‘Title-winning sides win ugly when playing badly…’

Kos vs Newcastle

“The thing I rue the most is that we never seem to get away with playing badly. We almost always get punished for not turning up, only the extent varies, whether it’s a fluky 2-0 opening-day loss to West Ham or a thorough bashing at the Allianz Arena.”

“That is the thing I love, and hate, most about Arsenal. This may well be the reason why I support them and will continue to do so. Nothing good ever comes easy for the Gunners. Our good results are a continuation of good performances. But we don’t get lucky bounces, or at least we don’t get them often enough to worth mentioning them. We either turn up, work hard and win, or we lose resoundingly.”

This is what I wrote a mere week ago, after we self-detonated at St. Mary’s. So when the final whistle blew on Saturday, I couldn’t quite believe we won the game.

Thing is, we played badly. There was indication we would win the game all the way until Koscielny scored from close range in the 72nd minute. The goal came as a result of Ozil’s corner and some tenacious work from Olivier Giroud to win two aerial duels in the space of several seconds.

Funny thing is (read: worrying thing) was that we could, and probably should, have gone behind before that. Newcastle had quite a few decent goalscoring opportunities, however their best chance came right after the restart, when Wijnaldum found himself one-on-one with Cech. First things first though, let’s start with our performance.

Cech saving from a Wijnaldum header

The performance

“It was a difficult game against a good Newcastle side. Our legs were heavy today, I must say. Overall we were tested against a team with a lot of technical quality and our fluency was not there and our movement was not there. Our motto was try to stick together and win the game how we can. The mental aspect of our team and our defence mentality was tested today rather than our quality going forward.”

We were far from our fluid performance vs Bournemouth and that was worrying. The players went into the game on the back of a win and with a 5-days rest, unlike vs Bournemouth, and still put in a pretty appalling performance.

I hope it’s more to do with the overall hectic schedule. If we count in City, we played 4 games in 12 days and that’s bound to have an effect. Maybe we looked better vs Bournemouth because a response was needed. Adrenaline levels were high after a defeat, we had a point to prove and so the heavy legs didn’t seem quite as heavy.

The players will now get a full week before taking on Sunderland in the cup. Enough time to recover both physically and mentally, get Alexis Sanchez back and maybe even buy a player or two.

Exhaustion to blame for a below par performance?

Petr Cech

Our keeper was absolutely massive, making 6 saves in total. His stop in the 48th from one-on-one vs Wijnaldum was match-winning, but his other saves, if less spectacular, were very important too. Like the header he saved in the 16th minute, or another Wijnaldum shot from a tight angle in the 42nd minute.

Cech also makes claiming crosses or catching balls heading for the top corner look easy. In fact, I think Ospina could have struggled there, purely because of his height. Just think about that bicycle kick from Mitrovic in the dying seconds. Cech caught it very nonchalantly, matter-of-factly I’d say, but I don’t think it was really as easy as it looked.

On a side note, Cech completed 14 out of his 17 passes, racking up an 82% accuracy. I’m mentioning this because 9 of these 17 were long balls, 6 of them were successful. That’s a very good accuracy for long passes, especially for a keeper.

Another masterful performance from Cech

Laurent Koscielny

Probably the only other player, apart from Cech, worthy of separate inches after such a performance. Kos not only turned up at the right place at the right time to score the winning goal, he also had a complete defensive performance just when Monreal decided to take a night off.

Kos was successful with 31 of his 34 passes (91% accuracy), misplacing his 3 in the middle third, he created a brilliant chance for Olivier Giroud with a lovely through ball and he mopped everything up defensively, completing 4 interceptions (2 of these in and around our box) and blocking two shots in areas of danger.


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An incredible selection of authentic Arsenal shirts at amazing prices!

Oxlade vs Campbell

It looks like the Costa-Rican has won the battle for now. The Ox was quite lethargic all game. He racked up decent numbers in passing, created a shot for his teammate and made more of an impact than Theo on the other wing, but then that’s not saying much, as Theo was virtually invisible.

When Campbell came on, it felt like a breath of fresh air. His direct dribbling and huge desire to make things happen were in stark contrast to Oxlade’s indifferent attitude.

Better than Ox on current form

Right now Oxlade looks lost. His confidence is very low, so much so he almost stopped using his best weapon: dribbling. Maybe he was told to take less risks after we conceded a couple of times as a direct consequence of Alex trying to dribble out of dangerous areas and he took these instructions very literally. I don’t know.

What I do know is that Ox needs to break the vicious circle somehow. Or he’ll spend the better part of the period from now to May on the bench.

The aftermath

“To not drop points with the way we played today, I think it is very important. It helps the team as well because you go through moments where you don’t play well. The memory of having done that before and still having won the game, helps you to hang on sometimes.”

It’s nice to know we can “win ugly” if we need to. We looked absolutely off the pace, yet clinched the three points.

The win sees us become the sole leaders of the Premier League. Leicester dropped points at home to Bournemouth, which means they now trail us by 2 points. City are 3 behind, having pulled off a miraculous, if somewhat undeserved, comeback away at Watford.

We now have to get ready for some pretty daunting fixtures, which will come at us in quick succession. Unlike the 4 teams still involved in the Capital One Cup we get a full week between now and the FA cup game. It also yields the added benefit of both Liverpool and Stoke playing extra games.

Right, that’s it from me for now. Enjoy the win and staying top, I’ll most likely be back with you midweek.

Until then


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One Response to ‘Title-winning sides win ugly when playing badly…’

  1. DEW January 4, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

    It is great summary of the match. I want to add one more point that could be hidden within the win …

    I think the performance looks and was bad because the battle is lost at the mid filed. Beside Barca and Bayern many big teams and now more and more smaller teams are out playing us at mid field for the following reasons …

    During defense mode arsenal wants to deny space instead of closing down and pressing opponents teams at the mid field. So the whole team run backwards from attacking half to own half while the ball is well behind them. This is not always the case for many big teams. This by itself add more fatigue and pressure for midfielders. And the opponent team gets the time and space to build their game.

    If you watched the game Ozil was trying to organize the defense behind him. But other players were not serious or unwilling due to tactical priorities or fatigue or the rainy weather. He was frustrated as a result. Pressing opponents at mid filed requires togetherness and willingness from all team players as well as a very good tactical superiority because you could give a very wide open space behind.

    I believe this is a real reason for the losses this season. Otherwise, Arsenal was exceptional team when they have the ball especially in the final third.

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