The last match in 2012 might turn out to be some sort of amalgamation of Arsenal yesterday, Arsenal today and Arsenal tomorrow: Thierry Henry was giving an applause to hat-trick hero Theo Walcott while Demba Ba scored two out of three goals for Newcastle. Though, it is questionable whether Arsenal would search for additional fire-power if the Gunners keep bombing their opponents like they did today, especially in the last 18 minutes of the match.
Today’s performance was arguably the best attacking performance of Arsenal in years. Granted, Newcastle had horrible defense today, it was like they didn’t have anyone on the right side of defense at all but it would be unfair on our attackers to not point out the excellent performances of our forwards. All four attackers got on the score-sheet and if Giroud’s shot went just a bit lower, we would have two hat-trick heroes today. Our team had never given up today despite the fact they faced an opponent that managed to equalize three times. We kept creating chances and – what is more important – scored them. The most important thing is that we managed to score more than our shaky defense managed to concede. Poor positioning is something that we should improve in forthcoming fixtures. It is symptomatic that we concede too much goals when our central defense consists of Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen.
Nevertheless, this was Arsenal that I want to see every week. Yes, I know that we can’t win every match scoring seven goals in the process, but I want to see hunger for goals, fighting spirit whenever things go wrong, creativity and efficiency that was Arsenal trade-mark in era of The Invincibles. When you have already scored seven and have your opponent on their knees, keep pushing for the eighth goal.
There was a glimpse of what we are going to see in the very first minute when Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain created the first chance to score. Newcastle didn’t sit back – they tried to use aerial domination given that we couldn’t count on Per Mertesacker’s height due to illness. Our first goal was a result of a wonderful counter-attack. Cazorla passed the ball to Podolski on the left side. It seemed that German wouldn’t be able to resist the pressure of the Newcastle player that was trying to stop him but he managed to find enough space to pass the ball forward to Walcott. Our contract rebel made a run at Krul’s goal and decided to finish it himself despite having Oxlade-Chamberlain on the other side. He had put a well-placed shot in the bottom of the left corner of Krul’s net. It was a finish that certainly made Thierry Henry proud. Walcott was constant threat to Newcastle’s defense as well as Lukas Podolski – co-operation of Podolski and Walcott created a chance for the latter but he didn’t put enough power in his left-footed shot so Krul managed to save it. There was another counter-attack with Walcott taking the main role, he was with Oxlade-Chamberlain against one Newcastle defender but the pass to Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t a good one so Newcastle didn’t concede a second goal in the first half. We were punished for that miss in the closing minutes of the first half, but not before Sczszesny had to deal with Tiote’s powerful long shot. Obertan had cut inside from the left and was one step quicker than Sagna. Our right back made a foul 25 yards away from our goal. Demba Ba had taken that free kick, Wilshere ducked, the ball hit our midfielder and went into the net. It was the last goal in the first half despite Marveaux had a shot that was saved by Sczszesny. After the corner Ba had a decent header in the last minute but it went over the bar.
We started to attack from the start in the second half. Gibbs and Podolski linked up well on the left but the former failed to score. Podolski was involved again, this time he headed the ball to Cazorla. The Spaniard slid the ball right to Oxlade-Chamberlain who sent a powerful low shot into the right side of Krul’s net. However, we couldn’t enjoy our lead for too long – Obertan had beaten Sagna again to make a cross into the 6-yard-box. Koscielny touched the ball but only to make it easier for Marveaux on the far post to score a tap-in and equalize. On the other side of the pitch, Cazorla made Krul make a save but it was just an intro to our third goal. Wilshere went all the way to the left byline before crossing the ball inside. It almost went in the goal but Coloccini managed to save it with a header but not for long with the ball falling to the head of Podolski who put it inside almost from the goal-line. Newcastle didn’t give up and pulled back once more. Marveaux made a mess on the right side of our defense and put a decent diagonal ball into our six-yard-box. Ba sneaked behind Gibbs’ back and put the ball in the net for 3rd equalizer of the day. That was probably the moment when most of the Gunners had hit their TV with the nearest ashtray. If they did, they missed what happened next. Gibbs – who was Doctor Jekyll in the attack and Mister Hyde in the defense – had put a decent cross in the box. Podolski missed the ball but Walcott took it, made a pirouette like he is on the Winter Olympics and powered the ball inside the net. It was fourth time that Gunners took the lead.
After that goal Wenger made a change that was prepared while the sides were all even – Oxlade-Chamberlain was replaced by Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman had featured just five minutes since he suffered back injury against West Brom but he used his 20 minute cameo against Newcastle to show that Arsenal have serious attacking potential. Theo Walcott made a cross in the six-yard-box from the right and Giroud managed to put the ball in the net with the diving header.
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It was obvious that Newcastle was defeated but there was more to come. First, Giroud fired a low shot from the right side of the box with his weaker right foot in the near corner of Krul’s goal and then Walcott scored a Messi-ish goal to complete an amazing hat-trick. Giroud was fouled on the left side of the attack. Walcott and Wilshere took a free-kick with a one-two with the former taking the ball. He went inside l the Newcastle defenders, was fouled by one of them but referee didn’t give a penalty. Nevertheless, Walcott got up, took the ball and chipped it over Krul to make it 7:3. Giroud could have grabbed a hat-trick for himself as well but his shot from point-blank range was denied by the crossbar.
