Morning folks – James with a match report for your enjoyment – feels like ages since I last did one, so apologies for depriving you.
Yesterday saw yet another hard-fought win on the road, this time swatting aside Burnley, who are seemingly managed by an ageing Stone Cold Steve Austin – the thought of him giving Arsene a Stone Cold Stunner on the sidelines conjures quite the picture. Sean Dyche is an odd man in so many ways – his pointy sideburns, his little beard, his tie that’s far too short and a voice that sounds as if he guzzles a cocktail of razor blades and stinging nettles every morning.
Nonetheless, I always felt this would be a tough test, given they beat City at their place, whilst holding Tottenham and Utd; and so it proved. As has been our wont in similar fixtures recently, we took an early lead, this time through the Welsh Jesus in the twelfth minute.
The move began with some jiggery-pokery from Sanchez on the edge of Burnley’s box, jinking his way passed defenders before having a shot blocked, which cannoned off to Mesut Ozil. His shot was well struck and forced a good save from Heaton at his near post, before it ricocheted out to Cazorla and finally to Ramsey. His shot whistled into the roof of the net and was a superb finish under pressure and with a couple of defenders on the line.
Burnley responded well to going behind, with Ospina saving well from Trippier’s free kick, having previously done well to deny Vokes who roasted Per for pace down the flank. Per’s a cracking centre half, but clearly his weakness is when he gets isolated out wide. As well as Bellerin has done so far, he can leave Per slightly exposed and it highlights how good a defender Sagna was, in spite of his offensive deficiencies, that he protected Per so well. The half continued at a decent pace but was punctuated by persistent fouls given away by Burnley.
Football fans – particularly it seems those of average northern teams – seem to love getting irate when a foul is given against their team, despite it being completely blatant. They seem to think because they’re tough northerners playing some southern fairies their right to shithousery is sacrosanct – sorry, but that doesn’t butter any parsnips with me.
At half time I saw a flurry of tweets saying we ‘desperately need a second goal’; or ‘this has 1-1 written all over it’. I didn’t see it myself and felt, for once, we looked comfortable at one nil. Even in the second half, Burnley had plenty of huff and puff but they never looked like blowing our house down. This was predominantly down to a lack of any real quality up front for the home side – even Danny Ings made little impact on the game and I sense he’s been over-hyped somewhat this season.
The only real heart in mouth moment came courtesy of Kris Boyd – the rattiest of all ratty players – who fluffed his attempted volley after Ben Mee had done well to evade Bellerin and deliver a decent cross. From our point of view, genuine chances were few and far between. Ozil picked out Ramsey with stunning accuracy, only for the Welshman’s shot to be well blocked. Ozil’s nonchalant flick also created space for Alexis to shoot from range, with Heaton saving well.
I wasn’t able to go to the game but watched it with some friends and we all got the distinct impression Arsenal were always comfortable at 1-0 and were content to retain the ball and mop up any threats before they could become dangerous. Mopper-upper-in-chief was the magnificent Coq, who was hard, penetrating and, well, magnificent. He was, I believe, awarded Man of the Match, which was richly deserved. He reads the play so well, highlighted by his 11 interceptions today but also allies that with superb physical attributes. He’s very quick across the ground and seems to have a good engine. His passing is also incisive and what I like about him is he is willing to take responsibility and always looks to go forwards when in possession. His rise has been truly astronomical and I doubt anyone, Arsene included, foresaw his rise to prominence. I still feel we’ll need another midfielder this summer, particularly if Santi leaves, but the thought of playing a Coq and Schneiderlin (for example) combination in a tough away fixture is tantalising.
We managed to see out the remainder of the game with the minimum of fuss, with WELBZ having a chance towards the end, however the pass from Ozil was over hit and took him too wide. Not to worry – three points, a clean sheet and pressure put on Chelsea above us and the Manchester teams below us who meet tomorrow.
Additional thoughts on the game itself, from a tactical viewpoint would focus on Ramsey playing from the right again. It worked a treat against Liverpool last week and many commented that this was a one-off tactical masterstroke; however I believe Arsene is making a concerted effort to allow Ramsey to exercise his attacking prowess at the sharp end of the pitch where he’s most effective; which could make his presence out wide a more regular occurrence. Doubtless he is a cracking central midfielder, but when Santi and Coq have formed such a good partnership it makes sense to utilise Ramsey’s ability to break away from defenders, along with his capacity to contribute to our pressing game.
A quick word too for Nacho Monreal, who has proved a lot of people wrong this season. Clearly his stint at centre half has brought his game on and as far as left backs go in the league, defensively at least, you’d be hard pressed to find many better than him. Every game he plays he seems to have the measure of his winger and whilst he isn’t especially eye catching going forwards, he still supports the attack, often acting as a decoy runner for Alexis or Ozil. Big props to him and long may it continue.
On a more macro level, yesterday was our eighth win in a row, making us the first side to achieve that this season in the Premier League and the first time we’ve done it since the Invincible season in 2003-04. This underlines not only the quality in the team and depth of squad we have, but also the growing cohesion, trust and understanding that appears to have developed over the course of the season.
In terms of how to assess our season so far, it is hard to give a conclusive evaluation. Whilst there is – rightly – frustration that we started so poorly, I do think our form in 2015 gives reason for encouragement. Finishing second would represent big progress for Arsenal as a club – we haven’t achieved it since 2005/04 (I believe). Couple that with; hopefully, another FA Cup and this can be viewed as a good season.
The acid test for Wenger is next season. He will have momentum, a full pre-season, a well-balanced squad full of talent and cash to burn. If he gets the summer right and finally overcomes the injury issues that have hamstrung us for years, we simply have to challenge for the title. If we don’t, then I think that is evidence Wenger has reached his optimum and he himself will consider whether he can continue to take us forward.
I believe you have to judge seasons in their entirety and thus far, the poor start will make me severely err from saying Wenger has proved the doubters wrong, however progress should never be sneered at. Next season is the one and he has to get it right.
Talk of the title this season? Don’t do it to yourselves people. It’s all about the FA Cup again. The thought of a scabby handball goal to deny Gerrard his special day at Wembley is utterly delicious…the thought of a Gerrard screamer to win it far more pooey-panty.
Anyway, enjoy your Sundays – this will be a long week in the build up to Wembley. Personally, I can’t wait – as far as dreams go; the FA Cup isn’t a bad consolation prize. Until next time x
Give me a follow @James_Willson2