The Arsenal FC were able to take back the lead in the Premier League standings Sunday with a victory over Newcastle United FC. With Mesut Ozil out of the starting squad due to a shoulder injury, Olivier Giroud needed to step up and take responsibility for the Arsenal attack. While Giroud did score the only goal of the match, he did not have a great game overall. He missed out on several scoring opportunities, and was very lucky that the Newcastle squad could not take advantage of multiple mistakes made by the Arsenal defenders.
The match could very well have gone very differently had there not been so many missed connections. It may have been a function of the accelerated schedule during this time of year, with just a couple of days between matches, but both sides looked like they were playing tired.
It was a lackluster effort on both ends of the pitch, and the lack of depth demonstrated could be a concern for both clubs going into the second half of the season. Newcastle now faces a difficult road to make up the four points needed to climb into the coveted Champions League spots out of eighth place. It will be important to give a much better effort on New Year’s Day when they face a West Bromwich Albion squad desperate to stay out of the relegation zone. Sunday’s match provided some hope for Newcastle fans, with the return of Hatem Ben Arfa off the bench. He played with an energy that was not matched by many of his teammates, but it was not enough to hold off an Arsenal FC squad that needed the win to take back the Premier League lead.
Arsenal faces an unknown on Wednesday as they will go up against a Cardiff City squad that is coming through the drama surrounding the sacking of manager Malky Mackay. Also desperate to avoid relegation, Cardiff may provide a difficult challenge for Arsenal. They barely took a point for a draw with last-place Sunderland on Saturday, but it is doubtful that they will face Arsenal with the same lack of direction that characterized that match. So newly arrived in the Premier League, they will not go without a fight.
Despite the showing on Sunday, Arsenal has not held on to the top spot by accident. They remain on the short list of real contenders for the Premier League title this year. With second-place Manchester City maintaining a wicked pace on their heels despite key injuries, manager Arsene Wenger may well be looking for someone during the January transfer window to help Arsenal maintain their lead.
Getting the talent that they already have on the Arsenal squad to click together better is another option. In light of Giroud giving inconsistent performances, and Ozil yet to show the type of game-changing dynamics that earned him his record contract, just getting those two to play up to potential would go a long way toward getting the results Arsenal fans will continue to expect. Sunday’s ugly victory has allowed the Arsenal FC to take the Premier League lead back, but a higher standard of play will be required if they are to keep it.
By Jim Malone