Brighton vs Arsenal in the FA cup had all the ingredients to become an entertaining game of football and the match certainly did not disappoint. Alex, a Chelsea supporting friend of mine moved to Brighton a couple of years ago and has gone to a number of their games. He spoke glowingly about their quality of football so I have been looking forward to this one when the tie was announced.
I am always interested to see how cohesive the team is when we ring in the changes. After weeks of searching for the correct balance, much of the tweaking and tinkering was thrown out of the window as Jenkinson, Koscielny, Santos, Diaby, Rosicky and Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Sagna, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Cazorla, Wilshere and Walcott respectively.
The home side should have scored the opening goal of the game but Szczesny's point blank save was even better than a wonderful save, it was effectively an assist. After stretching out a big hand to deny the Brighton player his instant throw set Rosicky on his way scampering up the pitch and Giroud received the ball via Podolski, as @TheSquidBoyLike put it on Twitter, Giroud's goal was very reminiscent of Dennis Bergkamp in his day, using the defender as a shield, a quick shift of feet and then a delicate curler into the top corner. Beautifully executed. Hopefully that goal puts the Chamakh comparisons to bed once and for all.
Oliver Giroud looks like a player who scores in patches, a player that thrives on belief. You can see that in his reaction when he misses chances. Many players just shrug their shoulders and trot off like nothing has happened but you can see the anguish on his face when he steers one wide. His double strike against West Ham has given him confidence and you could see that in his play yesterday.
Brighton's goal was a bad goal to concede for us, very bad in fact. Szczesny, Giroud and Diaby can all share responsibility for allowing Baines to leap and power a head in unchallenged.
As mentioned earlier, the game is about margins and I do wonder how much we would benefit from excelling from set pieces both defensively and offensively. That said, I think Szczesny has been an improvement on Almunia, Fabianski and Mannone when it comes to reaching set pieces but that was certainly an error on his part.
Andre Santos has received a lot of stick for his performance yesterday and undoubtedly he was poor overall, that said I did think he made some good one on one challenges during the first half. Santos perhaps like Diaby is a player that needs games to get anywhere near his best and to be fair to him he has not had any football of late so it was little wonder that he was rusty. We were very nearly punished when Santos lost the ball in the left back position after trying to dribble past his man and the ball found its way into the net but for an offside flag to spare the Brazilian's blushes.
What was getting my goat was the constant shooting from ridiculous distances when players were in better positions. I really do not like that in players and while supporters love to see players shooting from distance I've long been of the belief that it is rarely the best choice. Unless your name is Lukas Podolski that is. I would much rather keep hold of the ball until a better chance presents itself rather than a routine catch for the keeper or a supporter having to pick the ball up high in his/her seat and throwing back onto the pitch.
Speaking of Podolski, why is he not taking free kicks? The fiercest shot in the squad has already curled in a free kick against Southampton earlier in the season and smacked the cross bar yesterday. Not quite sure why Theo Walcott gets the priority over him. You can only imagine that Walcott is pinging them in left right and center during training sessions.
Oliver Giroud's second goal reminded me of a Diaby, van Persie combination at Goodison park a good few years back. Giroud spun off his man and Diaby gracefully floated a pass into his path, his control and sliding finish was that of a man in the zone, although greedily I would have loved to have seen a first time volley burst the net.
Brighton scored another equaliser from a diving header and it was yet more slack marking from the Arsenal defenders. Credit to Brighton though, they did show great character to get back into the game twice and they played some good football doing so. These are the types of team I want in the Premier League.
Arsene wanted to inject some drive and goal threat into the game so he introduced Wilshere and Walcott for Rosicky and Chamberlain. Wilshere actually gave the ball away on a number of occasions when he came on but added bite and drive to the midfield. Walcott is influencing games much more these days and makes an instant impact.
Walcott scored via a deflection after a Wilshere corner kick found it's way to him on the edge of the penalty area. Walcott later had the chance to set up Giroud for his hat trick after burning past Brighton defenders who had a head start in a foot race but instead of cutting back to Giroud, he went alone and the keeper saved from a tight angle. If Theo wants to replicate his idol Thierry Henry then he needs to do what is best for the team rather than thinking solely of his own glory. Henry used to race towards a keeper but if Pires, Dennis or Ljungberg were in better positions then he would feel no way about rolling a pass their way rather than go for goal. Walcott is still only 23 so he has time to iron that out of his game.
Credit once more goes to Aaron Ramsey who has produced another very good clean and tidy, hard working display as the deepest Arsenal midfielder. This could be the role that really develops Aaron as a player, he has to really simplify his game and keep things ticking. His pass percentage in the last two games has been very good. Like Francis Coquelin he has an advantage over Mikel Arteta in the fact that he can cover ground quicker and press the opposition. I am very intrigued to know how Ramsey would get on against a good Liverpool midfield. Doing well against West Ham at home and a Championship team is one thing but I am intrigued to know how he gets on next week.
Arsene may well have *Rubik's cubed Aaron into position for the longer term but you assume that once Mikel Arteta is fit then he will come straight back into the side.
Giroud could have had his hat trick but for a good save, Lukas Podolski was also denied from close range but we did enough to get the victory in the end. It is great to have players rested, great to have squad players having minutes under their belts and still progress. Good stuff.