This is my first post since Thursday last week and since that time, quite a lot has happened. We’ve drawn Villarreal in the quarter-finals in the Champions League, lost Theo Walcott for at least three weeks due to a freak knee injury and now sit in fourth place outright in the Premier League thanks to a hard-fought 3-1 win at Newcastle and Liverpool’s 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa.
I’ll speak a bit about Friday’s Champions League draw and the injury to Theo Walcott over the coming days. With the players on international duty for the next week-and-a-half it will be a good opportunity to catch up. But today it’s all about the win over Newcastle.
Nicklas Bendtner, Abou Diaby and Samir Nasri got the goals for us in what turned out to be a comfortable win over Newcastle. But up until Nasri fired home to make it 3-1, the truth was that Newcastle gave us a real run for our money, winning and then missing a first-half penalty as well as scoring an equaliser through Obafemi Martins after Bendtner had opened the score.
As with our first half performance against Hull, we were slow to get out of the blocks. Arsene Wenger played arguably our strongest available team at the moment with Andrey Arshavin and Nasri on the wings, Denilson and Diaby in the middle and Bendtner and Robin van Persie up front. But despite the strength of our attack, we failed to take the early initiative and only created a half-chance through Bendtner before Newcastle won their penalty.
Manuel Almunia was at fault as he dropped a fairly simple cross and then pulled down Ryan Harper as he tried to make up for the error. It was pretty clumsy goalkeeping all round, but he made amends a la the Stadio Olimpico with an excellent low save from Martins’ decent kick. 0-0 it remained but our boys had got the kick up the backside they required to raise their game.
Arsenal two good chances to score through Arshavin, the first blocked superbly by Steven Taylor and the second clipping the top of the bar after a glorious 40-yard run. The second chance showed again what the Russian is capable of and apart from maybe Walcott and Diaby, I don’t think there is anyone else in the squad who is capable of that sort of blistering run. It’s another example of just why Arshavin was brought to the club and he had another excellent game on Saturday.
Meanwhile van Persie had an effort saved by Steve Harper after a lovely lofted cross from Bendtner while Gael Clichy denied Peter Lovenkrands at the other end and substitute Habib Baye headed straight at Almunia. Van Persie had another effort blocked by the cannon-chester Steven Taylor in a helter-skelter final 20 minutes of the half and all things considered, going in at 0-0 was not the worst outcome for our boys.
We looked immediately sharper after the break and it took just over ten minutes before we took the lead, Bendtner firing in a superb header from Arshavin’s perfectly-weighted free kick. It was a goal that the Dane has deserved given his recent performances but the lead that it provided last less than a minute, as penalty-misser Martins took full advantage of a miscued clearance by William Gallas to flick the ball home. 1-1, and Newcastle were right back in it.
But seven minutes later Diaby scored a goal of real quality to make it 2-1. Collecting the ball in midfield after a tenacious tackle by Arshavin on the flank, Diaby played a delightful give-and-go with van Persie before slinking forward and placing an excellent shot high into the net. He seems to have a real knack of finishing in that sort of manner and given it was only his second of the season in the Premier League, a few more wouldn’t go astray.
I thought our second goal effectively knocked the stuffing out of Newcastle after their equaliser and it was no surprise when we added a third just moments later. Once again van Persie was the provider as his neat lateral pass sent Nasri through and the Frenchman powerful strike snuck in at the near post.
At 3-1 there was only going to be one winner and we played some pretty impressive football in the closing half-hour. Van Persie should have scored when put in one-on-one with Harper, but his shot was well blocked. Meanwhile Denilson also had a shot saved by the Newcastle keeper and Diaby hit the post in injury time. Down the other end Newcastle were hardly a threat as the back four of Sagna, Toure, Gallas and Clichy cruised through the final half-hour. 3-1 it ended as the unbeaten run goes on.
It was nice to see Nasri and Bendtner get among the goals again today and I thought both players had strong overall performances. Arshavin was brilliant again as was van Persie, providing two assists that would have made Dennis Bergkamp proud. At the other end, Almunia saved his second penalty of the season (not including the one against Roma) while Gael Clichy put in a performance which suggests he is getting back to his best.
All in all, another strong performance and Liverpool’s win over Villa means that our destiny is well and truly back in our own hands. Well done boys.
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