Let’s just start by saying it was cold. It was wet. It was fiercely windy. Anyone bitching about the atmosphere from the comfort of Twitter should take their laptop outside in the garden when it next monsoons. The noise levels were fine considering the game on offer was bland, everyone was hungover and the conditions were disgusting.
Onto the game. Wenger was forced to make mad changes to the starting lineup. Giroud has damaged his leg, Ozil, Rambo, Gibbs were all on the treatment table and plenty of others were also carrying knocks. It was a massive game. If they boys succeeded, we’d remain top of the league for a week and a half or so until the Villa game.
We controlled the opening stages. Cardiff hadn’t come with any sort of adventurous game plan. Defend, hold on for dear life and pinch a goal if possible seemed to be the thinking. We just needed the three points.
Jack played a nice call over the top to Theo early on, he could only slice into the side netting. We were creating half openings but there was a quite casual nature to the game if I’m honest.
Why Arsene started Podolski through the middle is beyond me. He let’s grudges get in the way of logic. Nik B was fit, sharp and he’s not too dissimilar to Giroud in style. Important when the team has played with Giroud 99% of they season. Instead, he opts for Podolski who has barely played a game, doesn’t boast the physicality needed to be a loan striker and does not have the ability to hold the ball up.
This decision resulted in Arsenal opting for long balls over the top. A view of what the world would look like with Theo as the main striker. Due to this tactic, we lost width down the right and effectively ruled Sagna out of the game.
We did create chances though. Wilshere had a shout for a penalty when he was bundled over in the box. Theo shot wide from 10 yards when fed in by Santi.
Down our end, Mutch took a free run at our goal and had a shot well blocked by Chezzer. Defending was a touch casual from Koscielny. There was also a shout for handball when Monreal had the ball rifled at his digits. Never. You have to pick the ball up to get a penalty these days.
Outside that, the collapse of the gutter on the roof was about as interesting as it got. The poor buggers below got totally drenched.
The second half wasn’t particularly interesting until about 60 minutes. By this time, I’d been introduced to something called ‘Bovril’… an interesting drink I can tell you.
Jack Wilshere weaved his way into the box and fired off a shot that rattled the woodwork. I have to be honest, it was right in my line of sight and it looked to me like the keeper touched it onto the post. Needless to say, no damn corner.
Arsene decided to make his subs relatively early. He took off Flamini and the woeful Podolski and he brought on Rosicky and Nik Bendtner. Both made an immediate impact. Straight away we had shape in the forward line. Width was restored (kind of) and we had a target man. Rosicky came pounding on with energy and zip, despite barely being able to go outside in the training session the day before the game.
The man who nearly had the biggest impact was Per Mertesacker. Clearly believing no one would notice him acting as a striker because he looks a little like Bendtner when wet. He nipped in at the back post and glanced two headers wide in exactly the same fashion. At that point, wet and sodden, you started to think, ‘is this going to be one of those days?’… and I did wish the cameras would stop pointing at Vincent Tan and his smug face.
Our moment came though, Sagna latched onto a ball into the box, his downward header was parried by Marshall, Nik B read the possible parry and nipped in to slam home emphatically! What a relief! So much man love went off in my row. We all totally lost the plot! Incredible relief.
Theo Walcott still had time to finish off the game with a goal. He was slipped through after some great pass exchanges between Rosicky and Wilshere, he floated his shot over the keeper with a lovely chipped effort.
The game was closed out, we’d taken the three points and delivered on the 10 point Christmas plan. Excellent work from the boys.
I said before the game, if Wenger made heavy rotations and we’d drawn, he’d have been reluctant to do the same moving forward if he had key players available. You heard him say before the Newcastle game that he’d have played Ozil if he was fit. The manager can’t resist going all out. Hopefully, he’ll see that if he trusts the fringe players, they can do a job. He’s not damned if he does damned if he doesn’t, this season, like all Premiership seasons will be won and lost on how fresh managers can keep their players. ‘Play your best side’ mentality died out about 10 years ago. It’s not possible anymore. You have a highly paid squad so you can play them. Players like Monreal, who was excellent yesterday, need more games. They need to have match sharpness. Same with Gnabry. He’s more than capable, so give him a run out every now and then, so if Theo picks up a knock, we have some pace and form ready to inject into the side.
Everyone wants to play striker
Look, at the game yesterday, I thought Theo was one of our best players. He was a part of everything. He battled, he took shots, he made himself available. But when you watch the game back, he was trying to do the job of Podolski. He wants to play centrally and he makes a beeline when he can to prove he can do it. That restricted us down the right and ruled Sagna out of the overlap. On Lukas, can we all stop pushing him as a central striking option. He’s not technical enough to play with his back to goal, he’s not physical enough and his running off the ball leaves a lot to be desired at the highest level. He’s brilliant out wide. That’s where he should play. Nik B, for me, when he plays like that, can be just as effective as Giroud. Yesterday he ran the channels, he looked for the ball, he brought players into the game and he posed a real threat. Take away the hugely bad press he gets for being an egomaniac and you have a pretty decent player there. It was great that he got a goal, his third if you include the legit goal he scored against City… nice to see the crowd chant his name. Such a shame he picked up a knock.
Don’t expect a magical team against Spurs this weekend. Apparently the reason he played Flamini and Arteta yesterday wasn’t tactical, it was because he had no other options. Players are totally washed out. We’re not just talking ‘redzone’ here, we’re talking about players carrying minor knocks as well. So this weekend, he won’t be rotating, he’ll be preventing serious injuries. The underlying problems of rest still haunt Arsenal, we’re getting away with it at the moment, but I’d imagine we were probably the only team in the league that had the players in all over the Christmas period. Not good for the body, and in quite a lot of cases, for players with young families, not good for the mind. I do worry our campaign will come undone in the end because of our approach to player welfare.
However, the current batch of knocks is just a short term issue…
Giroud will be back from his injury for the Villa game. He should be joined by Ozil, which is great news. Chambo starts full training next week, so he could make a bench appearance for the Villa game. Massive news as that gives us a very good option in midfield and outwide. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he can offer us in the second half of the season.
Even better news is that Rambo should be back in the side for the Fulham game. He’ll be rested and ready for the run in. That’s also another thing I wanted to point out, the odd 8 day break here and there isn’t enough to bring a player back to full health. It’s quite frightening how many people make sarcastic comments to me about the ‘red zone’ online. I don’t have access to databases, but I think it’s quite apparent as injuries pile up that the squad isn’t in great shape at the moment. There are plenty of places to find info around this sort of stuff if you’re still of the mindset that fitness isn’t one of the most important aspects of taking the league crown.
Sadly, there’s no Nik B for at least a couple of weeks. So the urgency for signing a striker just kicked up a gear. I have no idea who we’re chasing. I just hope there’s a plan. I’d imagine there’s probably quite a lot of appeal when it comes to joining Arsenal. Massive wages, title contending side, being supplied by some of the most in form players around. The stumbling blocks are going to be clubs who are competing won’t want to sell in January and players who are in the sort of form we need them to be in to join us won’t want heading into a world cup. Form can be a temperamental thing…
Spurs. It’s always a massive game. They’ll have a manager desperate to make a mark on that job, so he’ll be going all out against us. I think it’s going to be a very tough game for us to win. So let’s see what happens!
P.S. Delaware took incompetence to new levels yesterday. They ran out of food. Nothing quite like cold kids being made to queue up for 15 minutes to be told that. Embarrassing lack of planning from a company that clearly don’t care about anything other than raking in the cash they’re driving from the 25 year contract they were awarded. Arsenal should opt for independents next time.