Sometimes you look at a game like this and you curse the two points lost, but in this case, it’s hard to argue that it wasn’t a solid point earned. We’re going to have games like that this year and we’re going to have to learn how to puncture our way through blockades of bodies set up to stifle our movement through the middle.
My major concern about today outside not beating a team slated for relegation, was how average our movement off the ball was without Santi Cazorla in the side. Last season, it would be hard not to apportion a chunk of our failure down to the injury of the diminutive Spaniard… this year, it looks like we’ve staked a lot on his fitness again. We looked slow in possession without his deft touches and smart movement and ultimately, our whole game suffered as a result.
Elneney and Coquelin disappointed today. It was like the axis of dreary, which was partly surprising because I had Elneney down a pretty quick distributor of the ball. Cazorla tends to do the work of two midfielders when he plays next to Coquelin… when he’s not there, you see Coquelin’s work on the ball for what it is… ‘ok’
Boro’ created the best chances for most of the game. Traore was an absolute man monster. His pace, power and overall trickery was tough to deal with and it opened us up on the counter time and time again. Plenty of last ditch defending from the whole backline barely kept the scores level… at one point, Mustafi made an awful pass out of defence that was intercepted, he then lunged in on Ramirez wiping him out… how he didn’t receive a red card is beyond me. Especially after Xhaka’s last week.
Early chances mostly fell to Boro’, they rattled the bar from a free kick and forced three very good saves from Petr Cech.
The second half saw us come alive a little more. It turned into a bit of a slug fest of counter attacking football. Our best chance fell to Sanchez who failed to convert when released on the keeper for one of his only chances of the game. He did force one great save from Valdes, but outside that, he was quiet. Chamberlain looked like he’d helped us seal a win right at the death when his driving run and shot was turned in by Ozil… offside was the call. Walcott also didn’t play the line properly and spurned the final chance for victory.
What to think?
The Premier League is a tough place to play. Aitor Karanka hasn’t managed to get much right this season going forward, but he knew the only way to extract anything from our place was the defend like heroes and choke out our movement and it paid off. We’d won 7 on the bounce before this, and whilst it’s hugely disappointing to let 2 points slide away at home, we just have to accept that sometimes we won’t get the rub of the green.
A major concern for me, and one I’ve been moaning on about for 3 years is that we don’t have adequate cover for Santi Cazorla. It was a problem last season, and it looks like it’ll be a problem this season.
Sure, we’re dealing with an on-going Aaron Ramsey hamstring issue and that might be enough to prevent lost points like today… but let’s not forget how poor his pairing with Coquelin was last season when the same issue occurred. Heir apparent for me would have been Jack Wilshere. Great touches, driving runs and that bit of class we lacked today. But he’s not here, so we have to hope that firstly, Santi is back in the mix shortly, secondly, that Wenger has a very smart plan in place to make sure he’s well rotated this season… because he’s turning 32 in 2 months time, it’s going to be very tough to keep him in great shape this year.
The other concern I have about our frontline is that it’s very small. We have zero aerial threat, so when we’re suffering on the ground, we just have to make it work, there’s no aerial advantage we can jump on. This problem WILL be alleviated shortly when Giroud returns to the fold, then later down the line… the return of WELBZ.
Also worth noting that we’ve done pretty damn well considering we’ve not had Giroud and Ramsey in the starting line-up. Two mainstays last season (ok, get that Giroud was kinda toilet, but he’s still a 20 a season striker).
Looking forward, we need to hope this was a blip after a great run, rather than the culmination of a few warning signs we’ve been shot over the past few weeks. Swansea was closer than we’d have hoped and Burnley was a very late win. We have Reading in the League Cup to perk us up again, followed by Sunderland, then Ludogorets… then it’s the big one.