29th August 2015: One-nil to The Arsenal in snoozefest

Welcome back. It was a case of points over performance for Arsenal today, as a deflected second-half strike by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain secured us three precious points at Newcastle, from what was a pretty forgettable game.

After saying yesterday that I didn’t think Arsene Wenger would drop Olivier Giroud or play both the Ox and Theo Walcott together from the start, of course the boss did just that. Walcott replaced Giroud at the tip of our attack and the Ox came in for an injured Mesut Ozil to play on the right, with Ramsey shifting across to take his place behind the striker. Less surprisingly, Laurent Koscielny had recovered from his back injury and replaced Calum Chambers in what was the third and final change from Monday night.

Right from the off it became apparent the hosts would defend deep and in numbers and struggled to get near the ball as we bossed possession without looking too dangerous in the opening exchanges. Theo Walcott made a couple of decent runs but it was a foray from fullback that drew the first major talking point as Hector Bellerin was fouled inside the penalty area by Florian Thauvin.

It was as clear a penalty as Jose Mourinho is a pr*ck, yet somehow the referee played on. I think to be fair to the official, he didn’t spot the contact but then again, he should have been better positioned to ensure he could. Yet we did take a sort of lead soon afterwards – in terms of the number of players on the pitch

Just after the quarter-hour mark, Newscastle’s new signing Aleksandar Mitrovic mistook Francis Coquelin’s shin for the ball, came in with a stampy ‘challenge’ and received a straight red card from the referee. Cue mass hysteria from a noisy home support but the the decision stood and off sauntered their new ‘star’ striker.

Now with a numerical advantage, we controlled proceedings even more but still couldn’t find a breakthrough as Walcott went AWOL from the game, Ramsey ran around a lot but did nothing of any note, the Ox played like he couldn’t be arsed/had never played football before, and a slow, dry pitch sucked any zip from our passing. Oh, and about 24 Newcastle players got booked as they tried to hack down anyone in sight.

The second half began with more of the same as any remote glimpse of our goal Newcastle had was easily blocked out by our defence, where Gabriel again impressively played with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of focus. Petr Cech was so inactive, he must have been tempted to ring a pal for a catch-up.

Then finally, our possession and patience paid dividends on 52 minutes when the Ox produced his only piece of play reminiscent of a footballer and drove the ball towards the far corner following two blocked attempts at goal by team-mates. It was actually going wide but the poor man’s Carles Puyol – Fabricio Coloccini – deflected the ball into his own net.

After that, Giroud came on for Where’s Walcott and sliced an effort so wide the ball ended up in Sunderland, and Mikel Arteta entered the ‘action’ for the Ox as the game drifted to a tame conclusion. As you may have guessed by the tone of this post, I didn’t really enjoy the match that much. I’ve seen better, let’s just say. Yet the points more than make up for my lack of entertainment and I’m sure we’ll find our finishing boots and jogo bonito, rat-a-tat rhythm soon after the international break.

Afterwards, Arsene gave his thoughts on the game:

Patience and nerves (were key). I believe that we needed to not rush our game, to wait for our chances and to take one of them. I must say that Newcastle decided from the start to make the game quite physical and we had to keep our nerves and not become a little bit aggressive as well. I thought we did that well. Afterwards it was a strange game. You play away from home, 11 against 10, and you know that they will play 15 yards deeper, you play 10 against nine in the final third, the crowd is behind their team which puts pressure on the referee, and then it’s very difficult. We didn’t find the space. They defended well and they’ve shown why they didn’t concede at Manchester United as well. We are happy to have the three points and to win 1-0.

The boss also touched on Walcott’s performance, suggesting Mitrovic’s dismissal led to Newcastle defending deeper which in turn denied the England international the space Arsene had envisaged him getting:

I expected more space for Theo Walcott. At the start it looked quite promising but after 15 minutes it was a different problem for us. There was no space behind their defenders, the service through their lines was very difficult and they defended very well.

Which is very diplomatic of the boss and obviously has an element of truth but for me, Theo’s problem wasn’t a lack of space, it’s a lack of balls. He’s simply far too timid anywhere he plays on the pitch, and against the uncompromising, oafish centre backs that populate the Premier League, he becomes not so much a passenger in proceedings as a sleepy spectator. He may as well get his video camera out like it’s Germany 2006.

I’m sorry if this sounds harsh but it’s frustrating to see a player who I rate very highly – more so than most – being held back by a lack of fire in his belly and a complete lack of confidence. I think Theo’s finishing, pace, movement is all top notch and he has a better footballing brain and first touch than people give him credit for.

But he needs to ‘man up’ for want of a better phrase. Whether he ever will, I’m starting to doubt but if I could offer him any words of advice as a mere fan from afar, it would be play with more mental freedom Theo, take more risks, back your ability and don’t be afraid to make mistakes because everybody does. As the old adage advises: get stuck in!

Back Sunday.

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