Friday, 5 December 2014

Arsenal 1-0 Southampton: Giroud sums up Wenger's man managing flaws

Match Report | Match highlights | Wenger's thoughts

I don't know about you, but I enjoyed that. I never really fancied us to win the game in the first place, but the fact that we did despite the circumstances is heartwarming. Obviously it does not lead me into any delusions about my perception of the team and the person managing it, but was nevertheless an important step towards rebuilding some morale.

Make no mistake, despite having an easy start to the season, Southampton are a very, very good side. They're a team in the true essence. Perhaps the fact that they're perched high up at third speaks more of the quality of the league than of themselves, but let's not forget they've given almost every team a hard time.

Of course, we were helped. A lot. Morgan Schneiderlin never made the game on account of one booking too many, and Toby Alderweireld was forced off with around 10 minutes at hand. And while I'm by no means suggesting that I advocate the obvious papering over the cracks, but despite our flush hand it seemed we might fold the hand. The immensely relieving fact that we didn't was a tad unpredictable, but for once on the positive side.

This game highlighted a lot of long-stated facts. Welbeck and Alexis are too jaded to be thrown into the deep end continuously. A Ramsey and Arteta baseline helped the team look secure at the back. Oxlade-Chamberlain will have his off days, which is why there is something called depth in the shape of a German smiley.

I don't get why Arsene Wenger is so averse to rotation. Okay, maybe against a team like Southampton it's preferable to play your best players, but why not ensure they're mentally and physically fit enough to perform? Why play a clearly jaded Alexis, Welbeck and Santi Cazorla for West Brom? There were plenty of occasions earlier this season when a Rosicky or a Podolski could carry the cargo and hand our key men a rest. It serves two things - ensures that the team's vital cogs are well-oiled, and that the fringe options aren't too rusty. Treating Podolski, Rosicky and Campbell the way Wenger is makes them feel undervalued. They feel they're not at the cool party anymore. And unless there's an injury-cum-suspension frenzy, they leave due to lack of game time.

Olivier Giroud faded dramatically in the second half of last season because, surprise, he was run into the ground. Fortunately he's a muscular lad who did well to stay away from injury (until a freak one hit him), but it still had a notable impact on his output. On Wednesday, a fully-fit, rested Giroud came off the bench and created three chances. He held the ball up well and added much-needed potency in the final third. It's not rocket science.

Have an honest mind and think about where Alexis is going. While his goals-assists ratio has remained phenomenally consistent, his workrate and focus is dwindling. You can't blame him, in fairness. His form of late may have led some to forget that he is only human. It'll take superhuman strength, stamina and craving for him to run like a motorbike till the end of the season. The fact that we seem to be asking that of him speaks volumes of Wenger's motivational and man management acumen.

The Christmas schedule doesn't make for pretty reading. It's not the quality of the opposition, but the games-per-days ratio that bothers me. We play around eight games in less than a month, which include Stoke City, West Ham and a trip to Turkey. Based on recent evidence, is it fair to expect Wenger to plan well in the medium-term and increase the frequency of his rotations? I suspect not.

True, we don't have much wiggle room in defence, but despite having our options, it's very hard to see Wenger freshening up the final third. There's a good chance the likes of Sanchez, Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain will start at least seven of the next eight games. And when, not if, their form and energy levels take a turn for the worse, I hope we're too wise to scapegoat them and repeat the Giroud scenario.

In all honesty, I'm too resigned to hope the fans and the manager will see the light.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]