Monday, 6 January 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Spurs: A morale booster

A tricky fixture treated like business as usual in a surprisingly composed display by the Gunners, knocking out the Spuds quite comfortably, 2-0 at the final whistle. It means that we're through to the next round, and while it's still freakishly early in the cup, at least we're one step closer to it, especially after finding out that we're drawn against Coventry in the next round. While we still have to wait for the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and City to get knocked out, I think that we can be positively delighted by our performance.

Serge Gnabry is a wonderful prospect...
Including his assist to Santi's goal, Serge had a really good game. His last start for us was against Crystal Palace, where he won an important penalty for us, and before that was against Swansea, where he got a crucial goal for us to cap another accomplished performance. However, yesterday had much higher stakes - it was a knockout game against our greatest rival. There were a lot of raised eyebrows when Arsene included him in the starting XI, but mine wasn't one of them. While it was certainly surprising to see him given a start right away, I was excited to see what he could offer. And he didn't disappoint.

This guy has everything, really. Vision, pace, passing and even finishing. I'm not sure if he has the stamina for the rigours of the Premier League yet, but he certainly has the skill. It's a wise decision by Wenger to use him sparingly, unlike heap pressure on him like Manchester United's Adnan Januzaj. Yesterday, he showed exactly why Arsene decided to field him above the likes of Podolski by another notable performance.

While I'd refrain from predicting that he has the potential to reach the heights of Robert Pires or Freddie Ljungberg, Gnabry's undervaluation is another example of constant bias by English reporters. While British prospects like Januzaj or even Wilshere are given too much limelight, reporters fail to notice other promising talents like Gnabry. I actually reckon that he's slightly better than Oxlade-Chamberlain, yet the latter, being British, hogs more attention than Serge.

In a way, it's good that Gnabry doesn't get too much attention (apart from the Arsenal fanbase, of course). With him free from the pressure to perform, we might see a much more productive 2014 from him. When asked about the promising youngster, Arsene said:

"I am a strong believer in Serge, because I integrated him at the start of last season, but let’s not make superstars with one game. The top level is [about] consistency but I believe the ingredients are there. he has to show he can turn up with these performances in every game."

Theo Walcott was a good stand-in striker...
Even though there's no denying that we still need a forward, take nothing from Theo's performance, which was really good on an important night. With the team facing a bit of a striker crisis, Theo's hold-up play was surprisingly nice, even though his finishing was a bit off. However, there's no denying that Walcott plays best on the wings, and he cannot possibly play as a striker on a regular basis.

With Dimitar Berbatov and Jackson Martinez up for grabs, Wenger will have no excuse for inactivity in January. While I still think that he will play Podolski as a striker and promote Gnabry to a fourth choice winger, perhaps news that Bendtner's and Walcott's injury is set to last a month may force his hand. While Walcott did have a good game as a striker until he was so memorably stretchered off, I still think that Podolski's more physical presence would've meant that he had a better game than Theo. Speaking of which...

Arsene may have lost faith in Lukas...
I have still not forgotten the quotes that Arsene said on Podolski, hinting that he isn't good enough at the moment. I disagree - Podolski can be lethal on the wing in our current system. From reading between the lines, you get the sense that Wenger doesn't trust him and would prefer playing Santi out of position than start him in a match. It's a bad decision and would leave Podolski frustrated, especially when he seemed so motivated at the start of the season.

Is there a rift between the manager and Podolski? It's a possibility, but I don't think that's the case. In my opinion, Wenger just doesn't think that Podolski is good enough for a starting berth at Arsenal. People would argue that he's just recovering from a long injury, and that Wenger is just easing him in, getting him game time. If so, why not get him on for Rosicky instead of getting Ozil for Arteta, especially when Ozil himself was recovering from an injury and the game was already done and dusted? 
Rosicky and Cazorla were outstanding...
Their two goals were well deserved. Cazorla played really well for a man forced on the wings, and Rosicky was all over Tottenham's midfield. I of all people want Santi back in form - he's my favourite Gunner - and hopefully that smashing strike past Lloris propels him to a good run of form. He has been looking sharp in recent matches, and today was when we finally saw end product.

Rosicky - boy, this player is too good. I actually can't believe that he's 33, and that he's merely part of our substitute squad. He plays every game like it's his last, sprinting throughout the course of ninety minutes, always looking to press high up the pitch. His goal was a result of that too, putting Rose under pressure, nicking the ball off him and calmly dinking it over Hugo Lloris.

Looking at that goal - a result of brilliant close control and composure - one would scarcely believe that he has only 23 goals to show in his Arsenal career. He has a surprisingly low tally of assists too - 25 from 202 appearances. However, Tomas Rosicky is proof that even without goals and assists a player can be considered integral to the side. My God I hope he signs an extension, because he deserves to be a club legend.

This was a surprisingly mature performance...
After Walcott so iconically getting stretchered off, the idiotic decision by the FA of not having a 'wild card' substitution meant that we were forced to end the game with 10 men. Even so, we coped remarkably professionally with the late onslaught. Of course, most of that was down to Spurs being pretty much shit throughout, but there were no signs of tension while defending, unlike at St. James' Park or the Westfalenstadion.

While I agree that in this case we had a two goal lead on home soil, let's not forget that we were 10 men playing without a striker, yet threatening more than Spurs. With a makeshift defence consisting of Fabianski at goal, a risky partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen and Nacho Monreal at left back, we dealt extremely well with the pressure of Adebayor and Soldado, restricting the opposition to just one presentable opportunity.

A center back may be a necessity too...
Thomas Vermaelen's injury (which is likely to not be serious, although I quietly hope it is) means that we are one more suspension/injury away from fielding Bacary Sagna or Mathieu Flamini at the heart of our defence. Quite frankly, it is a ridiculous position for a club of Arsenal's stature to be in, and I yet can't quite believe that Wenger has overlooked this major flaw in our squad. It's not even quality but even quantity that would suffice here, yet Arsene shipped out Djourou and Miquel back in the summer, failing to even promote an academy defender to plug the hole.

Our next match is 8 days away...
It should provide plenty of rest to the players, many of whom might recover from their injuries. The likes of Vermaelen, Gibbs, Ramsey, Ozil, Giroud and Oxlade-Chamberlain may be fit or at least close to fitness come the 13th of January. However, the more important thing is that the manager now has a whole week to get a striker that we need to boost our title challenge. With the FA Cup getting a realistic target with Spurs, United knocked out and City's hopes still in doubt, we need reinforcements to maintain hopes of a possible double.

However, I don't think that Arsene Wenger will get a striker this week. I'd go as far as to say that I don't think that he will get in a player at all, to be frank. However, I do not want a manager's baffling transfer policy to be a thorn in the sides of the players' objectives: we still need to keep winning and see where it goes. With Manchester City playing 3 extra games than Arsenal this month, possibilities of a slip up in the Premier League may be susceptible to them. We just need to keep our heads down and keep winning.

P.S. Don't know if anyone has kept count, but this was my 50th post of this blog. A quick thanks to my readers for giving time to my thoughts. Let's hope the 51st post is that of a new signing.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )