That was a tiring way to start the new year. For a moment it looked like Arsenal had forgotten everything and learnt nothing. There isn’t too much to say, because the game was a huge slog, so I’ll jump right into the mess. Petr Cech was Arsenal’s hero.
Arsenal were all over the place and if it wasn’t for the calm and calculated performance of Petr Cech it would have seen a sour start to the new year and Arsenal fans everywhere would’ve been drinking themselves into a grave. Ramsey and Flamini each contributed to a rather mad midfield display, not helped by shaky Bellerin and scrappy defending from the two centre backs. This all left Cech heavily exposed and even with Newcastle’s flurry of attacks, he didn’t show any signs of the jitterbug that the rest of the team had caught.
Arsenal started great, but then the warning signs came. Quickly the game fell out of control and Newcastle looked like the home team. They were dominant, quicker, more effective – not to mention they had a working midfield, putting Arsenal’s Ramsey/Flamini shaped vacuum under immediate stress. Cech’s positioning was inch perfect for the game’s entirety, the mark of experience, but also of serious quality. He’s one of the all time great goal keepers, certainly in the Premier League, and definitely since Arsenal’s David Seaman days. None of this is news, but it’s games like this that really bring his stature to light – and it shows what an incredibly smart signing he was. It’s remarkable that Chelsea allowed the sale. The first few times he was called into action on Saturday were mainly dealt with some positional awareness and safe hands, leaping and catching and then distributing effectively. Nothing flashy, simply smart goal keeping. Another real plus I’ve noticed with Cech is Arsenal’s keeper distribution is no longer a cruel joke – it usually finds an Arsenal player, and it usually makes its way to the correct side of the pitch. Remember the days when Szczesny would rush and launch it ten yards? It makes a huge difference when your keeper knows when to get rid and when to keep.
The real highlight of Cech’s performance and undoubtedly the moment of the match came in the second half. Arsenal were still scrambling about and hearts dropped as Wijnaldum rushed clear of Arsenal’s high line and seemed nailed on to punish. Cech stood tall and saved Arsenal’s New Year blushes. Another day, another keeper, and Arsenal lose all three points. These are rightly the games that decide titles. Arsenal deserved to lose. They didn’t. That’s a mark of a title challenger.
Manchester United were experts in winning when they had no right, that’s what made them successful and intimidating during the Fergie era. Outside of that the game itself was disappointing from Arsenal perspective. Ramsey is going through a strange phase. He’s making all the right choices only to finish every move he creates with some bizarre, fruitless attempt on goal. Ozil had flashes of quality, whilst Giroud was invisible with with rest of Arsenal’s forward line. Chamberlain is becoming something of a worry, he needs a run of games, which is difficult when the vibrant, hard working Campbell shows more in ten minutes than the Englishman did from the start. He’s going to be incredible, but things need to start falling into place soon. Walcott was hit and miss, he’s still working his way back to the top so that’s not a huge worry. The worry is why Arsenal can play City off the park but seem threatened by struggling Southampton and Newcastle. It’s three enormous points towards the big picture, so all we can do is focus and celebrate that. I’m hoping for another forward, along with a midfielder in the coming weeks. Fingers crossed. It was Cech’s game. He earned the three points. He keeps Arsenal at the top of table grinning, warily.