It says a lot about the performances lately that they’ve been able to bring me out of this particular blogging-hibernation. I last wrote on February 12th, just after the first of our Merseyside drubbings. We were due to play Manchester United at home the next day, and frankly whilst the 0-0 draw seemed okay at the time, that period turned out to be some of the most damaging few weeks for Arsenal in a long, long time.
Yes, it was an obscenely hard run of games (Liverpool twice, Manchester United, Bayern Munich twice, Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton twice). We weren’t expecting to beat Bayern, and I think we can be fairly proud of the effort we put in against them over two legs, especially given the penalty miss/red card debacle in the first leg. We managed to beat Tottenham (just…), and beat the two Merseyside teams in the F.A. Cup. Other than that, we were appalling. Let’s not forget that we drew at home to Swansea, and lost to Stoke during that run as well, in what was one of the least inspiring performances I’ve ever seen.
One could argue that the performance against Manchester City last week was the best that we’d played during that spell – we looked organised, we snuffed out most of their attacks and were arguably the better side on the day. And yet, we only managed a 1-1 draw. Before the Liverpool game, we were 2 points clear at the top of the table, and 10 points ahead of Everton in 5th place. Now, if Everton win their game in hand against Crystal Palace at home, they’ll be 2 points ahead of us. As Gary Lineker said, ‘If finishing 4th is a trophy then this [Everton vs. Arsenal] is a Cup final’…and we blew it.
Given the two run-ins, I’m still fairly sure that we will snatch 4th spot, but it’s not in our hands anymore. We’re relying on the two Manchester clubs, and potentially Southampton as well. It’s a bad situation to be in, especially given the form of the Evertonians. We SHOULD win all of our remaining league games, but having said that, we should have won some of the games that we haven’t done this season. I’m not talking about Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester City. I mean the ones against Aston Villa, Swansea, Stoke, Southampton…Manchester United…
They’ve been pretty awful this season – frankly, they’re lucky to be 6th. And yet, despite our contrasting seasons, we only managed to get 1 point off them all season! Add the remaining 5 points onto our tally, and we’re only a point off the top. They will get better at some point (whether it’s with Moyes or without him), and it seems as though we missed the chance to kick them whilst they were down. It was always going to be tough without Ferguson, but we didn’t make the most of it. In fact, perhaps they wish they’d appointed his Everton successor, Roberto Martinez.
Put it this way – I’m glad they didn’t. Firstly, he would have done a better job than Moyes has done. Secondly, it means that he could feasibly become the next Arsenal manager when Wenger decides to call it a day. I’m still backing him, although it is clear that his inability to change his side for the game is becoming a huge problem. Martinez realised that Podolski wouldn’t necessarily help Monreal (who’s also our weaker left-back), and so he stuck Romelu Lukaku out there. Hey presto, he creates the first goal and gets the second for himself. A tactical master stroke.
Brendan Rodgers is also a very strategic manager – it took a while to ship out all of King Kenny’s ‘deadwood’, but once he’d done that and replaced them with his own players who’d fit in with the style that he wanted to play, he’s made them favourites for the title. No doubt, he learned a lot from his days at Chelsea, under Jose Mourinho. Pellegrini’s tactics this season have also worked for the most part. As for Wenger?
There is something to be said for letting your creative players express themselves. Ozil, Cazorla, Rosicky spring to mind. But that won’t always work, and it also requires a team that is able to adapt to the changes around it. Wilshere’s goal against Norwich, and Rosicky’s against Sunderland are clear examples that when we pass the ball quickly, very few teams can stop us. But when we don’t have that kind of space, we look lethargic, laborious and just a bit boring really. Those goals worked because we were passing quickly, accurately and over short distances. Too many times this season, our attacking midfielders are too far from the deep lying ones (especially when it’s Flamini-Arteta), and that’s where a lot of our problems have come from. Ramsey acted as a bridge for that, as did Chamberlain for a while, but it’s an issue that still needs addressing.
Giroud was heavily involved in both of those goals, getting the assists for each one. He is a good player, that’s not really questionable. He’s slow, and sometimes he should finish with more conviction, but in terms of what he’s in the team to do (hold the ball up, bring others into play, seduce opposition defenders etc.), he generally does well. But he’s too reliant on other players to make him look better. I don’t buy into the statement that there were plenty of good strikers available in January – if there was quality there, other clubs would have all been fighting (I’m thinking about Chelsea in particular). If only someone world class was available and willing to come last summer…someone used to the League…someone who can score and create goals…someone who can win games on his own…someone like Suarez?
Giroud needs players running in behind him – that’s when he looks dangerous. He can pick out passes nicely, and he plays well with his back to goal. But as a lone striker, you need to be able to do that and still have the ability to beat your man and finish. That’s what Van Persie had when he was with us (he does still have it, but he doesn’t have the service or the fitness anymore). It’s no coincidence that the losses of Ramsey, Walcott and Ozil all contributed to Giroud’s dip in form. At the beginning of the season, the question was always ‘What happens to Arsenal when Giroud’s injured?’ – as it happens, we didn’t do too badly. It’s the runners that we need. Rosicky does it occasionally, and The Ox does it when he’s playing further up the pitch. Podolski will go in behind if he’s angry, but other than that, there’s very little penetrative movement at the moment.
That needs to change against Wigan at Wembley. We need to win that game; if you’re one of the people that think that we should lose against Wigan so that Wenger can go, then you can leave now. 4th spot and the FA Cup is not a bad season. It’s better than the last few anyway. Of course, you wouldn’t have accepted that on New Years Eve…but then imagine that particular promise after the Aston Villa disaster. I’m not saying either are certain, but the FA Cup should be in the bag. But we’ll need to get past Wigan first.
As Pharrell Williams has said so often in recent months, “It might seem crazy, what I’m ‘bout to say”…but let’s start Sanogo and Kallstrom at Wembley. I fully expect that Giroud and Arteta will start in their respective places, but I don’t see why. Arteta has had an awful few months, culminating in him scoring his 28th goal for Everton. Ramsey looked to be our best player when he came on against Everton, and with Flamini suspended, Kallstrom’s experience and impressive debut cameo against Swansea should see him start.
As for Sanogo, it’s more difficult to justify. Perhaps if his (supposedly) offside goal had been given at the end, it would have made it an easier decision, but his raw energy might well be the kick up the backside that Giroud needs to step up his game. Either that, or let Podolski play up front again, with Chamberlain and Rosicky out wide. At least then there would be runners in behind, with a strong striker who’s not afraid to test the goalkeeper once in a while.
That’s me done though – enough rambling for one day! Hope you enjoyed it, please leave your comments underneath, and don’t forget to vote in the poll too!