Happy Monday boys and girls – James here with a match report and general guff to lighten, or spoil, your morning.
By the grace of God (there isn’t one) I managed to get a ticket for the game. I’m quite fond of Selhurst Park, particularly the outdoor section where you can go for a puff of lovely, tobacco-ey goodness. Whilst the ground is fairly characterful, it is tainted by the appalling views when you’re set further back. This is the case with a lot of ‘older’ grounds, but it felt particularly apparent yesterday. Unfortunately I was all but two rows from the very back of the away section, with play on the far side of the pitch of flurry of feet and not much else.
In terms of team news, the inclusion of Alexis will have certainly provided a fillip to both the travelling supporters and the squad; whilst Bellerin’s return at the expense of Debuchy was also significant, with the Catalan’s far superior technique essential in building momentum down the right – something we struggled with in our previous outing. Hector’s pace against the likes of Bolasie and Zaha would also prove to be an asset. Some were surprised at Oxlade’s exclusion after his sprightly performance last week; however I felt his effervescence would be utilized best when running at tired legs. Perhaps his demotion was a reminder that for all his good offensive work, his performance at West Ham was punctuated by erring too long on the edge of his own box – a trait that he needs to abolish, quickly.
Arsenal appeared determined to set the agenda from the offset, with Cazorla – returned to a central berth – monopolising the ball. There was certainly a degree of control in midfield, which was severely lacking at the Emirates. I wouldn’t place this solely down to Santi’s inclusion in a deeper role, as the whole front six looked significantly more coherent than last week; but undoubtedly he adds a measure of control that we lack without him or Arteta.
Not only was our use of the ball convincing, but we were also creating chances – the best of these falling to Alexis, whose initial shot was saved by McCarthy, before seeing his rebounded effort blocked on the line by McArthur. Aaron Ramsey also came close, nonchalantly flicking a Mesut Özil cross goalwards with his heel. When the goal eventually came, it was a peach. Alexis released Özil down the left flank, who whipped in a cross at pace. The delivery fell behind Giroud – but as a true thespian with a penchant for the dramatic – he executed the perfect scissor kick beyond McCarthy. I thought Giroud was poor on the whole yesterday, making aimless runs, getting caught offside and failing to get the better of Delaney in their aerial duel; however the goal will appease the #haters in the short-term at least.
Unfortunately our lead was short-lived and, like last week, the goal was the result of some utterly pathetic defending. When we failed to deal with a cross from the left flank, the ball was laid back to Joel Ward, who sounds like the 5th member of a 90’s boyband. His sweetly struck first-time strike whistled into the bottom corner from 20 yards. There are, again, question marks over Cech on this one – it was a decent hit that went through a few sets of legs, but he appeared to leave his arm unextended, which would suggest he just got his angles all wrong. He went on to flap at a few crosses as well, which whilst a concern, is not altogether surprising. He will need, and deserves, time to bed into a new system.
Whilst there is debate over Cech’s role in the goal, Koscielny is bang to rights. He had a good second half in particular and he is undoubtedly a superb defender; but the rickets that remain in his game are a concern. His unwillingness to close the ball down was odd; his willingness to turn his back on the ball was pathetic. It’s the second time in as many weeks he’s made a similar error and it’s one that needs to be eradicated. As an aside, I thought Mertesacker was superb next to him – the rumours of his decline early last season were premature in the extreme.
I also sincerely hope there is a vine of Per’s kneeslide towards the referee at the award of a Palace corner – comedy gold.
At half time there was an audible sense of frustration amongst the Arsenal end – it was a half we had dominated and performed well, yet had failed to capitalize – plus ça change. We were also lucky to go in at the break with a full complement of players, with Coquelin walking the proverbial tightrope in most unconvincing fashion. His passing was a marked improvement on his last outing, but I felt his defensive game was poor. Much of his movement off the ball is purely reactive, which whilst looking impressive and winning polite applause, it does reek slightly of the ‘run araaand a bit’ brigade.
People seem to forget that the best holding midfielders of the last few years haven’t had to fly into tackles at breakneck speed – it is their reading of the game that sets the best apart. The likes of Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Javi Martinez arguably lack Coquelin’s physical qualities, which are in abundance, but they do possess the perennial football brain, which I fear he may lack. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I do think Coquelin is a valuable squad member, particularly in the tougher away games; but I can’t help but feel a player who can build from deep could be the most important acquisition we could make this summer. Arteta came on yesterday – if he could regain a semblance of fitness, then he plays. It seems to be forgotten by many that Arsenal’s longest period at the summit of the Premier League in quite some time was with Arteta and Ramsey at the base of midfield. Whilst Coquelin and Cazorla have gained impressive results, it still has the slight feel of a band aid in place until Wenger finds a suitable partner for Aaron Ramsey.
We suffered a scare early on in the second half, as Zaha dug out a cross from the right and Wickham nipped in ahead of Bellerin to see his shot cannon off the post – a warning sign for the Gunners. As an aside, I thought Monreal was superb. He completely nullified Zaha and showed characteristic steel and guile in defence, whilst reacquainting his blossoming relationship with Alexis.
The winner came, unsurprisingly, as a result of Alexis’ unsurpassed physical prowess and sheer desire to score goals. Bellerin was released down the flank, floating in a well-placed cross to the back post. With defenders on the line and a considerably taller full back opposing him, Alexis was unphased, rising highest and heading goal bound. It will go down as a Delaney own-goal, but the Chilean once again proved his immense worth. Despite not being fully ‘match-fit’, he truly is a physical phenomenon.
We suffered a couple of late scares from set-pieces, but were able to ride out a tense finale to get, what could prove to be, a vital three points. Wenger marked after the game that Palace will take points off top sides this year – come the end of the season this could be an important result, particularly if Pardiola’s men are able to take points from our rivals.
It was essential to break our duck, particularly after last week’s debacle, so to come away with the three points is hugely satisfying. The first half performance was very good indeed, whilst the second was less convincing. The greatest encouragement is the return of our attacking threat – we looked impotent last week, but threatened regularly at Selhurst. There remain some defensive kinks to iron out however – Liverpool in a week’s time will be a good test.
I’d like to end with a word for Mesut Özil. Whilst Santi received the man of the match award – he was very good indeed – Brother Mesut was sublime. The statistics speaks for themselves – a 98% pass accuracy, 10 crosses, 5 chances created and an assist – pretty staggering numbers, particularly when 35-40 (I think) of his 55 passes came in the opposition half. He’s a special player and the lack of appreciation from some sections of our fan base is staggering. There was one such cretin sat directly in front of me, letting out rousing screams of “close him down for f*** sake Özil”, whilst a friend gave reports of the marvellously intellectual plea of “run around Özil”. I know it’s each to their own and all that, but idiots like that don’t realise how spoiled they are. The boss has talked up Özil massively in the build-up to this season – let’s hope he rises to the challenge.
A good day was also topped off by a very impressive City spanking Chelsea, culminating in Mourinho going full Gary Busey at full time. Pedro has mentioned this countless times, but it seems that Chelsea’s thin squad has been pushed too far – rotation, rotation, rotation.
I am writing a blog over the next week or so, considering who has been Wenger’s most **important** post-Highbury signing – let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time x
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