game in the Premier League. Why is it that time and again the headline after a game concerns something the referee has done or not done? That can't be right.
The two goals early in the second-half were glorious. Cazorla showed great balance, and a desire to score, when fouled in the penalty area. His finish from a tight angle was glorious. Santi has struggled for form as much as anyone in this Arsenal side so far during the season, but yesterday he looked sharper. It was another assist for Alexis, but it was Cazorla's individual ability that got the goal. The next from Giroud was also a sublime piece of skill, but it was made by Arsenal playing at pace. Speed kills defences, and Ox and Bellerin combined to destroy Newcastle down Arsenal's right wing. I was impressed by Bellerin's composure in the box as he got his head up and picked the pass to Giroud. The flick from the Frenchman was beautiful in its execution and the young goalkeeper had no chance. Even this struggling Arsenal side still has the ability to excite with their football when they do it at pace. They have to play exactly this way at Liverpool next weekend too.
So it's been a good week following the disaster at Stoke last Saturday. We now have a midweek free for the players to rest and prepare for Anfield. I hope Arsene Wenger is also using his time wisely in the transfer market to get deals done at the earliest point in January - the window for actual signings is closed, but that doesn't mean you can't be doing business. We all know, and Wenger knows too, where we are short handed. He simply must address it, and I don't mean he has to go and sign some Swedish veteran with a broken back.
As we get closer to Christmas you can expect the usual things on the website. I'll be writing the annual mid-season review at the beginning of next week, between the Liverpool game and Christmas itself, and then I'll be posting a brief piece on Christmas Eve. Hopefully there will be some stuff to write about before we get to the Liverpool match.
The Facebook page ("It's MY Arsenal Opinion") has had a lot of new hits overnight. I don't know why that should be, but welcome to any new readers/followers. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram by searching for @ARSENALDvbrisG - though the language on the Twitter account can often be industrial, so be warned!