Eight goals scored, six points won. Essentially that’s all that matters. Following an international break, one which could have interrupted our flow following a good win at Anfield, it was important to pick up where we left off. And that’s exactly what we have done, in two different competitions. The two victories were achieved in different ways, but they both amount to the same – victory.
The first was at home to Southampton. A newly promoted side who gave both Manchester clubs a run for their money, it could have proved to be a banana skin. As things turned out it was a walk in the park. A quite brilliant first half performance saw us go in at half time 4-1 to the good. Two own goals sandwiched a sumptuous Podolski free kick and Gervinho hammering one home. Their goal came via a Szczesny error, but thankfully it remained nothing more than a consolation as a second for Gervinho and a first for the season from Walcott wrapped up the three points. Afterwards Arsene said:
Especially in the first 45 minutes we had a high level. We had a good combination of pace, speed in our passing, quick combinations, and the movement was excellent. We were a bit lucky as well because they conceded two own goals, but overall I think it was a level of continuity with what we have shown at Liverpool and today.
And that’s what we’re all hoping for, a level of continuity. If we can achieve that, combine it with some good fortune (both in terms of on the field events and injuries) then we can build some confidence and momentum, which added to the quality within the squad, will allow us to have a real good go at the title. We may well fall short, but after the last few seasons (and last years in particular), I think every Arsenal fan will be happy to at least challenge.
There was no time for patting ourselves on the back, however, as our first midweek encounter of the season took place last night. Many people expected to see a few changes to the starting line up, but Arsene had other ideas with only three being made. One was enforced (Mannone replacing the injured again Szczesny), one was the returning Abou Diaby, and the other saw The Ox drop to the bench in place of Giroud. I think the game being a Tuesday followed by a return to league action on a Sunday, as opposed to a Wednesday and a Saturday, may have been the deciding factor in Arsene sticking with the line up that has worked well so far. After all, why change a winning team?
Things didn’t start too well, however, with Vermaelen giving away a penalty inside the opening 10 minutes. You could argue the decision was a tad harsh, but if you’re going to make such a clumsy and needless challenge in the area then you run the risk of giving away a penalty. Belhanda (or Bell-end-a as I kept thinking the commentator was saying) stepped up for the French champions and nonchalantly chipped it down the middle. It was the first time we’d been behind this season and the response was exactly what you’d hope for. Arteta and Cazorla started to take control of things, with the equalising goal coming at the end of a 19 pass move. The last three saw lovely interchanges between Diaby, Cazorla, and Giroud, with Podolski finishing coolly. 1-1.
It wasn’t long before we had turned a one goal deficit into a one goal lead. Two minutes to be precise. Some excellent work from Gervinho saw him cut inside, lay it off to Giroud, and continue his run into the penalty area. In the process of doing so, the ball had been worked wide to Jenkinson, who whipped in a lovely ball across the face of the six yard box which found Gervinho’s run. 1-2. Nothing of great note happened from that point forward as we saw our way through to half time quite comfortably. Then came the second half.
Diaby set the tone by gifting the ball to Montpellier within our own area, which thankfully was blasted over. The home side continued to dominate the second half, dictating play, hitting the crossbar, and wasting a glorious chance with only 10 minutes to go. Credit to Mannone for the save, but if that had been an Arsenal forward you’d be going radio rental at him – from 8 yards out the goal was gaping either side of our keeper. But we dug deep, kept fighting, and saw out the victory to kick start our Champions League campaign with a win. A win away from home, in Europe, having been a goal behind, is always welcome, regardless of the second half performance. Afterwards Steve Bould, standing in for the suspended Arsene Wenger, said:
I am really pleased. It was difficult. I thought we were excellent in the first half, we kept the ball and kept the crowd really quiet. The second half was tough and we looked physically a little bit tired… It’s fabulous to get an early away win. We’ve had a decent start to the season and we have kept the run going so it is important.
Would we like to play free flowing football, scoring six or more goals every game? Of course. Is that ever going to happen? Of course not. As such, it was nice to see us working hard as a team, putting in a real shift, and coming away with the result – despite the second half performance. As Goonerholic points out, if you are going to get involved in a game of two halves, be the team that bosses the second half to avoid any questions being asked of you afterwards. That said, some people are just never satisfied. In the recent past we’d have drawn, or worse still have lost that game in the second half, and everyone would have complained that once again we are a bunch of soft push overs who, having taken the lead, couldn’t scrap it out when the tika-taka football went missing. Now we have shown some fight, some solidity, and gained an excellent away win, people are saying we got lucky. Well which would you prefer my Gooner friends? Yes we hung on, yes we sat deep, yes we looked tired, and yes I’d have like to see our second and third substitutions made earlier, but a win away from home is a great way to start your Wednesday morning in my eyes! (Champions League being Wednesday and Thursday mornings here in Sydney, instead of Tuesday and Wednesday evenings as it is back home, is going to take getting used to).
Next up is the small matter of City away. They had an equally tiring night, going down 3-2 against Madrid, having taken a 2-1 lead in the 85th minute – hopefully that will have knocked their confidence a little. We’ve got a few days to rest and recuperate ahead of that one, but when it does arrive I expect to see the same starting eleven as last night (unless Szczesny recovers from his injury) and I’m confident we can give them a good game. In terms of results, and arguably performances, we’ve started the season stronger than they have so we should hold no fear. We narrowly lost 1-0 there last season, beating them by the same score line in the reverse fixture at The New Home of Football. So here’s hoping for another good performance, but above all else another good result.
Until then, up The Arsenal.