Monday, 17 March 2014

Spurs 0-1 Arsenal: Scrappy, but I'll take it... for now


It might be a bit smash-and-grab ish, it may be nervy. Heck, it could also be undeserved, and yet I couldn't care less.

I lie. I do care.

I would be lying if I said that the performance didn't worry me. Yes, we won, but we had 41% possession and looked flawed in defence. Assumptions that our back four were solid in the game are completely unfounded - we were caught from time to time again by Emmanuel Adebayor and could have lost were it not for presentable chances missed by them.

As nervy as we were, Tottenham were much worse. However, not every team we face are going to be as shit as the Spuds. Look at the next two fixtures - Chelsea at Stamford Bridge and potential league leaders Manchester City at home. If we dare to repeat the same performance against Mourinho, I promise you we'll get hammered worse than Manchester United did against Liverpool.

Winning ugly is a trait of champions. However, making a habit of it is not. Winning ugly is what Manchester City did against Hull, or what we did against Southampton (H) and Crystal Palace (A). Barely going past one of the worst Tottenham sides in half a decade is not a sign of champions, I'm sorry.

We aren't winning the title; I think I made that clear 14 hours after the January transfer slammed shut. We do, however, have a remote chance at second place. If we really want that, we need to perform much better than we did.

We've been too lackluster, too scared to shoot and too reliant on our defence for too long this season. Today, the euphoria of doing the double over Tottenham cleverly hid that. However, if you care about Arsenal, you must ask more of your team, for if we see more of the same we'll get battered against Chelsea and struggle to create a chance against City and Everton.

Ever since that Bendtner-infected 2-0 win over Cardiff City, Arsenal have been struggling to dominate games, carry on their freeflow passes and win matches convincingly in almost every single match. This has been going on for a long, long time (it's almost 3 months now), and it's about time a solution is found. If we don't, we can forget about second.

I hope the club learns from this game. Instead of carrying out the same tactics and getting mixed results, Wenger needs to be grateful and work on solutions quickly. My solution was buying a pacy striker and man managing Ozil well, which is truly out of the question now. With 11 games to play in the Premier League, I think our only option is pragmatism.

Ugly and Stoke City-ish as it may sound, but I think we need to be much more ruthless in attack and stern in defence than we are. The clean sheet we got today was fortunate - Spurs had three presentable chances to score and tanked it. However, one can be sure that better clubs won't.

Steve Bould should be getting complete control of defence. Arteta, a leggy player, has to be used sparingly and Flamini needs to be given much more game time. Ramsey should be eased into action and not forced, then we won't see any more setbacks in his rehab. Abou Diaby needs to be brought in and used cleverly, so that Flamini doesn't pick up a knock.

In attack, the players must be urged to continue making runs. Podolski is doing that, Oxlade-Chamberlain is doing that as well. Santi Cazorla should be more focused on the pitch; he seems to disappear in big games and/or away encounters. Tomas Rosicky shouldn't be overplayed or we'll see him injured, and Olivier Giroud should be benched for anyone. He's looking jaded, his focus is lost and he isn't willing to give much for the club anymore.

It's frightening that our options after Giroud fall to Yaya Sanogo and Bendtner, but at the moment they'll have to do. There is a guarantee that Giroud would put in an insipid, leggy and goalless performance against Chelsea next week. However Sanogo, as rusty as he is, might shock Mourinho's back four with his mobility. I don't have much hope though.

I'd seriously consider playing Oxlade-Chamberlain as striker. We need to make the most of the Englishman, he's the only player who has power and pace in the team. With better finishing and more composure, I'm convinced that he can be our next Thierry Henry. I'd feel much more comfortable with seeing Rosicky in central attacking midfield, Cazorla and Podolski beside him and Chamberlain up front, rather than seeing Olivier Giroud take to the field again.

Arsene Wenger should work out a plan. Clearly Giroud is getting worse with each overplayed match, and clearly Arteta's age has caught up with him. He needs to look at stop-gap 2 month solutions and think long-term in the future. With two mammoth fixtures approaching that could propel us forward or push us back, he needs to work out his tactics correctly instead of sending out the same lambs to slaughter every weekend.

Tottenham was an escape and a warning. Listen to it, Wenger.

-Santi (Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz)