Gunners cash in on Cech resistance
Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United
Back in the height of summer when Petr Cech made his move across London, it was games as ragged and rickety as this that John Terry had in mind when he suggested the goalkeeper could be worth 12-15 points a season to Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger's team were below par, the radar was off, the fatigue had set in, and they came up against a Newcastle team who made more than enough chances to upset the league leaders. Cech dealt with assurance with Newcastle's best efforts, which gave Arsenal the platform to eke out a 1-0 win. Earning the points required resilience and the capacity to dig deep into their energy reserves. It was appropriate, perhaps, that the match-winner was Laurent Koscielny, restored to the starting line-up after a much-needed breather.
It was indicative of how this game went that Wenger confessed he felt for his opponents afterwards. "Honestly I am long enough in football to know if you are in Newcastle's place you feel sorry for them because they played very well," he said. "I know also when you are capable to win and you haven't played well it shows a mental aspect of your team that is very important."
It left Steve McClaren ruing the outcome when he felt his players had earned the right to take something home. "I'm scratching my head as to how we got nothing from that game," he pondered. "Not many teams will come here and do that to Arsenal without getting something.
"We were aggressive, kept control, created chances. I couldn't fault what we tried to do. It was the complete performance without getting a result. It's about putting the ball in the back of the net which is why they have the points and we don't."
Asked if the answer to his head scratching could take the form of a giant 33-year-old goalkeeper, McClaren didn't disagree. "Goalkeepers win you matches and he certainly won that game," he concluded. There were two particularly influential stops. In the first half Cech was alert to parry away Giorginio Wijnaldum's firm shot, and tidy up when Jack Colback followed up. At the start of the second half Aaron Ramsey ceded possession and the game opened up once again for the visitors. Ayoze Perez dinked a perfect pass for Wijnaldum. Cech spread himself to smother superbly.
His interventions were hugely important on a day when Arsenal struggled to find their fluency. One of the perils of the festive football calendar is the likelihood of busy players looking as if they barely know if they are coming or going. There were leggy performances, lapses of concentration, and off-key passes scattered liberally across the drenched Emirates pitch.
Wenger watched on, quietly frustrated that his team were not functioning properly. Mesut Ozil's touch and movement were typically deft, but those around him strained to reach his level. The energy levels improved in the second half as the game opened up and both teams became more cavalier and increasingly desperate in their search for a goal.
Newcastle came close as Aleksandar Mitrovic and Chancel Mbemba threatened. Arsenal perked up as Olivier Giroud flashed a header across goal, and then Ozil squeezed a brilliant pass towards Ramsey, whose shot was too tame to test Rob Elliot.
In need of some inspiration, someone to take a risk or try something to force the issue, Koscielny stepped up to deliver in the 72nd minute. Giroud won headers in the box not once but twice after Ozil floated in a corner. Koscielny was alive to sneak in at the far post to plant a shot past Elliot.
Wenger was more than satisfied with the outcome an example they may need to draw on as the season wears on. "Not to drop points when you play like we did today is very important.
"It helps the team - the memory of having done that before and winning the game helps you to hang on sometimes."
Trying to look at the bigger picture, he was in no mood to read too much into this game in terms of the title challenge. "It's too early. We have 42 points, let's be realistic.
"Let's focus that we are in a strong position. We have given a lot over Christmas. At the end of the day how many points have you made in four games? We knew nine points would be acceptable, 10 ideal." He made the point that only Manchester City managed 10 points last season. And they did not go on to win the Premier League.
Wenger and McClaren were quiet about any potential business to strengthen their squads over January but admitted they are hard at work to bolster their options. The intensity of four festive games over, there is still not much time to pause for a moment, regroup, and go again.
Sunday Indo Sport