Sunday, October 02, 2016

Arsenal Win with Last Kick of the Game (1-0)

After some scintillating football in the past few weeks, Arsenal were a whistle’s blow away from a frustrating 0-0 draw at Burnley. But with the very last kick of the day, Walcott came up hero again, towering high to head the ball across goal to the charging Chamberlain and Koscielny. Chamberlain flailed at the ball, sending it toward goal, though maybe above the bar. In the way was Koscielny arm, which inadvertently bundled the ball into the net. Arsenal had won 1-0 and picked up two valuable points on Manchester City, to narrow the gap at the top to a mere two points.

The handball call against Kos would have been tough to give, as he clearly didn’t have time to react to Ox’s volley but two other factors could have cancelled out the last gasp winner. The first was the time. Two minutes had lapsed when Arsenal sent their last corner of the day short, before the cross that ultimately won the game. The second issue, maybe more pertinent, was that Koscielny appeared to be offsides when the ball hit him. Arsene Wenger did commiserate with Burnley after the game, but it was with a sly smile, knowing the Gunners had stolen two points at the death.

It was a lackluster performance from Arsenal, aided by a stout and well-organized Burnley side that have already taken points from Liverpool, but the kind of victory a side needs if they are to sustain a title charge, particularly against any Guardiola side. Three quick thoughts on the game:

1.  Arsenal Defense Does its Job Again: Arsenal are on a run of defensive solidity that we have not seen for some time. This is their fourth straight clean sheet and fifth of the season, and they have conceded a single goal in the four games that preceded this run. The combination of Koscielny and Mustafi is starting to really click and the new signing appears to have been worth every penny. At the moment, he is playing like Vidic in his prime and, if he can keep it up, Arsenal certainly have a chance to finally get back to the winner’s circle they should have inhabited last season. Burnley will feel hard pressed by this loss, after another stout defensive display, but if they keep up this level, should find themselves safe at the end of the season.

2. Walcott’s Run Continues: After four goals in his last three appearances, Walcott was kept off the scoring sheet today, but he still found a way to contribute to the three points. It was actually an odd moment for the winger, not known for his heading ability, but the perfectly steered pass to the far post set up the winning goal. Walcott was starting to look like another failed project at the Emirates over the past couple of seasons, but appears to have found his game again at the perfect time, contributing to Arsenal’s undefeated streak hitting an impressive nine games. One wonders where Ramsey will fit in if he ever gets fit again.

3.  A Good Weekend for the Gunners: points were dropped by many of their rivals this weekend, with Everton having to settle for a 1-1 draw Friday night, United dominating a game they too only left with a point this morning (1-1 with Stoke at Old Trafford) and City ending their undefeated start to the season in a 2-0 loss to Tottenham. As with Barcelona, who have been buckling under the high press in recent matches, so too is the case with City, who have had a somewhat fortuitous draw at Celtic and a loss at Tottenham in their past two fixtures. Tottenham looks set to again be in the title conversation alongside Arsenal and City, with United still needing to work out some kinks and Everton expected to drop off the pace as the season continues. Chelsea probably still have an outside shot, but not if they keep defending as they have in recent weeks. 

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