The fast and furious festive period is now behind us, and it’s been navigated in a mostly positive manner with three wins and a draw from our five games since I was last able to put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard).
As is often the way the disappointment of a late equaliser at Anfield and the defeat at Southampton will take most of the attention and generate the most comments from online Gooners, but the victories over QPR, West Ham, and Hull City should not be overlooked.
I don’t want to take too many backward steps, so just a brief word on the Liverpool game. Overall it was rather disappointing; with a poor performance against what is a poor Liverpool side. Yet despite our short comings we still found ourselves in a winning position with only injury time to play. So needless to say, conceding from a set piece was very frustrating and while many pointed the finger at the flinching BFG I myself would question why Chambers let his man go and why nobody was on the post. Unfortunately these things happen, with the timing on this occasion making their equaliser feel more like a winner.
It made the Christmas fixtures all the more important and victory over QPR was crucial. In true Arsenal style we went from coasting along nicely to making life very difficult for ourselves, in no small part thanks to Olivier Giroud’s stupidity. One of these day’s he’ll realise that all his finger wagging and head-to-head reactions is exactly what the opposition want and that the more he does it the more they will target him. He’d be well advised to just ignore the sly pushes and niggly challenges, demonstrate that it doesn’t bother him, and focus on scoring. The minute you react they win and all you need is a pathetic reaction from Onouha and you’re taking an early bath.
It’s a red card that not only made hard work of the final 40 minutes against QPR, but also cost us an extra forward option in two tough away games against West Ham and Southampton. We got away with it at the Boleyn Ground, with an impressive 2-1 victory that could and should have been more but for some poor finishing. However, it cost us dearly at St. Mary’s, with limited front line options and two crazy moments from Szczesny seeing us fall to a 2-0 defeat.
Due to the lack of forward options it was imperative we keep a clean-sheet, to help secure a 0-0 draw at the very least which, given we had our first choice back five for the first time this season felt plausible. However, the fact it was their first game together was telling, with rusty moments from Koscielny, Mertesacker, Debuchy, and of course Szczesny resulting in their two goals. With another two attempts hitting the woodwork and one-off the line for the Saints it could easily have been worse. As Arsene has rightly pointed out, none of the teams who had two away games on the 28th and 1st (which included ourselves, Chelsea, and United) came away with all six points, so perhaps expecting to do so was asking a little much. However, much like the draw at Anfield it’s the nature of defeat at Southampton that hurts most, as opposed to the result itself.
Thankfully you don’t have to wait too long to respond at this time of year, and we had the opportunity to do so in my favourite fixture of the holiday period, the FA Cup Third Round. While the opposition conjured up memories of our cup final victory in May the performance and result were thankfully a little smoother sailing, with a comfortable 2-0 victory. The goals came courtesy of a Mertesacker header (from a corner no less!) and a lovely finish from who else but Alexis Sanchez (the man is a goals, assists, and running machine!). Into the Fourth Round we go, where we face a potentially tricky tie away to Brighton & Hove Albion.
For some the FA Cup has lost its prestige, which the FA’s ridiculous fixture scheduling of ties across five days and at stupid kick-off times does little to help. However, for me it will always be a wonderful competition and a major trophy. So many precious memories; Andy Linighan’s last gasp header in 93, Overmars in 98, it’s only Ray Parlour in 2002, super Robert Pires in 03, Vieira’s last ever kick in an Arsenal shirt in 05, and last season’s dramatic comeback when “two nil down, three two up, Aaron Ramsey won the cup”. How can you not love the FA Cup? And that’s without mentioning our many other classic cup victories for those of an older generation…I’m looking at you Goonerholic!
Finally for today, a word on the atrocious level of officiating we’ve seen so far this season. During the festive fixtures alone we saw the ridiculous penalty awarded against Debuchy versus QPR, the lack of red card when Alexis was clean through against Southampton, Burnley’s offside goal against City, Cahill not seeing red for violent conduct against Sp*rs, Hull being awarded a free kick for a foul clearly inside the area, Rob Green not being sent off for clearly handling outside the area, and Liverpool’s two ridiculous penalties against Leicester. And these are just the incidents that spring to mind.
In many instances technology would have quickly and efficiently helped, and the sooner the governing bodies realise that the better. However, a large percentage were also a result of highly incompetent and arrogant officials, with Anthony Taylor the worst of the bunch; he is an absolute disgrace. And what do you expect when the head of officiating is Mike Riley, the useless and spineless fool who failed to show three obvious red cards against United and then awarded them a penalty for a blatant dive to end our famous 49 game unbeaten run.
Too many poor decisions are costing teams results and ultimately it costs them the title, a top four finish, or sees them relegated, all of which have significant financial impacts in today’s game. I guess all we can do is pray for a better day and hope we eventually get some competent officials who have the aid of technology for key situations. Alternatively pigs might fly.
I guess that’s more than enough for one day. I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and I wish you all a very happy, healthy, and prosperous new year. And of course, up The Arsenal!