Robin van Persie 60'
A match that saw chances go begging, freak refereeing accidents and Joey Barton running about with a cigar (well, not the last one, really) also had a Robin van Persie goal and no others, so the three points went to Arsenal. It wasn't the best performance but neither was it the worst, and considering other results on the day our victory over Queens Park Rangers was an even better win.
The captain's goal was his 35th of 2011. That puts him one shy of Alan Shearer's record for goals in an English calendar year, and as tomorrow is 2012, that's all there will be. No record for Robin, but 2011 was still (obviously) a scintillating year for him, and one that we all will long remember. There's no shame in second-best when you're a one-man team in crisis, after all.
Arsenal's lead should have come earlier, and should have been much safer. van Persie had a legitimate chance at a first half hat trick, but failed to convert several early chances. Theo Walcott was played through the middle and was alone with the keeper, but somehow failed to put the shot on frame. After coming on as a late substitute, Gervinho flubbed a clear chance in front of goal coming from a van Persie cross. There were others that I am forgetting - point is, there are two ways to think about it; either we're creating a ton of chances and eventually they'll start falling for players not from Holland, or eventually the missed chances are going to hurt us in a big way. At the moment, I feel like the former is more likely, but it is worrisome.
On the positive side, Arsenal managed to get through a Joey Barton game without having anyone sent off. It wasn't for lack of trying, he had several nasty challenges and was just generally annoying, but really wasn't as bad as he's been in the past. He was booked for a late challenge on Mikel Arteta, and could have seen a second yellow two or three other times. The fact that that is a "good" game for Barton is a bit amusing to me, but there you are.
I would be remiss if I failed to comment on the officiating crew led by Martin Atkinson. I'm rarely happy with referees, but the game today would have been funny if there wasn't so much at stake. There were two QPR handballs in the box that Atkinson decided to allow (the first had a case but not one I like, but Barton's later was honestly pretty blatant), and a studs-up tackle into the thigh in touch that probably should have seen a red card but didn't. (Surely there were odd decisions that went the other way, but these are the examples I remember.) The best, though, was the phantom booking. Late in the first half Laurent Koscielny made a bad tackle but the advantage was played, meaning Atkinson had to return later to show him yellow. It was probably deserved. However, Atkinson decided to book Thomas Vermaelen instead, who had nothing to do with the play and wasn't even in the vicinity. The linesmen either tried and failed to warn Atkinson or did nothing; either way, at the time of writing this, that booking is still under Vermaelen's name. The referees weren't the reason why this game ended the way it did (that would be the poor finishing), but they helped nothing by bottling it on a regular basis.
Speaking of Vermaelen, he's hurt now. Surprise! Early in the second half he tweaked a calf muscle, and was replaced by Francis Coquelin. After the game Arsene Wenger said that he would likely miss two weeks - namely the Fulham and Leeds matches - but that since Kieran "Made of Paper" Gibbs is close to a return, a loan signing is unlikely. If there aren't any setbacks this may not be too big of a deal, but this is Vermaelen, and two weeks can sometimes turn into eight months with him. Consider me concerned until further notice.
One goal in, three points in, and a United loss, a Chelsea loss, and a Spurs draw put us in fourth place, two points clear of Chelsea and Liverpool, and a whole hell of a lot happier than it looked like we would be in August or September. Happy New Year, everyone.