Saturday, 25 January 2014

Arsenal 4-0 Coventry: Move along, no surprises here

Into the Round of 16 we go, trashing Coventry 4-0 along the way, in what was surprisingly the highest margin of victory that we claimed this season. Early goals from Podolski set the tone for a comfortable night, and even though Coventry threatened to make a game of it in the early stages of the second half, late strikes from substitutes Giroud and Santi effectively ended the contest.

Even for a person notorious for faulty man management, Wenger's team selection was too surprising for me. In a weird formation with no defensive midfielder, Wenger opted to start Wilshere and Ozil again, along with The Ox as an attacking midfielder. It was Jack who occupied the deep-lying midfielder role here, in a 4-1-2-2-1 formation. Overplaying Ozil and Jack was both unnecessary and avoidable, and playing Wilshere in a deep role was a gamble that paid off only because we were facing Coventry.

I don't know if anyone remembers, but midway throughout the second half against Manchester City, Wilshere had played in the defensive midfield role, which was nothing short of a disaster. I remember that he gave away the ball far too often which had led to two of City's six goals. I still think that had Coventry closed down on Jack quickly and denied him the space that he thrives on, our clean sheet could've been in serious danger.

Wilshere's a good player who had a productive game yesterday, but only because his opponents were barely any competition. Don't let this illusion fool you - Wilshere isn't good enough as a defensive midfielder. He may have a decent game on the flanks once in a while, and play well in a central attacking midfield position if the opposition aren't big guns like Manchester City or Chelsea.

However, his best position is that alongside a defensive midfielder, because he has the license to move forward, knowing that his partner would be there to mop up. It's why he performs really well when partnered alongside players like Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Ozil needn't start yesterday, but Wenger's infuriating insistence of overplaying his key men meant that he did. For a game against COVENTRY, is it really necessary to play Ozil, especially when we had Zelalem in the reserves? While I'm certainly not suggesting that Zelalem is ready for continuous first team action after an impressive cameo yesterday, I'm confident that Ozil was far from a necessity yesterday, and that Zelalem would've filled in aptly.

After a dominating start to proceedings, we got the goal we deserved through a Podolski strike (guess who assisted?), capitalizing on a Coventry pass error. Podolski's goal was very well taken; he knew exactly what he was doing there. A calm touch, strolling past the keeper and tapping it in from an arguably acute angle - I doubt that there are many Arsenal players who can do that.

After Coventry threatened to restore parity, we made it 2-0 through a heartily convincing corner, one of the few I've seen from Arsenal in like, ever. At 27, Gnabry swiped it in, Mertesacker flicked it on and Lukas headed it home. German all over, with the game effectively over.

We professionally played out the rest of the first half, with the only notable features coming from the crowd - the Emirates applauding Coventry's protest and a fairy lights show following a rare Emirates Stadium malfunction. However, Coventry came out as the stronger of the two sides after the interval, creating two very presentable opportunities for them.

Besides the Fabianski save and the unlucky miss from Clarke, we were successful at keeping Coventry at arms length, comfortable with even a two goal lead against a League One side at home. In FA Cup's, it's only the final result that matters, not the scoreline. I'm glad that the team realized that.

Wenger decided to keep Wilshere and Ozil on the pitch for 90 minutes, a stupid decision, and I'm already tired of saying why. He got on Zelalem, Cazorla and Giroud for Chambo, Podolski and Bendtner instead, opting to thump Coventry rather than see the game through. It was an unnecessary decision, because we didn't need to thump Coventry to get through.

Nonetheless, we did manage to add some gloss over the scoreline, with Olivier Giroud making it 3-0 after some good Arsenal play and shoddy Coventry defending. When Gibbs had put the ball in the box, I can't believe that the defender failed to clear the ball away there. Not that I'm complaining, Ollie took full advantage of that with a clinical finish. I want more of that from him this season, because he tends to miss a lot of easy chances such as that.

