The stage was set for another pulsating Premier League encounter between Arsenal and Newcastle.
As recent as two seasons ago, both sides produced an epic encounter that exposed the frailties in their defensive rearguard. The Gunners self destructed and threw away a four-goal lead despite playing with 10 men for most of the second half thanks to Abou Diaby’s sheer stupidity.
Last season, the crunch clash at the Emirates offered a different prospect as both sides threw caution to the wind. When it seemed as if both teams were going to share the spoils of battle, a late Thomas Vermaelen surge upfront saw the Belgian smash in Arsenal’s match-clincher from point-blank range.
Vermaelen has become a more disciplined player this season, and for those that don’t know, he hasn’t scored any goal in this campaign.
Judging from the team sheets displayed on Saturday, I expected the Gunners to be more than a match for the injury-laden Newcastle, but it was important to keep half an eye on their Senegalese duo of Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse. While Cisse turned out to be a peripheral figure all game long, Demba Ba was a thorn in Arsenal's flesh.
After 90 minutes of pulsating action, 10 goals were scored and as expected, Arsenal made me go through too many emotional phases in one game. I had fits of joy, frustration, relief, shock, elation, disgust and euphoria.
Without further ado, here are three key lessons I learned from Arsenal’s emphatic 7-3 victory over Newcastle.
The Walcott as a Centre-Forward Chronicles began in the emphatic 5-2 win over Reading where, in fairness to him, he scored the goal that put the game beyond doubt.
Arsenal visited the DW Stadium days later, and Walcott was retained in his centre-forward position yet again, winning a penalty for his team.
Against Newcastle, Walcott spearheaded Arsenal’s attack with Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain supporting him through the flanks.
Podolski sent Walcott through with a perfectly-timed pass and the forward’s first finish was a strike Thierry Henry would have been proud of.
Podolski was in the thick of things in the buildup to Walcott’s second goal after some good passing play with Kieran Gibbs. The German miscued Gibbs’ carefully weighted pass into the box, but the ball fell kindly to Walcott. It showed great composure in the midst of bodies in the box when he slammed his shot into the roof of the net.
Walcott’s hat-trick was pretty puzzling, judging from the way he waltzed past his markers to when he showed great balance to stay on his feet before asking Tim Krul if he wanted some ketchup for his chip.
Walcott has surpassed his personal goal scoring best with Arsenal this season with 14 goals. He’s odds on to hit the 20-goal mark this season, provided he’s not sold in January, as Wenger has ruled out any move for the forward (via the Guardian).
Yes, he has been abused for not having a football brain, and he doesn’t have the frame of your everyday centre-forward. However, Walcott uses his blistering pace to devastating effect and his clinical finishing ability has been a major highlight of Arsenal’s campaign thus far.
From January 1, Walcott will be able to sign a pre-contract with any club in the world, and there are so many teams out there that won’t waste a second in giving Walcott those six digits he’s requesting.
Arsenal, if you don’t give Walcott the fat contract he’s requesting, someone else will.
Before his brace against Newcastle, Olivier Giroud’s last goal in Arsenal colors came in the North London derby in mid-November.
Since then, he has been desperate to get on the score sheet and his shenanigans against West Brom didn’t go down well with a faction of the Arsenal faithful.
To add to his misery, his manager handed his favored centre-forward role to Theo Walcott who hasn’t put a wrong foot in that position.
When Giroud came on for the Ox in the second half, I actually tipped him to end his drought against that shaky Newcastle defense, but I didn’t fathom the idea of the Frenchman grabbing a true hat-trick with his head, right leg and left leg. The last player I saw score such a hat-trick was Peter Crouch and you can never guess who the opponents were.
Bacary Sagna teed up Walcott on the right hand side and the forward wasted no time swerving in an inviting cross that was nodded home by Giroud. Afterwards, Walcott attempted a slalom run on the right that was intercepted, falling into Giroud’s path. The Frenchman guided the ball to his right and beat Tim Krul in his near post.
Giroud was denied his first Arsenal hat-trick when he smashed the cross bar with a left-footed piledriver after some good work from Aaron Ramsey.
He arrived in the club as van Persie’s replacement and his return of nine goals has been heartwarming to say the least. Nothing gives me more joy to know that Arsenal has found a way to play to Giroud’s strengths and we all know that he’s a force to be reckoned with in the air.
This gives the Gunners an alternative route to finding a goal when all other avenues are exhausted.
Arsenal has scored a bucket load of goals in all competitions this season.
Surprisingly, this was the sixth game Arsenal had scored five or more in a game this season. Tottenham and Reading shipped in five, Southampton and Coventry received six and yours truly, Reading, opened their floodgates to receive Arsenal’s bountiful gift of seven goals.
Despite trying to outscore their opponents in many games this season, Arsenal has been shambolic at the back, and their defensive frailties were exposed yet again by Newcastle. The Gunners failed to hold onto the lead on three occasions before running riot as the game reached its climax.
Wojciech Szczesny was blameless for Arsenal’s first goal as Demba Ba’s free kick took a wicked deflection off Jack Wilshere.
The goalkeeper was absolutely livid with his defense for the second goal, as Sylvian Marveaux was left unmarked when Kieran Gibbs lost his positional bearings to allow the midfielder to make a simple tap in.
Gibbs was culpable yet again for Newcastle’s third goal, as Ba crept behind him to sidefoot the ball past Szczesny.
Funnily enough, Gibbs wasn’t the only defender having a bad day at the office. The usually dependable Bacary Sagna was run ragged by Gabby Obertan, and it’s a game he’ll want to forget quickly.
Arsenal has a vast array of talented fullbacks at its disposal, but they always seem to have weird lapses in concentration, especially Gibbs in the game against Newcastle. I hope that Steve Bould and the defensive coaches will sit the fullbacks and show them where they got it wrong, because they are vital to our play.
In the heart of Arsenal’s defense, the pairing of Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny wasn’t as formidable as it used to be. On this note, it’s fair to say that Per Mertesacker’s influence was sorely missed.
In my opinion, Vermaelen and Koscielny are somewhat alike, that’s why they need the calmness, composure and coordination of the Big Friendly Giant to steady the defensive ship.
Mikel Arteta was also exposed in midfield, and he didn’t really protect his back four. Maybe Arsenal needs a recognized holding midfielder after all.
Taking everything into account, it was a great game of football for the neutrals, and as what you would expect from Arsenal, the entertainment value of the game was in a world of its own.
Theo Walcott’s hat-trick and Olivier Giroud’s brace showcased Arsenal’s attacking prowess but there are still some unanswered questions at the back.
Feel free to share your own lessons as well.