30 December 2013

Newcastle 0-1 Arsenal: Giroud shows the handsome side of winnin' ugly

Man, that was not a pleasant match to watch. It was tense; it was sloppy; it was, well, a scrappy affair. Still, style points don't accrue in the Prem, and so a 1-0 win is enough to see us reclaim the top spot for a few more days. Chelsea's defeat of Liverpool, and Man City's win over Crystal Palace, mean that only three points separate first from third; so tight is the top of the table that Liverpool, in first place on Christmas Day, now sits fifth only four days later.

Back to the match itself. I'll freely admit that we escaped with the win and were lucky to do so. Whether it was Szczesny seeing an attempted clearance hit a striker and bounce back toward goal, or Wilshere clearing a would-be goal off the line, among many other close-calls, coming away with three points is indeed fortunate. Heck, we did it and should heave a sigh of relief.

As the saying goes, the harder you work, the luckier you get. In the case of one Olivier Giroud, the maxim seems apt to the nth degree. Spending most of the first half being run into and run over by Tioté, it looked as if his day would end before half-time as he went in for a rash tackle on the man and turned his own ankle in an ugly way. For all of the harsh challenges Tioté served up on the day, it looked ironic to see Giroud end his own afternoon trying to exact a bit of revenge. Ironic, or perhaps karmic. I can't keep track of how the universe doles out these consequences. At any rate, so severe was the turned-ankle that Giroud spent several minutes on the ground before limping off, overshadowing Cazorla's injury-performance on the sideline, and both men came off for treatment, leaving us to play with nine men for a few minutes before halftime.

However, Giroud would reap his karmic/ironic reward later on; after busting his hump all over the field to little quantifiable effect, and with Tioté crashing around to terrific effect, Giroud found a way to score after Tioté fouled Cazorla, drawing a set-piece from about 40 yards out. Walcott lofted it straight towards goal, and Giroud did just about the only thing a man can do in that situation—let the ball glance off of his handsome noggin and hope for the best. The angle was difficult, the ball traveling straight at the goal, and so Giroud couldn't put any pace on the header (as Walcott did against West Ham, for example). However, these are "his" goals, these deft, glancing redirects, rather than those thunderous, punishing volleys he sometimes strives in vain for. Whether this goal silences the critics is another question; somehow, I doubt it, as, barely five minutes later, Giroud failed to put that kind of volley on-frame after Walcott's chip was cleared from Debuchy, who was falling backward into the back of the net as he headed clear. Giroud's follow was so poor as to travel parallel to the goal-line, and he fell to his knees in frustration.

Still, a goal's a goal, all the more vital when it's the only one scored, and it's about time that Giroud netted, whatever the fashion or the failings that followed. It certainly won't be enough to put to rest the doubts people have about him, but this strikes me as a suitable compromise—he scored when we needed him to (after all, no one else stepped up) but struggled to seize the match by the scruff, even when other opportunities presented themselves. As such, we earned a vital three points on the road, but we did so in a way that reminds those who hold the purse-strings that reinforcements are still needed. We finished the match, after all, with Flamini playing left-back for Gibbs, who picked up an injury (Monreal was not on the bench), Ramsey nursing his thigh-strain, and Özil also injured enough to miss the next two or three matches.

It's a far-cry from last year's 7-3 riot, but the end-result is the same: three points. We've emerged from a tough, tough string of fixtures and have a few, more-favorable ones, not that we can relax or underestimate Cardiff, Aston Villa, and Fulham. We may not be sittin' pretty after Sunday's win, but we are sitting atop the Prem for the first time since the 2007-08 season. However, before we indulge too much in what our current position means, let's remember that there are still a few matches to be played—19, by my count, enough for even Sunderland to still be in the hunt, mathematically—let's keep those heads down and those shoulders to the wheel.