Monday, 3 February 2014

Arsenal 2-0 Palace: Our Ox on the field carries the burden this time


After a frustrating 45 minutes, Oxlade-Chamberlain struck twice to save Arsenal the blushes, giving us a 2-0 victory in the end. At half time, I won't deny that there were genuine concerns for me, even though I knew that there were 45 more minutes to go against a tiring Palace side. Once again though, this Arsenal side have demonstrated a willingness to up their game when necessary for three vital points.

The first half - let's face it - was a pretty drab affair. Frankly, aside from the Monreal chance created by Ozil, it's a wonder how most of the Emirates crowd managed to stay awake. Even though in the end we did manage to get those all-important three points, people tend to overlook these vapid, boring minutes where we were clueless in front of goal.

I'm not going to do that, though. If we want to win the title, we need to vanquish our negatives, and pointing out those flaws is certainly at step one. One of the reasons that I was imploring the manager to spend was because that striker would have that knack of scoring goals from decent positions, unlike the tap-ins that Giroud comfortably tucks away. The first half against Palace was a clear example of how toothless we were in the final third, largely (if not completely) down to a clear lack of movement at the face of Speroni's goal.

This kind of flawed attack is exactly what's going to cost us later this season. Players like Podolski, Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Ozil were completely stationary near the D, barely making runs either at the goalkeeper or across the face of goal. I can understand Giroud lying idle with his back to goal; after all, he's supposed to pivot the balls off to his teammates. However, players like Podolski, Cazorla and Ozil really don't have many excuses for a lack of movement near the box.

This is why I feel that players like Wilshere, Rosicky and now Oxlade-Chamberlain will have a very good second half of the season. Unlike a majority of the squad, the above mentioned players are ones who are prepared to make electrifying runs and press the opposition higher up the pitch, rather than sit back and soak pressure.

With Rosicky and Jack not in the starting XI, it was the Ox who stepped up this time and got a goal immediately after the break. While everyone was standing still and passing sideways, Oxlade-Chamberlain made a lung-bursting run from midfield into space. Santi Cazorla executed an easy ball with perfection, and Chambo looped it over the helpless keeper. 1-0.

After taking the lead, we inexplicably proceeded to apply the dreaded handbrake against a medicre side like Crystal Palace. Instead of making runs near the box and killing off a newly promoted team, we passed the ball pointlessly and acted like the game was done. We're getting really dependent on Bould's usually fail-safe defence, grabbing a goal and sitting back for a lot of games this season.

If playing like this - defending for long periods and snatching goals - is indeed a part of our game plan, then I honestly have no issues with it. However, I'm not sure that playing pragmatic football to such an extent is part of the whole idea. Arsene Wenger is a person who's fond of blowing teams away, and I'm sure that he didn't buy Mesut Ozil for him to contribute in scrappy one-nillers against the likes of Palace.

Such a strategy of football may work well against average, yet stubborn opposition. However, it can and will backfire against powerful attacking prowess' like Manchester City's or Bayern Munich's. We need to find a perfect blend between attack and defence, instead of playing pragmatically - a euphemism for "parking the bus" - against a mediocre Premier League team.

We did add more gloss to the scoreline, in fairness. Some intricate play between Giroud and Chamberlain saw the latter get quite a lot of space down the left hand side. Chambo's hunger to score was apparent when he drove up the pitch and shot it past Speroni. In whatever fashion we did it, ultimately we bagged three points, and that is what matters.

This is a very good result, in light of knowing that Manchester City and/or Chelsea are guaranteed to drop points tonight. Personally, I'm looking forward to this encounter, because it's two opposites pitted against each other with a common objective - to get closer to us.

Mourinho's staunch defence and Pellegrini's scintillating attack means that we should be in for a game which should really fascinate the strategists. That's not to say that the neutrals won't enjoy this; should City break through Chelsea's parked bus, Mourinho's men would be forced to come out of their shell and make a game of it.

This game is hardly a title decider though, and I'm planning to watch it as a neutral. Even though I hope for City to take the lead and the game to culminate into a goal-fest (not unlike the 6-3 game we had to endure), I expect Chelsea to take the lead, City to peg back and finally make it 1-1 at full time. However, I could so easily be wrong.

You know why? Because football is crazy.

P.S. I was thinking of writing a piece on the Kallstrom madness that surrounded deadline day, but it felt futile when there was already a piece on the Internet mirroring my thoughts. Check it out.

Also, ha ha to United.

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )