Happy Bank Holiday Monday to you all folks – James here with the final league match report of the season. I went for a pre-game lunch at the recently refurbished Canonbury with some friends. Lovely location and set-up, good selection of beers, shit-show in the kitchen. In fairness they knocked 50% off our bill – as a tight bastard, I couldn’t have planned it better myself.
The final game of the season is often difficult to get too excited about when it is a dead rubber and the mood was hardly ebullient pre-match, however I felt we were badly in need of a result to rediscover confidence and that goal-scoring knack ahead of next week’s final. Plus the chance to put one over Tony Pulis, the jumped-up little shit who looks like he’s been dragged backwards through Sports Direct, is always an incentive. It was clear on Wednesday that rotation was required, with some tired legs on show; and for once Arsene duly obliged. Gibbs came in for Nacho whilst Gabriel was given the nod ahead of Koscielny. Jack started the game from the right, whilst the most interesting selection was that of Theo leading the line in place of Giroud. I’ve never been particularly keen on Theo as a central striker in a one-striker system, but he showed today that against certain opposition it can bear sweet, juicy fruit.
It was apparent from the opening exchanges that Arsenal were in the groove, with Jacob and Morrison chasing shadows in midfield. What I particularly enjoyed about the midfield performance was the fluidity of interchange between Jack, Ozil and Alexis. Nominally, Alexis started from the left, Ozil the centre and Jack on the right; however these positions were purely to fill out on the team sheet. At one stage Ozil drifted to the left, Alexis to the right and Jack to the number ten position. When it works, it makes it nigh on impossible to accurately plan how to play that approach and we reaped the dividends yesterday.
Theo had a field day in the first half and opened the scoring with a rasping strike into the top corner, past the hapless Myhill. It was an instinctive finish, which Theo is famed for and set the tone for subsequent events. His second followed shortly after, as he wriggled free in the box and poked the ball into the bottom corner with the outside of his boot – another incisive finish, which pleased the whole stadium, save perhaps for a dashing Gaelic attacker on the bench. Our third was a complete thunder-twat of a strike from Wilshere. With the ball bobbling in the box, Gabriel flicked the ball out towards the edge of the box; and Wilshere with minimal back lift launched a half volley into the stanchion. A stunning strike and the kind of goal we really don’t score enough of. Theo completed his hat trick after 35 minutes, finishing off an excellent team move. Once again, Jack was at the heart of the attack, darting into the box after a one-two and flicking the ball out wide to Santi. His scuffed cross-cum-shot was finished at the back post by Theo, who showed great alertness and anticipation to nip ahead of Lescott.
The second half doesn’t merit too much discussion. West Brom came out strongly and we were clearly in energy-conservation mode ahead of the final. Their goal came from a corner, with Fat Dave trying to claim the ball in a crowd of players, leaving their man to head into an empty net. Again, Ospina’s lack of height and presence is exposed and it is costing us. We had a few good chances, with Ramsey on as a substitute and seemingly on a mission to find the net, hitting the upright and having a shot brilliantly saved by their keeper. It wasn’t to be Ramsey’s day as the game fettered out, but there was still time for an(other) Ospina clanger. Gardner’s shot from distance had some power but no movement and our ‘keeper’ somehow contrived to let it slip through his hands and deflect the shot onto the crossbar. Lucky boy. Nonetheless, it was job done and the ideal preparation for our showdown with Tactics Twat next Saturday.
I didn’t stick around to watch players parading round the pitch with their babies – life really is too short.
Whether the performances of Jack and Theo in particular have any bearing on Wenger’s selection for the final remains to be seen, but they have certainly laid down a marker. I’m not his biggest fan, but I’d be very tempted to start Theo against Villa. My impression is that Villa will come out and attack us, and unless Ox is fit enough to start, which seems unlikely, we’d be missing a trick by not adding pace to exploit the space we will have. Giroud will, and should start the game, as he does provide a platform to play from and in a tight game of fine margins, his aerial ability both defensively at set-plays and offensively could be important. I suppose that would leave Arsene needing to decide between Ramsey and Santi – two players I love. If I had to choose, I’d go with Ramsey, as his form is good, whereas Santi looks exhausted. Saying all that, I think Arsene will persist with the default side of late, with Santi partnering Coq and Ramsey on the right, but having an in-form Jack and Theo to call upon if things aren’t working out could prove very handy indeed.
With regards to Theo, he was excellent yesterday, but he’s had many good Arsenal games, but also far too many indifferent ones. It’s tough to judge him this season as it has been punctuated by injury, but I’m unsure as to whether he’ll ever be a consistent top-level performer. If he stays this summer, then great; but if he were to leave I’d like to think we’d replace him with a far more complete attacker. There have been murmurings of Sterling, which I think are fanciful at best. Besides that, I’m not sure he’s the player we need at all – he’s a precocious talent but brings zero goal scoring threat, which for all his faults, Theo does offer. I think a Reus or Lacazette would be far more suited to our needs and probably, somewhat perversely, cheaper too.
A word also for Jack, who had a super game. He’s looked great since his latest injury comeback, but at the risk of sounding like a broken Erasure record, he needs to stay fit. The only ceiling on his career is his ankle – if that can finally fix itself, he can be some player. I don’t think Arsenal would ever countenance selling him this summer, given the amount of time we have invested in him. Next season’s a big one for him though.
In terms of how to view the season, clearly what happens next week will be decisive in that regard, but citing the league campaign alone, it is one of progress, permeated by frustration at what could have been. The first ten games killed off any realistic chance of making a title charge, which makes our remarkable run in 2015 all the more piss-boilingly annoying. But, for once, I’m going to opt for the glass half full option. Defensively we have improved, with only Chelsea and Southampton conceding fewer. Ozil has stepped up, we’ve added Alexis, Oxlade has developed well in spite of his injuries, whilst Coquelin has also added the long-lusted for robustness to our midfield. There’s plenty to build on ahead of 2015/16, but so much depends on what the manager does this summer.
In my view there are three positions we need to make big upgrades in to be considered challengers. The first of these is in goal. Chesney will surely say do widzenia in the summer, leaving only Call-me-Dave and Emi Martinez. People can point to our points tally all they want, but Ospina is not a title-winning goalkeeper. He’s a keeper who may not necessarily lose you points, but he won’t win you any either. What many fail to acknowledge is he came into the side just when we were able to pick a settled back four and replaced Flamini with Coquelin, making us far more robust. I would suggest this is far more prescient in our increased solidity than the personnel change in goal. My preference would be for Petr Cech who has won it all, has big-game experience and is still a world-class performer. There are some positive rumblings about this one…watch this space.
A midfielder is also a must, to play instead of and alongside Coq. As well as he’s done we can certainly upgrade in this part of the pitch. As I’ve mentioned before I like the idea of being able to line-up in big away or European games with two defensively minded midfielders along side each other. Beyond this, we can’t expect Coq to play every single game and beyond him there is a paucity of options. Flamini will surely go and see out the remainder of his days nurturing a moustache in a string vest and y-fronts, whilst Arteta’s fitness precludes him from being influential against the best opponents. In terms of names, it’s the usual suspects really. I think Schneiderlin would be great – he’s proven in this league, young, a leader, a good passer of the ball and is blessed with superb athleticism. If we’re going top shelf, then Vidal would be incredible. He’s not a defensive midfielder per se, but a player of his quality alongside Coquelin and Ramsey would be quite the formidable proposition. Vidal is probably a bit of a blue-sky transfer muppet signing, but I’d be delighted with Schneiderlin nonetheless.
Finally, particularly if/when Theo packs his bags, we need another attacker. Without getting drawn into the Giroud debate – a player I do rate highly – we remain one top class attacker away from pushing for the league. Team’s attackers tend to score in patches, be that Alexis, Ramsey or Giroud, one tends to pick up the mantle when the others have dried up; which is why one additional forward of genuine quality is essential. The names I’d propose aren’t anything new – Reus, Lacazette and Fakir would all add playmaking ability, pace and goals to our side. Crucially, they’re all versatile enough to fit into the fluid attacking system that we are gravitating towards. Should we do the above, I’m confident next season will be an exciting one.
More immediately, we have a massive game next week in our quest to retain the FA Cup – a competition that still gets my juices flowing…it’ll be a tough task, no doubt, but I just hope we can put in a decent performance and not a nerve-riddled, pant-pooing display as is our wont at Wembley. Fingers crossed and enjoy it wherever you’re watching. I was lucky enough to get a ticket for the game, but it does mean I’ll have to endure an evening at Wembley.
It’s been a pleasure writing match reports this season and I hope you’ve enjoyed them – I’ll see you again in the summer.
Until next time x
Give me a follow @James_Willson2