Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Arsenal 2 - Cardiff City 0

This game was a must win, not just to keep Arsenal on top of the Premiership as the new year begins, but also for team confidence. With the number of wounded warriors piling up, including the Gunners' top two scoreres, Giroud and Ramsey, the source of goals was a concern. Lukas Podolski started up front as central striker, flanked by Theo Walcott, whose form has been improving week by week since his return from injury, and Santi Cazorla. Once again, I didn't get to see much of the first half because I was driving up to Indy. But I was able to watch the end of the first half and the entire second half on my cell phone (while warming up for indoor bike training). It sounds like I didn't miss much in a first half that others have described as turgid. The London weather, once again, appeared dismal; and I was concerned that the game might turn out in a nil-nil draw, like Arsenal-Chelsea last week.

Arsenal had the lion's share of possession in the second half, and mounted a number of serious attacks. Per Mertesacker, in particular, had two good opportunities to score on headers from corner kicks. He'll be disappointed not to have scored at least one of them. Finally, in the waning minutes, Niklas Bendtner following up on a shot that was parried to the side by the Cardiff goalie. He blasted the rebound into the top of the net, just before stepping on a defender's foot and spraining his ankle. Word is that Bendtner will be out for weeks, rather than days. Already thin at striker, even with Giroud and Bendtner, Arsenal are now left with only Podolski and Walcott capable of leading the line (and I use the word "capable" with some trepidation). With the January transfer window now open, Wenger might well be forced to make a move, despite his traditional reluctance to change the squad in mid-season.

Arsenal scored a second goal in stoppage time to put the game to bed, and it was a more typical Arsenal work of art. Starting by the right sideline, Sagna got the ball to Rosicky, who played into Wilshire in the center, about 35 yards out. Wilshire played a gorgeous first-time pass, flicking the ball with the outside of his left boot, to Walcott, who was cutting into the box. Wilshire pass was inch-perfect, beating the defender and leaving Walcott one-on-one against the goalie. Seeing the goalkeeper starting to sprawl in front of him, Walcott simply chipped the shot over him and into the net. A really pretty goal.

Let's hope there are more goals like it in weeks to come. The way Chelsea, and especially Man City, are playing, Arsenal are going to need goals, goals, and more goals to stay on top of the League.

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