Arsenal 7 Newcastle United 3
The last game of 2012 and my pre match routine took on a slightly different spin yesterday. My usual crowd were cramming their gobs with delicious Argentinean steak, leaving me to plead poverty. It did however allow me the chance to catch up with the guys from Arsenal Brasil in the Alnwyne Castle pub as the rain tumbled down outside. Arsene Wenger made one change from the team that defeated Wigan, with Per Mertesacker succumbing to norovirus, just as Olivier Giroud and Tomas Rosicky had a few days previously. This meant that the manager persisted with Theo Walcott as a central striker.
Arsenal immediately looked to make pace their partner inside the first minute when Jack Wilshere blocked Tiote`s volley and led a charged counter attack. He fed Chamberlain on the right, who just dragged his shot past Tim Krul`s post from the edge of the area. But after a fairly timid proceeding twenty minutes or so, Arsenal burst into life. Cazorla`s hooked past to Podolski on the left left the German with work to do on the touchline. But he neatly spun Danny Simpson and slipped a cute pass into the left channel. Walcott read it and bent his run beautifully to meet the pass, before making a beeline for the Newcastle area. Cazorla was making a good run to the back post and I thought initially that Theo should square it, but Walcott had already set himself and shaped his body to bend a sumptuous finish inside Tim Krul`s post to make it 1-0.
But next we got the frustrations Walcott still hasn`t eradicated from his game (though they are becoming less frequent). Walcott led another dangerous counter attack and in a two on two situation, he had Cazorla to his right ready for a simple one on one, but Walcott made a terrible hash of an easy pass, which allowed Coloccini to intercept. Newcastle began to grow in confidence and the warning signs were there when Chieck Tiote hit a twenty five yard range finder which forced Szczesny to beat the ball away for a corner. Gabriel Obertan collected Tiote`s pass and plundered in from the touchline to the edge of the Gunners box, Bacary Sagna made a rash tackle, which gave the Magpies a free kick. Demba Ba stepped up with a fairly tame effort, but Jack Wilshere didn`t cover himself in glory, attempting to duck Ba`s shot, he only succeeded in deflecting it into the net.
Newcastle might have turned the tables completely before half time, when Ba curved a lovely pass to Sylvain Marveaux from the left touchline. Marveaux ran unchallenged and fired a shot goalwards, which Szczesny smartly tipped around the post. I worried that Newcastle might elect to tighten the game up in the second half and that space might become an issue. My anxieties were unfounded. Podolski found the onrushing Gibbs seconds into the half, he drove the ball straight at Krul`s legs with Wilshere and Podolski waiting for the pull back. But the Gunners did not need to wait too long for their second goal. Danny Simpson`s woeful throw in next to his own corner flag was intercepted by Podolski, who nodded the ball to Cazorla. The diminutive Spaniard found Chamberlain on the edge of the area. The Ox set himself before sliding a shot into the far corner for his first league goal of the season. Relief.
The home side appeared to be in the groove, though again we saw the worst of Walcott. With Podolski completely free on the back post for a tap in, Theo opted for an impossible shot from 25 yards which went well wide. Theo does need to be careful not to prioritise his desire to prove himself as a striker above the team effort. That piece of selfishness became all the more frustrating a minute later when Newcastle equalised again. Bigirimana clipped a ball out to Obertan on the left. Obertan threw a stepover before motoring beyond Bacary Sagna, his low cross found Sylvain Marveaux totally unmarked on the back post. The back four had a good line across the goal when the cross comes in, Wilshere sees the action unfold in front of him and really should have checked back to mark Marveaux with Gibbs marking Ba.
Arsenal looked to respond immediately, Podolski and Wilshere played a smart one two on the edge of the Arsenal box, the German then found Cazorla, whose left foot shot was spooned away to safety by Krul. Then Gibbs tackled the ponderous Papiss Cisse deep in his own half, Podolski and Cazorla played a swift exchange of passes inside the Magpies area, but Krul was out smartly at the feet of Podolski. But soon enough Arsenal did reassume the lead. Jack Wilshere ran at the heart of the Newcastle defence, leading James Perch a merry dance to the touchline, before standing up an inviting cross which floated dangerously under Krul`s crossbar. Coloccini could only succeed in heading it against his own crossbar and Lukas Podolski was on hand to head home from close range. Relief. Again.
But the intake of breath was soon to give way to annoyed sighs. Newcastle equalised again when Demba Ba flicked on Krul`s goal kick, finding Marveaux. Marveaux didn`t meet much of a challenge as he shifted the ball onto his favoured left foot and delivered a delicious cross with the outside of his left boot. Gibbs fell asleep and allowed Ba to creep in on the back post to side foot home another equaliser. If Walcott was auditioning to be an Arsenal striker at one end, then Ba was executing an equally impressive audition at the other. But from here, the exertions of Boxing Day began to tell on tired Newcastle legs. Walcott`s good points began to take over too.
Podolski once again found the tireless Gibbs on the left hand side. This time he did pull the ball back, Podolski missed it, with the ball seemingly rolling perfectly for Sagna, Walcott stopped it, spun and kept his composure, toe poking the ball into the roof of the net. The look of resignation on Newcastle faces demonstrated that they didn`t have it in them for another comeback. It was a fantastic, consummate finish by Walcott. But had he missed, he would have had Sagna to answer to. Olivier Giroud entered the fray at this point, which meant Walcott moved out to the right hand side. But he was still in ultra confident mode, picking up Ramsey`s pass, feinting past Tiote before finding his bending shot deflected inches wide off of James Perch`s thigh.
Theo made a convincing case for being a passable right winger too as Arsenal put the game beyond Newcastle. Sagna`s reverse pass saw Walcott sashay out wide and wrap his body around a terrific cross, which left Olivier Giroud with the relatively simple job of heading past Krul from close range. In Arsenal`s current formation, only one of Giroud or Walcott can play centre forward. The pair have showed good signs of linkage this season and there is a suggestion that the pair could play together as a strike partnership. That would mean breaking up the midfield triumvirate of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla. Unless Cazorla were to be moved out wide as a drifting right winger. But then with Podolski on the left, you`d pretty much have a front three of Walcott, Giroud and Podolski anyway. There really are no swift answers as to which shape this team ought to be taking. If we can chop and change as effectively as we did yesterday, it`s a moot point, but not every game will be this open, as Wigan proved on Saturday.
Walcott and Giroud combined for the next goal too, although not quite as deliberately. Walcott moved in from the right and stumbled his way past Obertan and Tiote, before falling over. Giroud protected the ball away from Perch before smashing a right footed shot beneath the beleaguered body of Tim Krul. Newcastle were truly out on their feet. But perhaps the finest finish in a game of expert finishing was saved for last. Walcott took a quick free kick to Wilshere next to the corner flag. Theo then contrived to dance past Ameobi and Tiote. Obertan flicked out a leg and brought him down. Most of the stadium looked away in disbelief as Chris Foy somehow did not deem Obertan`s deliberately trailing leg to have been a foul. I was busy shouting at the referee myself until I was halted in my invective by the crowd cheering. The replay showed me what my wandering eyes hadn`t seen. Theo, in a manner similar to Thierry against Leeds all those years ago, simply got to his feet and lifted a cool finish past Krul into the net.
It was Walcott`s second hat trick of the season and the second time Arsenal had found the net seven times in a game. Giroud might also have had a hat trick himself. Aaron Ramsey`s low cross found the Frenchman inside the area but his effort rattled the underside of the bar. Chris Foy put a weary Newcastle out of their misery and curtailed the fun with the final whistle. Theo`s hat trick seems to be ample evidence that he can indeed play through the centre, certainly in home matches against tired opposition. But three Arsenal goals also emanated from Theo making runs from out wide. Like I said, it`s not an easy conundrum, but I don`t think our forwards need obsess too much about which particular part of the formation graphic they occupy so long as the team are scoring. Walcott, Podolski and Giroud were all able to score typical centre forward goals, Podolski and Walcott were able to create goals from wide positions too. So long as they interchange effectively that`s what matters most. Alas, Walcott won`t be here long enough for that front three to really foment an understanding. LD.
ARSENAL: 1.SZCZESNY, 3.SAGNA, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (c), 28.GIBBS, 8.ARTETA, 10.WILSHERE, 19.S.CAZORLA (22.Coquelin `86), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (12.Giroud `74), 9.PODOLSKI (16.Ramsey `82), 14.WALCOTT. Unused: 7.Rosicky, 20.Djourou, 24.Mannone, 27.Gervinho.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: 1.KRUL, 5.SIMPSON (31.Ferguson `82), 14.PERCH, 2.COLOCINNI (c), 3.SANTON, 22.MARVEAUX (34.Tavernier `86), 24.TIOTE, 20.BIGIRIMANA (23.Shola Ameobi `82), 25.OBERTAN, 9.CISSE, 19.BA. Unused: 13.Harper, 26.Streete, 28.Sammy Ameobi, 30.Abeid.