Friday, 27 December 2013

West Ham 1-3 Arsenal: Merry Christmas!

This game was a perfect example of how fickle an Arsenal supporter can be over the course of 90 minutes. After all the mixed emotions that I witnessed (which I yet vividly recall), in the end I can only say I'm glad it ended on a happy note.

It started with the team sheet. While I knew that Wenger's appalling man management skills meant that Ozil and Giroud were set to start, a little part of me hoped that Wenger would have the teeny-tiny foresight to realize that Mesut and Ollie needed to be benched for a game like this. That little part of me was killed off when Wenger yet again decided to overplay them, and field Cazorla on the wings. I believe that the only reason that Santi had a good game was because he took matters into his own hands, opting to drift into the center rather than stay on the flanks.

Despite practically everyone's wishes, Podolski was benched again, with Arsene opting to play Giroud ahead of him. Why Wenger thought that Giroud would perform well after missing great chances against Chelsea just 3 days ago is beyond me. Even though Arsene's hand was forced on overplaying Giroud earlier, he should be giving him some rest now, especially due to the arrival of stand-in strikers like Walcott and Podolski.

Honestly, Wenger is making horrible decisions regarding the man managements of Ozil and Giroud. He's failing to find the balance between form and fitness between the two players, instead choosing to start them in every match. Ozil is coping with it well - he had another good game yesterday - but that is because he is a professional. Robin van Persie and Mesut Ozil are world-class players, which is why they could perform consistently, even though they were overplayed by Wenger.

Of course, not every professional footballer can handle being sent to the field twice every week. Witness Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and even Jack Wilshere to some extent, who used to suffer injuries due to constant overplaying by the manager. Ozil and Giroud are dangerously close to entering that dreaded 'red zone', and unless they are benched for fresher legs like Rosicky and Podolski, we might witness Arsene plunge us in another injury crisis.

As it happened, it was Ramsey who fell prey to Wenger's incompetent man management, suffering a thigh strain which would rule him out of the Christmas schedule. I still don't know why Wenger decided to field him ahead of Mathieu Flamini, who had 12 days of rest going into this match. The good news is that we have Jack Wilshere back from his ban to cover up for Aaron and provide more options. The bad news? I don't think that Wenger is going to use those options.

I had said in the match preview that it would be Wenger's team selection that would catch my eye rather than the final result, and so it proved. Wenger's failure to rest Ozil and Giroud, playing Cazorla on the wing and overplaying Ramsey has led to a bad game by Giroud, Ramsey getting injured and we almost bottling this match.

Giroud missed a handful of chances in the first half, sometimes looking downright lazy by failing to move his foot half an inch more to poke the ball home. And while the goal we conceded in the second half was against the run of play and a sloppy one really, it was actually a blessing in disguise, because it finally gave us motivation to go on and snatch this match.

Arteta failed to clear the ball away in the box, instead handing it to Nolan through a poor clearance. He shot straight at Szczesny, who inexplicably failed to catch that ball. It fell straight at Cole's feet, leaving him to tap the ball in. Advantage West Ham.

I actually think that Wenger wouldn't have got Podolski on had Ramsey not been injured. Even though his loss is a blow to the club, at least we can focus on the silver lining - how Podolski's introduction changed the match.

After Walcott scored what I felt was a fluke equalizer, Podolski stole the show by assisting Theo's header and getting a goal himself. Right from when he came on, he was lively and dangerous, the mark of a striker. His goal showcased a striker's instinct and lethal finishing. He's now got 3 goals and 1 assist in his last 125 minutes of Premier League action, indicative of his usefulness to the team. I've already said it a million times - we should try Podolski as a striker and see how that works out. If he thrives in that position, we can get a really good winger like Marco Reus or Angel Di Maria to replace his vacated position. If he doesn't, tough luck, but we can concentrate on getting that striker.

However, I don't want Arsene to not buy anyone in January and say that we have Podolski and Giroud as striker, with Walcott, Cazorla, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain as wingers. Wenger needs to make up his mind - either Podolski should be played as a winger or as a striker. If Arsene sees Podolski as a winger, then we need to buy a striker, and vice versa.

It's good that we got 3 points, especially since Everton, Spurs and Liverpool slipped up on the same day. It's even better that we got it in dramatic fashion, coming from behind to get the win, something we haven't been able to do this season. Amazingly, this is the first time that we've won a game after trailing in this season, something that would hopefully give us a boost in our coming matches.

Compared to our title rivals City and Liverpool, we have a really low goal difference. The one point lead we have at the top currently is paper-thin, and we need to make sure that we maintain that distance at least. If we ever go level on points with either City or Liverpool, we'll slip behind them in the table. That would be a tremendous shame, considering that we have 6 easy matches coming up.

Such is the competitiveness of EPL that we have absolutely zero margin for error now. To keep our lead, we have to win all of the 6 matches that we are playing, starting with a trip to Newcastle. With Liverpool facing a match against Chelsea - unbeaten at their home ground also - the chances of either team dropping points are high. We need to take advantage.

Let's enjoy being on top of the pile for the moment. Be back on Sunday with a match preview.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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