Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Villa 1-2 Arsenal: Revenge is sweet, and nervy


In the end, 3 points were all that mattered and we got them, beating Aston Villa 2-1 on their ground. The win - on paper - was pretty routine, but it could've been worse, which is what frustrates me a bit. There were a lot of positives as well as negatives in this game, which I'd like to focus on separately:

Positives:

It finally seems like Jack Wilshere is getting back to his best, getting a goal and an assist to cap a brilliant all round performance. People have often suggested that Wenger should play him in a more attacking role, but I have long since agreed with Arsene's insistence to play him as a "deep lying midfielder", and yesterday he showed us why.

He was very good in the first 45 minutes, I was particularly impressed with his change of pace and his dribbling. While I do admit that Jack tends to overdo it sometimes - trying to take on too many players at once - yesterday, everything seemed to pull off for him. Wilshere is a player who tends to get fouled by many opponents, witness El Ahmadi's freakishly early booking due to a foul on him. Seeing that things tend to rough house a bit more in the final third, I'm not sure that Wilshere's constant inclusion in a more advanced position would be good for his fitness.

Besides, it's not like we're desperate for players in that role - Ozil, Cazorla and Rosicky can seamlessly fill in there, can't they? On another note, Wilshere's tendencies to dribble past his opponents in the center of the park result in quite a bit of space for him to engineer an attack, not to mention having the likes of Cazorla, Giroud and Ozil to play the ball forward to.

Fielding Jack in the center of the midfield, partnered with a defensive midfielder means that he can create more opportunities for us with his quick feet, as well as be shielded a bit from the rigours of the league. Even if Jack does lose the ball cheaply, don't we have a player like Mathieu Flamini to mop up, as shown yesterday?

Kudos for his well taken goal. Before the game, I was worried that we would struggle to find the net more often (I still do!), and urged our players to get more goals, even though a striker is still a necessity. Jack's goal was a huge step in that direction, rolling the ball in the corner after a good first touch. Yes, a striker is needed, but you also need other players of your team to score goals. We don't want another one man team again, just ask Manchester United or our past Arsenal, both dependent on Robin van Persie.

Speaking of strikers, Olivier Giroud marked his return to the team with another accomplished performance. His goal was very well taken, a good first touch and then taking advantage of some fortunate bounces of the ball off his feet to drill it in. In uniquely troubling times where our attack is toothless and our defence is resolute, we needed to take the few chances that we had, and it's good to see a player who needed a goal get one.

However, that is not why I'm becoming a fan of the HFB. I remember a moment in the match where he had given the ball away cheaply, but then ran the length of the field to steal it back for his team. Later, he proceeded to apologize to his teammates for losing the ball.

That's commitment.

While one could never doubt Giroud's hardwork and commitment to the team, the main reasons of frustration from the Arsenal fanbase towards him last season were because he constantly failed to provide the final product. This has changed dramatically this season, where we now see Giroud pumping in goals and providing assists, along with clearing crosses from corners. There is just the right amount of humbleness and confidence in his personality too, another factor of his resurrection.

His character was dwarfed by Per Mertesacker though, someone who's turning out to be a bigger leader than Mathieu Flamini on the pitch. After Cazorla gave the ball away which led to that goal which shouldn't have occurred, the level of anger on Per's face showed no bounds. Steve Bould has transformed him and the defence into a vocal, confident unit, and I feel that if we manage to replicate our "beautiful football" of the past, we'll have a great chance of winning the league.

We have the ingredients to reproduce our renowned attacking flair, too. Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud are quality attack-minded players that are perfectly capable of replicating the havoc created by Cesc, Nasri and van Persie in earlier years. However, I'm not sure if we've found the balance between attack and defence yet - something that if stabilized, could work wonders for our side.

Negatives:

What the fuck, Arsene?
For the life of me, I cannot understand why Lukas Podolski is not playing for Arsenal. A video showed how frustrated he was when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought on instead of him. I not only can understand his disappointment, but I also think that it's completely justified as well. Starting an inexperienced winger and bringing on another inexperienced winger (JUST back from a 5 month injury) to replace him is frankly, an insult to the German.