It was a great way to finish a turbulent year that left us with mixed feelings given that this victory as well as those three victories that preceded this one should be a massive boost for 2013.
on Theo Walcott
He has done very well and it just typifies what I think he can do. He can play through the middle, I am convinced of that, and he can only get stronger in there. Overall I am pleased with his performance.
on his finishing
Yes, determination and running into the box, dribbling, short dribbling. I believe he is a good finisher, that he has learned a lot because he is an intelligent player. And because he is intelligent, he will continue to improve.
on his contract talks
You know, the intensity of my desire [to extend his contract] is exactly the same as it was before the game. My desire is to extend his contract, he belongs here and hopefully we can do it.
on how Saturday’s performance affects the situation
I don’t know, I think the commitment for a club is a long-term process. I don’t think it should depend on one game. Should he have had a disastrous game today, it would not have altered my determination to extend his contract and to sign him. That does not depend on one game.
on the influence of Thierry Henry
I believe Theo takes advice from Thierry, of course, because Thierry has played in that position. But Thierry arrived yesterday in training, he didn’t practise with us, but it’s good when you need to talk to someone who has played in there. [Theo’s first goal] was a Thierry-type goal.
on the ongoing negotiations
I do not want to talk about that [the negotiations], it is enough in the public place. I believe there is no need to talk about it. Yes [I understand why people want to talk about it] because he was man of the match today and he made the decision. But I would like to talk more about his footballing qualities than about money and speculation.
on the fans’ response to Theo
I think he loves the club and the club loves him, and the reciprocity in love is the most difficult to find.
on Olivier Giroud
Yes, he came on very sharp. He looked dangerous on crosses, he looked mobile, technically sound. He had as well an impact when he came on.
on Newcastle’s performance
I agree with you [that they played their part]. The game was not as comfortable as the result indicates. We suffered for big parts in the game, especially in the first half when I felt we played with the handbrake, we were a bit nervous, not free of the chest. We had problems to win the ball back from them. Every time they came back but we kept going and in the end of course it became easy, but it was a difficult game for us.
on his concern over the goals conceded
Yes, because we were three times in front and three times they came back, but they are a team that is good going forward. I was impressed today by Ba, he had an excellent game. The midfield as well, I felt that Marveaux had a very good game. Tiote as well, they were strong. They are a strong team.
Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Wojciech Szczesny | 6.5: Had a few very decent saves but he could had done better with the first goal, at least in preparation of the wall.
Bacary Sagna | 4.5: Gave away a soft foul on Obertan that resulted in the first Newcastle goal and both crosses for the other goals in the second half came from his side. He wasn’t very influential in the attack.
Laurent Koscielny | 6.5: He is either the unluckiest man on Earth or he simply lacks positioning. Other than that, he was solid given that he and Vermaelen had to cope with excellent strikers in Ba and Cisse.
Thomas Vermaelen | 6.5: In last seasons home match against Newcastle he had scored an inspiring winning goal deep in injury time. This time he didn’t have to do that. He should work on organizing the defense since we are very exposed in that area whenever Mertesacker is not selected. In the two matches in the Premiership (Chelsea and Newcastle) this season in which he played alongside Koscielny we conceded five goals.
Kieran Gibbs-attacking duties | 7.5: I have to split Gibbs’ marks in two separate rows since I believe giving an average mark would hide both his superb attacking performance and his poor defending display. His attacking display was excellent, he was linking up well with his team-mates whenever he went upfront and he was unlucky not to score in the opening minutes of the second half.
Kieran Gibbs-defensive duties | 4.5: He didn’t do well in the defense. Marveaux and Ba scored too easily.
Mikel Arteta | 7.0: He was doing his job in the midfield. Given that we were mostly bombing down the flanks, especially the left one, he didn’t have too many attacking parts.
Santi Cazorla| 7.0: Picked up an assist for Chamberlain’s goal and gave his contribution in the creation of the first goal.
Jack Wilshere |7.5: Didn’t react well when Ba scored the first goal for Newcastle but was our engine in the midfield again. His wonderful cross ought to have ended in the net but Lukas Podolski deserved a goal as well.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 7.5: The Ox was looking very lively. He would perform even better if Sagna was better. It seems he can score in the Premiership only when we score seven goals against our opponent – his previous one came against Blackburn when we won 7:1 in February. He scored a nice goal.
Theo Walcott | 10.0: If there was any doubts whether Walcott can or can’t play in the middle of the attack, this match destroyed them. Walcott scored a marvelous hat-trick and provided a goal to Giroud as well. He had shown composure, lethal finishing, pace and the ability to cross in order to prove in front of Thierry Henry himself that he can succeed the Frenchman in attacking role. He deserves 100,000 pounds per week more than Ivan Gazidis deserves his pay-check, that’s for sure.
Lukas Podolski | 8.5: This was the Podolski that we need – excellent in linking with Gibbs, efficient in front of the goal, capable of creating goals for his team-mates.
Olivier Giroud | 8.5: Scored two goals and hit the crossbar despite being on the field only after the 74th minute. His ability to hold the ball and to dominate in the air is something we need. It could be that he and Walcott persuaded Wenger today that the only striker we need to sign in January is Theo Walcott. It was interesting to see him scoring a powerful shot with his weaker foot.
Francis Coquelin | N/A: Went in to replace Cazorla. We scored twice while he was on the field.
Aaron Ramsey | N/A: Went in for Podolski. We scored three goals while he was on the field.