Sunday, 27 January 2013

Giroud and Ramsey star as Arsenal progress -Santos isn't as bad as some believe

Morning Gooners.

Well we all know what the FA Cup brings. Usually shocks. But it wasn't that way for this lucky Arsenal team who tried to shoot themselves in the foot. It took a deflected Theo Walcott shot to take us through to the next round after being pegged back twice by a good Brighton team.

The manager understandably made six changes from the side which beat West Ham on Wednesday night. Some of our players were in desperate need of a rest and they got it as Walcott, Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs dropped to the bench.

With so many changes it was unsurprising that this team weren't at their best from the off. Andre Satos hasn't started a game since the defeat to Manchester United in November. Likewise Thomas Rosicky last started in our game at Olympiacos. Abou Diaby was returning from being rested during midweek and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is having a difficult second season.

The other change in the team was enforeced. Captain Thomas Vermaelen went off injured against West Ham and Laurent Koscielny took his place in the starting line up. Fellow central defender Per Mertesacker took charge of the captain's armband.

Had Wojciech Szczesny not made a fantastic save to his right around the 14th minute mark, we'd have been behind first in a game yet again. The Poland international's reflexes were superb in denying the Brighton striker.

From thee resulting corner, the goalkeeper collected the shot and immediately released Rosicky. He powered down the other end of the pitch and Lucas Podolski was on hand to pass the ball back to Olivier Giroud who wrapped his foot around the ball for his 12th goal of the season.

We were lucky again when the home sides new signing Leonardo Ulloa put the ball in the back of our net. Replays show he was offside. But the warning signs were there. Arsenal were caught napping and Brighton whipped in a short corner. And the home team were quickest to react to the incoming corner. Barnes heading home passed a flapping Szczesny.

The goalkeeper had a few choice words for Santos, but even if the full back had been negligent in his defensive duties, Szczesny shouldn't have been beated to the ball.

At the break the scores were even. We'd scored from our only effort on target. The tempo was poor, the passing not quickly enough and we didn't create enough in the final third.

We nearly took the lead from a Podolski free kick which hit the bar. Inches lower and we'd have taken the lead for the second time.

However we didn't have to wait long to retake our advantage. Diaby playing a ball through to Giroud, who took the ball down and slotted home from the egde of the six yard block.

And the Frenchman was trying to single handedly win us the game. He was played through by Rosicky however the Albion keeper pulled off a great save to prevent us taking a two goal advantage.

Proving Arsenal can't hold a lead for any amount of time, the home team attacked down our right hand side. Diaby and Santos didn't close down the player with the ball. Podolski wasn't anywhere to be seen.

It allowed Barnes the time to whip in a dangerous cross which central defenders hate dealing with and Ulloa found the back of the net.

Questions have to be asked about the defending. The two Arsenal players were marking space and quite where Podolski was is anyone's guess. Santos took the blame from the majority of fans around me in the ground, but I don't believe it was all his fault.

The Brazilain lacks effort for me. He's a good enough footballer, if he tried harder. But you have to question where his cover was as well. The cross however was magnificent. And neither Mertesacker or Koscielny took control of the situation.

It was time for the big guns and Wenger opted to send on Wilshere and Walcott to win us the game and prevent a replay with 22 minutes to go. Rosicky and Oxlade-chamberlain the players to make way.

The tempo change immediately. And the passing became more one touch then four touch.

Giroud had a free kick which went over. Quite why he didn't allow Podolski to have the set piece is anyone's guess. But as I said, the Frenchman wanted to win the game on his own for us. He had the bit between his teeth.

The substution of Santo was greeted by mixed reaction by the travelling Gooners. However they welcomed Kieran Gibbs to the pitch with loud cheers.

It was all Arsenal after the changes.

With five minutes of the 90 remaining, the ball fell to Walcott after the Albion keeper punched a corner clear. The England man sent a volley back towards goal and it was deflected in off the home supporters man of the match El-Abd.

Fortunately we were able to hold on to our lead this time and see out the game. Now we face a fifth round match in three weeks time.

I thought Aaron Ramsey again had a superb game in the deep-lying midfield role. His passing was excellent and he certainly got his tackles in cleanly.

And Giroud is certainly trying to make the manager believe that he doesn't need to buy another striker this month. He was also excellent.

Afterwards the manager said:
"We needed to score a third goal but they twice came back and you have to give them credit for that.  
"They play great football and played a great game today. You could see why they knocked Newcastle out."

It was an excellent cup tie and a brilliant day out in Brighton. Lets hope the manager hasn't forgotten where his cheque book is because we certainly need to give ourselves every chance of finishing in the top four.

That's it for today. More tomorrow.

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