Well, the Southampton result wasn’t great, was it…well, it’s not just the result that’s disappointing. As Arsenal fans, we’re inclined to want to see nice, pretty football, sometimes even at the expense of a defeat; nonetheless, as nice as the moral high-ground is, there are more and more people who are content with ‘grinding out results’, a hallmark of the title-winning sides recently (most notably, Manchester United). I guess that when you look at it like that, it’s one point gained. In every other sense, it’s two crucial points lost.
I guess there are two main components to look at – decisions, and the repercussions that this game comes with. Unfortunately, this post may come across as a little bit pessimistic. However, I’ll try to keep my spirits up as much as I can, because after all, we’re still most definitely in with a shout of the F.A. Cup and the league. Champions League will be extraordinarily tricky, but at least we’re still in it.
So let’s start with the decisions that shaped the way that the match played out. Firstly, I’m not convinced by Gnabry just yet…(If you haven’t left, then thank you!) Of course, he’s been good and he brings something different to the team, especially his pace given the absence of Walcott. However, having grown up playing more as an inside forward, he doesn’t naturally hug the touchline – the lack of width is made up for by Sagna, whose form of late has definitely warranted a new contract. However, you can’t rely on Sagna as a primary attacking threat from the right hand side (cue for someone to comment, saying that our goals both came from the right hand side…)
What makes sense, especially for a Wenger team, is that you have one wider (possibly quicker?) winger, and then another one who acts as more of an inside forward. Think Pires (wider) and Ljungberg (inside forward), or Walcott and Arshavin. If that’s not an option, then two wide players would be preferable, as this can stretch the play, allowing more space for the roaming central player (in the two above scenarios, think Bergkamp and Nasri/Fabregas respectively). But this season, we haven’t seen this, and instead it seems as though Wenger is willing to compromise quality in order to fit into the system that our team has morphed into.
In the last post that I wrote, I spoke of how well Monreal and Cazorla were playing with each other. This is a clear example of how an inside forward can be helped by his fullback – Monreal’s width meant that Santi could drift infield without feeling chained. As a result of this, we’ve seen his performances (and goal tally) improve dramatically. Unfortunately, whilst he is most definitely an improvement on Andre ‘False Three’ Santos, Monreal still has the occasional off game, a trait which Gibbs has seemingly expelled from his game. Southampton was a good example of one of Monreal’s off games. Whether it was in the final third, or in and around our own penalty box, his overall play seemed to be off the pace, let alone some of his decision making.
Unfortunately, another player who was ‘off the pace’ (although, this time I mean it quite literally) was Mikel Arteta. Of course, one can make concessions, given his relative age compared to the rest of the squad, as well as the fact he only had one day of full training before being whisked into a high intensity Premier League match. It also didn’t help that their midfielders pressed him remarkably well, but nonetheless, it could well have been one of his worst performances for Arsenal.
I mentioned decision making as a key component of this blog. Whilst the blame seemingly lies with Wenger for picking Monreal ahead of Gibbs, the decision to start Arteta and Flamini together was one that was ultimately forced upon him, given the injuries to Wilshere, Ramsey and Diaby. Cazorla can play there, as can Chamberlain, but you wouldn’t want to disrupt Cazorla’s rhythm, and Chamberain’s just come back from injury, let alone his inexperience in the central role. With Flamini and Arteta, there was never going to be too much forward drive. However, Flamini’s decision to launch himself two-footed into an utterly ridiculous tackle remains a mystery to me, and could well have cost us those two crucial points. Yes, he gets the ball, but you can’t make tackles like that. There have been enough examples recently (thinking mainly of Debuchy vs. West Brom) to prove that two footed tackles won’t be tolerated anymore.
Now of course, I’m not insinuating that Flamini would have scored the winner following a mazy run, beating 6 players. But of course, his departure didn’t help. Firstly, it meant that Giroud became even more isolated, and bar a few Ozil breaks, he didn’t get any opportunity to affect the game. Come to think of it, Giroud would have surely been helped by someone out wide, who’s quite direct, and who also enjoys getting involved in goals…someone like Podolski?
The way in which Podolski has been frozen out so spectacularly of late is perhaps even more difficult to understand than Flamini’s tackle. In 27 Premier League games, our incessantly happy German has 14 goals, and 9 assists. What’s not to like? Okay, his work rate isn’t always as impressive as it could be, but often he finds himself in space anyway, so why criticise that? We’re always going to have runners from deep, so why not have someone waiting on the edge of the box, or indeed out wide?
For me, playing Podolski would solve most of the problems detailed in the opening paragraphs. Yes, Gnabry’s good. Will he perform and give us the end product like Podolski does? Not yet. Unfortunately, I can’t see Podolski keeping that infectious smile too much longer, especially if the Draxler rumours prove to be true – at 28, he should be at his peak, but it seems as though we’re not planning on using him in a way that allows him to benefit the team.
With the Liverpool FA Cup tie (outrageously) being placed merely 48 hours before the Bayern match, it seems as though our squad, already somewhat depleted by injuries, will have to be used to the full capacity. Ramsey and Wilshere will be big losses, and Arteta’s suspension for the Bayern match isn’t quite as bad as Flamini missing 4 EPL games (although, he will be eligible to fill in for Arteta in the Champions League). Should Draxler or Matuidi arrive in the very near future, they will both be cup tied for the Champions League, although they will both add lots of quality (dare I say, enough to secure silverware come May?)
Anyway, that’s all from me. Despite Tottenham’s inability to do us a favour, Chelsea still managed to drop points, and we’re only one behind Manchester City. It’s far from a catastrophic situation to be in. The next few weeks will be crucial, but I reckon that if we play at our best, and utilise our squad to its full potential, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t come out of it relatively unscathed, especially with Cazorla and Ozil really starting to click into gear.
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