Cazorla was buzzing everywhere since coming on, and after Coventry ran out of steam and determination upon our third goal, they fell asleep and chose to admire Arsenal as they scored another. Cazorla played a one-two with Wilshere and immediately played it to Jenkinson, a player who was barely noticed defensively. Carl did everything right while shooting the ball, but the keeper saved it, only to see Cazorla tap in the parry. Too easy.

In the end, as much as a 'scare' Coventry gave us, we gave a flattering look to our scoreline by winning 4-0. It's surprising, I thought after full time, how rarely we have managed to blow teams apart such as today. I can only name a few games where we've won relatively comfortably, irrespectively of the scoreline. According to me, it was only against the games of Fulham, Fenerbache, Napoli, Liverpool and Marseille that we managed to see the opposition through with ease.

Although we're getting the results, we're not getting them with the swagger or the ease in which one would like. I appreciate the new mantra of "Results > Performances" adopted by us, but I don't think we need to use such mantras against games like Crystal Palace, Newcastle and Cardiff. I can understand if we're having an off day and still manage to win; on the contrary, I'd be delighted. Games like Spurs (back in September), Dortmund and Southampton are the ones that could be truly called "winning ugly".

My worry is that we're gradually making a habit out of it. A prime reason of why we're not called title favourites is not because we don't have enough stardom, like Manchester City. It's because we don't win games convincingly enough, and don't totally dominate the opposition. No one seems to be complaining for now, but they will be, once our defence makes a rare error and/or our forwards don't take the few chances they get in a game.

Nicklas Bendtner was an example of that. He had two presentable chances yesterday and completely failed to hit the ball properly, let alone find the net. If he would have indeed found the net there, it would've set the tone for a comfortable night much earlier in the game. While it may not seem apparent now, our team is suffering from a bit of a goalscoring crisis

Mesut Ozil's signing brought about a swagger in the team. Players like Ramsey, Giroud and Wilshere got newfound confidence, and scored goals to cover our goalscoring issues. However, with the gloss of Ozil wearing off, we're struggling to find the net and create the chances. It hard to say whether it's because our team is getting tired or because the overperforming players are dropping back to their 'decent' level. Either way, the solution to our problem is purchasing a player.

We are in a glorious position to win one of the most heatedly competed title races, despite our flaws. Wenger cannot afford to stay inactive in this transfer window by saying that there weren't any players to buy, especially when there were. It does not matter if the player bought in question is a short term purchase or a long term one, the fact remains that we need an additional player in the team on the first of February.

Julian Draxler has been heavily linked to us, after Jan Aage Fjortoft broke the news of a fee agreement between Arsenal and Schalke. While I won't deny that Jan's sources are truly reliable, and I also won't deny that Draxler is a player that could just get us the title, I'm stubbornly refusing to believe that Draxler will move to Arsenal in the coming week. It seems unlikely and contradicts Wenger to spend £35m on a player who can be replaced in our team by players like Ozil, Rosicky and Cazorla.

I'm not even going to think about in which positions would Draxler play, or how he would complement Giroud should he sign. I'm trying very hard to block myself to the prospects of seeing Draxler in an Arsenal jersey, not because I don't want him in the club, but because I've already hurt myself in previous years with false transfer rumours. I'm getting pretty good at not believing anything that I hear, and I suggest you do the same.

Even so, it is impossible to deny that Draxler is a player that is well within our reach now. With Mandzukic officially placed on the transfer list, Wenger's excuse of not having enough players up for grabs in the market is rapidly thinning. If he fails to get in a player this window, he will be 100% at fault for failing to capitalize on a successful title challenge thus far.

However, that's not to say that I'm getting my daggers out for Wenger quickly. Arsene still has 6 days to buy a striker and/or a defender, and he's a manager known for leaving things late. It's not a habit I encourage, but one that I'll have to depend on for the moment. I've always said that I think Wenger will try for a player very late in the window, and I stand by that. I don't think that we'll see any activity from Arsenal until the Southampton game on the 28th, but fingers crossed anyways.
The manager has a lot of choices, Dimitar Berbatov, Alvaro Morata, Mario Mandzukic, Julian Draxler and Jackson Martinez. He just need to take his pick. Will he?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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