Nothing quite like shaking off the Christmas hangover with tough game against a side that are for me, up there with Stoke when it comes to footballing ability. I've never been a fan of the post Christmas game, generally because the players are as out of sorts as the fans. The show put on by the players for the first 60 minutes yesterday reeked of too many turkey sandwiches. It also highlighted how fragile our squad is outside the starting eleven.
Wenger took out Ramsey and Theo and replaced them with Benayoun and Rosicky. Both very similar players, both come with similar ages and injury records, both come without that all important ingredient of pace.
Wolves were the most daring in the opening minutes. Jarvis made Djourou look an idiot when the Swiss centre back slid in and missed a Wolves penetrating ball, Jarvis couldn't match his good run with a dangerous ball, Mertesacker doing well to block out the cross.
It didn't take long for Jarvis to get the better of JD again, this time beating him one on one, his cross failed to find someone in a gold shirt. Rosicky picked it up, played in Benayoun, he powered forward, picking out Gervinho who pirouetted with the ball, waltzed into the box, clumsily taking it past the keeper and slotting home for an early goal. He found the net, but if a goal ever had cobwebs on it, it was that one!
Robin was set up by Gervinho shortly afterwards, his first time shot was dragged wildly wide of the post. The Dutchman had another good chance after he broke free of the Wolves back line, his quick shot was smartly tipped round the post by Hennesey,
We weren't quite at our normal tempo. Wolves were playing a relatively highline, realising we had little to offer pace wise. The players were flat and the half had a feeling of 2008. Lots of intricate passing without any direct penetration.
We were punished for our lack lustre performance when Wolves had a huge slice of luck. We failed to clear a corner further than the edge of the box, Hunt fired a shot at our goal, his shot deflected neatly into the path of Fletcher, where he was on hand to head past our keeper. To us, he looked offside, however after viewing the goal after the game, it appears Song and his laissez faire attitude to the game kept him well and truly on. What a muppet...
The second half didn't start with the urgency I'd hoped for. Gervinho had the best chance when he found himself in possession 6 yards out, however, like an 8 year old just learning the game, he couldn't fish the ball out from his under his feet. It was the story of his game after the goal, his control was terrible, his passing was a long way from being respectable and he was holding up our attacking play. Now, before anyone who has bought an Opta Stats pack tells me his pass completion rate was 967%, think outside a computer game and the different types of pass you can have. There is such thing as a bad completed pass.
We had an abundance of freekick practice. Robin and Arteta were rotating responsibility between them without much luck. Robin had the best attempts, forcing two fine saves form Hennesey. The first from the left was tipped over and the second was powered low from the right and was pushed wide.
Wenger changed things up by bringing on Arshavin and Ramsey. The Welshman nearly made an impact straight away, capitalising on some poor control from Wolves, he cut the ball back to Rosicky whose placed shot was blazed wide. At this level, you really should be hitting the target when the ball is served to you on a gold leaf dinner plate.
Things started to get spicy when Millijas was sent off for a two footed lunge. Tackles flew in and temper flared all over the pitch. I think the worst refereeing decision of the match was when a cross was blatantly handled in the box, the lino had a view clear as day and chose to ignore what he'd clearly seen. It really is disappointing that lineman are so afraid to make decisions in this day in age. Maybe it's the pay issue. Either way it ruins that game as calls into question the point of them if all they are there for is offside rules. I'm sure a computer would do a better job.
It was amusing that the ref was vigilant enough to see a small handball by Vermaelen 5 mins later. He even had the audacity to book him for it!
Chamakh came on and contributed towards busting open the head of Robin Van Persie. Well played son. I still have no idea why Wenger has to make the same substitution mistakes 50 times before he learns. Outside that, the game slipped away from us and we dropped two vital points.
Not good enough.
Now, I can sit there and praise our fighting spirit, but lets put this in perspective, we just played Wolves. We can't commend fighting spirit against a team we are vastly superior to. We should be praising our superior technical ability and the way we carved them open time and time again. Sadly, we're disappointingly looking at a missed opportunity to over take Chelsea as the rightful owners of 4th. We also lost points on Spurs.
I think there are a few things to address here. Firstly, going forward, really we should only be playing one of Benayoun or Rosicky. The two of them in the team at the same time doesn't really work for me. They both have the same attributes and both have the same deficiencies. Our team works best with pace, we can't afford two slow players in the side. Next time we rest Theo, let's play AOC. He has all the pace Theo does with a little more brain.
I think it's worth pointing out that the most dangerous attacking player on the pitch today outside Robin was Vermaelen. That's great in the sense that he's a superb player, but shoddy because that means certain players aren't taking responsibility for their share of the goals.
It wouldn't be a Premier League match without mentioning the ref. Atwell had a shocker out there and totally lost control of the game as far as I'm concerned. He was missing handballs and struggling with time wasting. Things like that don't help, but don't use that as too much of an excuse, everyone is in the same boat with refs these days.
Alex Song needs to be spoken to about his approach to clearing his lines. Walking your way out of the box is not acceptable at Sunday league level, let alone when you're a professional in the fastest league in the world. He's had some good game this year, but his game has started to get an element of big time about it of late. Stick to the basics Alex.
Bench options need to be addressed in January. Today it was great bringing on Aaron Ramsey, but when the first team aren't being rested, we don't really have players to call on that are game changers. Andrey should be that man, but he's not now. Chamakh has never been that man and he never will be. If Park was any good, I'm pretty sure we'd be seeing him a little more.
No one fears our bench. There must be players we can bring in who can help us out there. We're not heading into January with it all to lose like we were last year. We have it all to play for. We can't afford to trip up against the smaller sides. We need this victory juggernaut to pick up pace over this friendly period of fixtures so when we do start playing the better teams again, we have great confidence and we're right in the mixer. The only thing that's going to do that for me is an injection of quality into the squad.
On the upswing of things, we do have a team of battlers out there. We were knocking on door for 30 minutes but couldn't find a way through. If we could call upon a player like Podolski or even Thierry in a game like yesterday, we'd have that ability. Wenger has to be bold in January and be bold at the soonest opportunity. You can't hang on for Chamakh and Andrey, they'll only disappoint.
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Next up is QPR. A game similar to the one we just played. We need to up our performance and play the first 60 minutes like we played the last 30 minutes. We need to find our ruthless streak and make sure we don't lose touch of Spurs at the top.
Have a great day Grovers, see you in the comments!