While Gnabry is a good talent, he didn't need to play this game while Lukas did, to get game time. In this current Arsenal side, I have no doubt that Lukas Podolski deserves to start. Wenger should play him on the left and play either Santi or The Ox on the right, dependent on the opposition. While I'm not a huge fan of Lukas, I'm sure that he will be a VITAL part of our team if played regularly on the left flank, and here's why:


1. In an adaptation period last season, he managed 16 goals, impressive for a winger. Signs at the beginning of the season suggested that he was clearly motivated to push on, and looked gutted upon receiving his injury against Fenerbache.

2. He's arguably our best finisher in the team, just look at the goals he scored against Fulham and West Ham. I have said for a long, long time that along with Theo Walcott (and maybe Aaron Ramsey), Podolski is the only player who has the selfish instinct to want goals in this team. A major reason of why we struggled to find the net in recent games were because many of our players - most notably Ozil - are shy of shooting. Podolski is not, which is why he needs to be used more frequently.

3. He is our best winger in our team at the moment, in my opinion. Cazorla tends to drift in the middle, and everyone knows that he would prefer playing in the center than out wide. And while Theo is out for quite a while, players like Chambo and Gnabry don't come close to competing with Podolski, let alone Walcott.


I know that many people are excited about the prospect of Gnabry, but it was a ridiculous decision to choose him above Podolski yesterday. The introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain over Lukas was nothing less than a joke choice by the manager, one who should claim 100% responsibility over Podolski's current state.

People who were defending Wenger by saying that he is "easing Podolski back into the game" have lost that point, seeing that he rushed Ozil, Giroud and Chamberlain onto the pitch from injury yesterday. And don't even get me started on "Wenger's playing a master move by motivating Podolski by benching him", that's just ridiculous. Why would Wenger bench a 100+ capped German footballer regularly just to motivate him? Why would such a player even need motivation?

Ever since Wenger chose to play Aaron Ramsey over Podolski on the right flank back in December 2012, Lukas hasn't managed to break into the starting XI. I'm firmly on the side of Podolski here - he does not deserve to be in the position he currently faces. It's getting clear that the manager only deems him fit to be a squad player, a decision that could not be more wrong.

Meanwhile, it seems that we are making a habit of scrapping 3 points rather than gaining them comfortably, which is not necessary at all. Benteke's tame header directly towards Szczesny at the end could've signaled agony had it been better. A team like Villa with abysmal form at home should've been streamrolled by us, yet we gave them a glorious opportunity to gain something from the game.

While our defence have become used to winning games under pressure now, one can't guarantee that they will keep out goals in every match. Our team were sloppy and careless while in a pole position, and were a bit fortunate to not get punished for it. One of the main reasons that Manchester City are cited as main title contenders is because they can blow teams apart, a feature that Arsenal need to replicate.

The title may well go into goal difference owing to the intensity of the league, which is why EVERY GOAL is important. While a win where a bit of 'digging in' is required is a welcome trait developed by us, we are in danger of making it into a habit. Yes, I said danger, because it puts a lot of dependency on one's defence which, however rock-solid, is bound to crumble at some point.

Even though we have the Ozils, the Rosickys and the Cazorlas to create the chances, we don't have the van Persies to finish it. The fact remains that while Giroud is good, he's not a player who can dribble or bury a half-chance. Julian Draxler is, and while I'm taking the below piece of news with a kilogram of salt rather than a salt lick, I must admit that he'd be a fantastic transfer if pulled off.



Jan Aage Fjortoft, for people who are unaware, was one of the first to leak the transfers of Podolski and Ozil to Arsenal. While he hasn't mentioned Arsenal anywhere, the word stays that Draxler could be heading to the exit door this month. With Arsenal his preferred destination, we have another quality player to add to targets not beyond our reach, an already long list of Berbatov, Morata, Jackson Martinez and Alexandre Pato.

We have the money, and we have targets that can move to the Emirates who would significantly improve our squad. It ALL falls down to Wenger now, he needs to get the checkbook out. There's barely any excuse left not to do so.

Meanwhile, for the sake of every Gooners' fickle feelings - please don't get your hopes up on anything. You might end up utterly crushed.

P.S. Congratulations to Cristiano Ronaldo for winning the Ballon D'Or. Even with a fit Messi, I'm strongly of the opinion that Cristiano is the best in the world at the moment. Might elaborate on this topic later, come to think of it.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )