One win at Eastlands since, er… Sunday.
We all know this was only one game. Perhaps only the start of something rather than a reason to go and break out the Moët.
However, given the way Arsenal have suffered, particularly on the road against our top four rivals, massive credit is due to both Arsène Wenger and his players today.
This was a perfect away performance and result, in the words of everyone in the Sky studio yesterday, “a blueprint“.
Our perfect day began with the team selection I would have made.
David Oooooospinahhhh!, Hector Bellerín and Francis Coquelin kept their places, with Aaron Ramsey returning from injury to replace the unlucky Tomas Rosicky. I know some had doubts about this call but, for me, Ramsey has the physicality to compete with City’s Panzer tank midfield and Rosicky doesn’t.
I think Arsène is also due some credit for not bringing in Calum Chambers for Hector Bellerín because it would have been easy to do that. Easy, but wrong in my opinion as Bellerín has shown himself to be a more than capable, exciting, full back. Likewise, I felt that keeping faith with the midfield- apart from dropping Ramsey for Rosicky- was absolutely the right call.
Last season, we went to City on top of the league.
After ten minutes of that match, it was clear to me that our league position was a false one. That City team were like a souped of version of our own Invincibles, they were awesome.
After ten minutes on Sunday, with Coquelin screening the defence, I felt strangely calm. Confident, even. What a pleasure to watch Arsenal giving a big match the respect it deserves.
We might have scored when the Ox burst down the right and crossed onto the diving head of Olivier Giroud, but the ball was deflected wide. We did score, decisively, midway through the first half.
Nacho Monreal playing a one-two and working his way into the penalty area except Vincent Kompany stepped across him to block his run. Incredibly, our bête noir, Mike Dean pointed to the penalty spot. I only say incredible as we all know Mike Dean hates us.
A soft penalty perhaps, but definitely a penalty in my view.
Waiting for Cazorla to take his penalty, I was convinced Santi would go for a chip which Hart would read and catch. But he didn’t.
Hart did go the right way but, Santi’s penalty was powerfully and accurately struck into the corner. An unsaveable penalty from a player Arsène later described as “unstoppable“.
Arsène has often spoken of the importance of scoring first in a big game. I can’t remember the last time we’d managed it- United at home a couple of years ago? But we’d done it here.
Game well and truly on.
An Arsenal team which had negotiated the opening 40 minutes in such a serene fashion it was almost difficult to believe what you were seeing, inevitably perhaps, became a little ragged towards the end of the first half. However, we managed to get to the break with no alarms and no surprises.
Pellegrini had one for us at the start of the second half with Stevan Jovetic replacing James Milner. I’m not sure if it was his introduction, or a change in tack from our heroes, but City went immediately onto the front foot, with Arsenal constantly looking to counter.
It suddenly felt frightening.
That said, with Mertesacker, Koscielny and Coquelin resolute in the centre, apart from one Jesus Navas shot, City still couldn’t manage to test Ooooooospinaaaaah!
It seemed to me that the Ox was beginning to flag around the hour mark and Gary Neville had already remarked in commentary that Ramsey and Cazorla had lost their ability to track back. This makes Santi’s here, there and everywhere second half performance all the more remarkable. One box to box run has already been Vined to hell, but I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching it.
His ability to win the ball back, and keep it in tight spaces, is second to no-one in this Arsenal side and he was utterly heroic on Sunday. It was fitting that he had a hand, or a foot, in putting the game to bed. The moment came when Olivier Giroud broke forward only to be fouled midway(ish) into the City half. Santi floated the ball into the box, watched as Giroud met it and had himself a little dance as the ball hit the back of the net.
2-0 up with 23 minutes to go, I doubt there was an Arsenal fan watching yesterday who wasn’t waiting for the hammer to drop, but City’s charge never really materialised.
I will say that the ten minutes following Giroud’s goal seemed to last about three hours, but that may just have been the vodka I was drinking.
Rosicky replaced the Ox, eventually Flamini and Gibbs replaced Ramsey and Alexis who had flickered menacingly at times, but was unable to deliver. I began to relax around about the 89th minute and it was actually us who came closest to scoring again, when Flamini really should have teed Giroud up for a tap in, but couldn’t quite make the pass.
Ah well, we’ll let him off this once.
It was an overwhelmingly positive day for Arsenal, with the obvious caveat that one swallow does not a summer make.
However, this was a result the team really needed to take the next step in their development.
I feel bloody great today, so can only imagine how the lads must be feeling. Further, to get that result on the back of a great performance, as opposed to getting a lucky win that they didn’t deserve, must tell this group something.
If Arsène Wenger is now happy to accept that, occasionally, his team will have to focus on the ugly side of the beautiful game this could end up still being a decent season. Giroud was almost perfect in his hold up play; Coquelin once again stated his case to be this team’s starting defensive midfielder (are people still doubting this guy?) with a performance Koscielny and Mertesacker must have loved and as for Cazorla… just, wow!
What was great, though, was that it was a real team effort and not one Arsenal player let the side down yesterday. It’s been a long time since we could say that about Arsenal in a big game. Watching Mertesacker celebrate with Santi at the end, it struck me how different this was to our last visit to Manchester.
Long may it continue.
The cherry on top? Thierry Henry was able to finish his first day in the Sky studio with that half smile on his face, his former team having put in a performance to be proud of.
I leave the last word to him.
Ed Chamberlain: What did you like about Santi Cazorla’s performance?