Monday, February 11, 2013

Comeback Draw, Jammy Win, Backs to the Wall Victory... it the stuff that decisive runs are made from?

Arsenal came perilously close to losing at home to Liverpool, to drawing at home to Stoke, and to drawing away to Sunderland; but seven points from nine has kept alive genuine hopes of another top four finish.

The first hour or so in the Liverpool game was very depressing. Not only were Arsenal second-best, but the  defence was in full-blown self-parody mode.

The goal from Suarez that opened the scoring came from a Sagna slip, a trademark botched clearance from Vermaelen, and some vintage penalty area ping pong. As well as a deflection on the striker's finish.

When Henderson profited from more madcap defending to slip the ball into an empty net, it looked like that was that, but Arsenal responded in rousing fashion.

First,Wilshere's inswinging free kick from the right was headed down and past Reina by Giroud. Game on.

Then, before Liverpool could catch breath, Cazorla slid a pass into Giroud, the Frenchman laid it off nicely to Walcott to his right, and Walcott confounded Reina by bulleting an early shot low into the far corner.

Both sides had chances to win it, but in the end a draw seemed fair.

Against Stoke, a draw might have been terminal to Arsenal's Champions League hopes. The Potters, typically, defended very well, and typically, too, were not averse to rough house tactics.

Arsenal needed a large slice of luck to secure the three points, with Podolski's late free kick deflecting heavily on its way into the net.

Against Sunderland, Arsenal hit their stride in the first half, but squandered opportunities to build an unassailable lead.

Leading at half time was a nice change in itself, and the lead was secured by a fine goal that saw Wilshere scoot forward in trademark fashion, then play a pass into the box for Walcott. The winger, who is showing sporadic improvements in his appreciation of team mates' positioning, laid the ball back for Cazorla, and the Spaniard angled a low, left-footed effort past the keeper in a flash.

While Arsenal should really have won comfortably, the ultimate nature of the win may prove more useful, morale-boosting even.

Koscielny had broken down in the warm up, and Wenger opted to move Sagna to centre half, and bring Jenkinson in at right back. With new boy Monreal playing on the left side of the defence, it was an unfamiliar backline, and one that Martin O'Neill's side would have expected to score against.

That they didn't should be viewed as encouraging, especially after Jenkinson was dismissed for a second yellow card and Ramsey was moved back to full back.

Sagna, who is a brilliant all-round defender,produced his best display of the season, as did Szczesny, making some vital saves.

Arsenal will want to be more ruthless in future, but a resilient defensive display was long overdue.

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