A contextual view: Arsenal’s sluggish start

All is not lost for the Arsenal

This post has been inspired by real events. Ever since our match at Goodison Park, there seems to have been an upheaval in the fan base. By fan base I aim this at the local (Trinidad and Tobago) branch of Arsenal fans. The entire team were slagged to the point it seemed that it was pointless to even consider our chances against Besiktas today at the Emirates. Arteta and Giroud have now become long-term casualties, Theo still has a month proper before he is reintegrated back into the team and the team’s overall form seems to be atrocious. So again, what’s the point expecting a positive result from our crucial and seemingly obligatory Champions League qualifier?

Shortly after stamping his authority, Giroud gets sidelined indefinitely.
Shortly after stamping his authority, Giroud gets sidelined indefinitely.

Well, let me start with the fact that despite playing absolutely off the pace at times in the three matches since our demolition of City at Wembley, Arsenal have not lost a match. Saturday’s Everton clash was particularly impressive in the fact that when you compare past Arsenal teams in the similar situation, they would have capitulated after conceding the second (albeit controversial) goal at the half. The 2014 edition didn’t, and in a competition such as the EPL, grit and durability are just as important qualities such as the champagne football Gooners swoon over.

Everton aren’t a mickey-mouse team either. We should bear in mind that this was the same team that played us off the park months ago at the same ground and fought us to the last three weeks for the fourth-place trophy Champions League spot. So credit to them for approaching the match in the manner they did. However, despite my obvious optimism at our second-half determination in particular, after finally watching the entire match I did have my concerns.

It is clear that Wenger didn’t find his midfield recipe just as yet. Flamini was his usual volatile self in front of the back four, but to me if I had to pick someone who stood out it would have to be Jack Wilshere. Four years ago, he was our prodigy with the Prem at his feet. A few injuries and fags later, as well as being played out of position seems to have turned him into a headless chicken. JW is obviously talented; one of the few English Colney graduates who deserves his place amongst the first-team elite. Yet it seems as if he’s trying way too hard at times. Arsène himself seems unsure as to where his ideal place is in the world as well. Jack obviously has the talent in him to create but, he clearly has lost that penetration with his dribbling and passing – he loses the ball almost as if on cue. His strong point is his runs from deep, but his game has not matured in the last four years, so the positional discipline required for him to babysit the defence Arteta-style isn’t there. That was the most worrying aspect of our midfield Saturday. Özil was played in an unfamiliar wide role, and to me it took him a frightfully long time to really show up on the day – he did to good effect in the second half though; keeping the Arsenal attack ticking. But during the first period, his discomfort showed. Ramsey was not his usual self, which leaves Ox, who honestly wasn’t that good either – his overzealous shooting was as good as it got for us in the first period. Although he did have a neat side footer fizz wide after a wayward pass out of the Everton defence.

What pained me the most during the first half was how fruitless our attack was… And yes, I’m referring to Sanchez. The boy from Chile who prefers to be called Alexis these days, was played in the CF role as possibly an experiment and also in an attempt to rest Giroud and Sanogo for Wednesday. It failed. Not necessarily because Alexis is no good up front, but because there was as much chemistry between him and his mates as among the member of our Cabinet. For instance, apart from the fact that Özil’s isolation made his passes invariably useless, no-one else seemed to be able to feed him (Alexis). As a matter of fact, such was the miscommunication between the Chilean crack and his midfield, he constantly urged them to help him press the Evertonian back line while they obliged to watch him run around all day. At the interval he was ludicrously replaced when it was obvious Ox should have made way on the right for Giroud, who would then switch places with Alexis.

Today we have Besiktas at home, with a more match-fit skipper in Merts we hope, because he looked tired in the second half, or is that is normal look? Calum wasn’t as bad in Saturday’s match, but needs to tone down his aggression a bit – which will come with experience. He reads the game very well, however. Gibbs is out for the count, so Nacho will need protection from whomever plays on the left flank ahead of him, as well as cover behind him from Merts in the event he is beaten for pace. It was apparent why Arse played him as a LCB instead of in his usual position.

Despite these minor setbacks, let’s keep it in context folks. Bear in mind, we showed the mental fortitude to come back, especially after that Naismith goal which was blatantly offside. More importantly, we nullified Everton’s quick and direct counter attack. Santi looked good in his preferred role in the hole, but I wonder where that would leave Özil? That’s a Wenger-level conundrum. We still have Rambo and we’ve kept the Pod who may just have to deputise for Giroud. On a final note: as for the signings? Well, guess what’s going to happen after we beat those Turks and qualify for the Group Stages?


 PS: plausible lineup today 

Possible lineup v Besiktas. Forgive me in advance for the pixellation.
Possible lineup v Besiktas. Forgive me in advance for the pixellation.

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