Equipoised

There’s been a week’s hiatus on my blog as my version of Mothercare lite at home has finally morphed into a semblance of a house again. We’re finally ready to receive the little one into the world at the expense of a week’s blogging. Fair game I hope you agree.We’ve had a couple of draws and coupled with other results it leaves us top of the league with 16 games to play. There is plenty of talk of missed opportunities as well as the more positive stuff of us actually being top, but I feel as though the whole picture needs to be taken with a balanced view. The Liverpool result was at best gut wrenching due to the manner in which we conceded the last minute goal. The Stoke game a little of both in that we missed great chances along with Petr Cech saving us a couple of times with good stops. 4 points from these games would have been incredible and we would have been lauded as favourites for the title with varying degrees of hyperbole used. The reality is we sit here now with 2 points from the last 6 and considering they were both away games and we remained unbeaten within them, I feel it will help us keep some quiet momentum without the pressure of the favourites tag. Most people consider Man City outright favourites and consider Leicester to be outsiders. United consider themselves to be in it but I just don’t think they have enough to consistently keep winning. Their performance at the weekend was brilliant in that they soaked up the chances and conceded possession and came away with a great 3 points. However that is the way they seem to be playing both away and home so I’m not sure they’ll last the course. For us we are about to welcome back Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil into our team and Chelsea, who we face this weekend, look a little hot and cold. I feel as though we are in a good position to kick on with the season as 3 of our next 4 games are at home and while they are tough games, it gives us a great opportunity to turn up the heat on our rivals.

I think there are a couple of reasons as to why we have 2 points as opposed to 4 or even 6 points from the aforementioned games. We look a little tired and some of our usually excellent performers have had some real lapses of concentration and don’t seem to have quite been ‘at it’ in the way that we need them to be. I’m thinking of 2 players in the main here and possibly a 3rd but the 3rd has a more valid excuse. The first and most worrying is Laurent Koscielny. He’s by far and away our best defender and I really think he will be a stalwart in our back four for the next 3-4 years at least. From his recent quotes as well he seems to be really happy at Arsenal. However in recent weeks his lapses in concentration have been far more regular than the usual one offs that any defender could have. It’s more about his decision making at the moment and I think it’s because of a bigger domino effect through the team. The Coqzorla combination has never been so missed and even though our results of late haven’t been so bad, they’ve been rather good really, our performances haven’t exactly been the most electrifying. Because the Coqzorla combination is missing there isn’t an adequate ball handler in the middle of the park at the base of the midfield. The usual pattern is the back four playing from side to side and then one of the centre backs playing the ball into Santi Cazorla so he can transition the ball forward to more dangerous areas. This is as ever true for our counter attacking play as well as our possession based game. He is allowed to do this because Coquelin is both combative and works hard enough to allow him the space to do this. He makes 5-10 yard runs either side of Cazorla throughout the game to ensure the ball moves forward and it’s due to this hard work that our play can develop. Now with Coquelin and Cazorla both missing it leaves us with the Ram-Flam duo. Ramsey prefers playing with the ball hiher up the pitch as his ball handling skills are not quite as assured as Cazorla and in conjunction with this Flamini doesn’t quite have the legs to work as hard as Coquelin. So a less dynamic midfield has led to Per Mertesacker playing a fair few hospital balls forward as well as a lot more sideways passes. His out-ball has disappeared. The resultant sideways passing leaves a lot more responsibility on Koscielny and he feels the need to burst forward every now and again to misshape the opposition defence. This does work but because he has had to do it so often he’s almost looking as though he’s run out of options and inevitably he’s become a little lost further up the pitch. The increased work load, albeit subtle, seems to have affected the way he plays in the norm. I think that the purchase of a more box-to-box DM in the shape of Elneny we have someone who may be able to start creating the runs that Coquelin previously did. This still doesn’t resolve our ball handling midfielder issue, however Coquelin addressed this to a degree as his competence on the ball has increased somewhat. We’ll have to hope that Elneny is just as good if not better to release some of the pressure on the centre backs.The second  layer, who isn’t quite as worrying but is causing some concern is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. After a brilliant introduction to the season with the winner in the Community Shield followed by a good showing vs Newcastle away (he got the deflected goal for the 3 points there) it looked to be a breakthrough year, to the next level. Unfortunately for him it’s been one where he’s flattered to deceive. I think that there are again a couple of reasons for this. The first is that for the first time his confidence seems shaken. He was previously compared to Theo and mentioned in a way that measured his steepness of progress as far greater than that of Theo Walcott, so the pressure was off. The fact that his form dipped a little and a few mistakes have creeped into his game coupled with the level of his engagement on social media has left him open to the criticism that ensues following an Arsenal defeat or a bad performance. He’s clearly a smart kid but he knows what Arsenal Twitter is capable of and that seems to have thrown him into the indecisive player he’s become of late. His biggest strength is driving at players and committing them into challenges to open up the rest of the play. He’s always had that in his locker, which has been fine, but now Le Boss has requested him to work a little harder on the defensive side of his game. Failure to do this has seen him benched and/or untrusted in pressure situations and this in turn has manifested into an indecisiveness that clouds his judgement. His passing has never been his biggest strength but it’s been something he’s fairly good at and even that has become increasingly wayward. He’s a man lacking in confidence more than anything else and those early mistakes coinciding with the filth on social media he’s gone right into his shell. I have a feeling that he needs the right people around him to explain the pitfalls for professional footballers around social media. He’s still young and has a lot to prove which is why he, along with any young player of his calibre/age, needs to be managed a little more. Benching him was a part of what was required for the team and that’s fine, but something more is needed to enhance him as a player as well as assuring his development. He’s an athletic footballer who relies on pace and power and he has that in abundance, it’s just the discipline both on and off the pitch that he needs to work on. With players coming back a little rest away from the limelight might actually do him a favour.

That’s the next thing on Wengers’ plate. It’s a big decision that is coming his way. How will we play when all of our attacking options are fit and ready? Apart from Welbeck we should have everyone in an attacking capacity available for the game against Chelsea. The big decision will be to go with either Walcott or Giroud. I’m not sure that both will work given the rise and rise of Joel Campbell. If it were up to me I would go with Cech, Bellerin Mertesacker Koscielny Monreal, Elneny Ramsey Ozil, Campbell Walcott Alexis. I would play Walcott through the middle as Chelsea aren’t fans of playing against pace and on top of that Giroud is far better off the bench than Walcott is. It’s a horses for courses decision as I think both forwards have been great for us this season in different ways plus it will give Walcott an opportunity to be involved in a way that he likes to be. He’s actually been far more disciplined on the wings and as much as he has been criticized over the last few weeks for his anonymity, he’s been putting in a shift where he’s not at his best. Much like Campbell but we have to remember the Campbell likes playing in the wide position. You can argue that Theo used to, however he had a more defensively solid Bacary Sagna behind him and in addition he was doing well when we were battling for 4th not the title. In a title fight it’s the little mistakes that cost you, which is why he’s obviously taken on board constructive criticism in the correct manner.It’s been a trying week results wise, but
the resilience and performances have been toe-to-toe in more ways than one. We’re top of the league people so enjoy it. We have an opportunity to put a marker down against Chelsea and maintain our lead at the top while City go away to the Hammers. It’s an opportunity that I truly hope we take.

I’d just like to end it with a soliloquy about Mesut Ozil. We’ve got Ozil. I’m just not sure that anyone understands this. He’s Arsene Wengers main man and considered to be better than Zidane. I can’t actually believe we’ve got Mesut Ozil. I really do love that new song…

Have a great week folks.

Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.

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