The weekend of football began positively with Sp*rs dropping points (yet continuing to avoid red cards with horrendously consistent fouling) against Bournemouth. I thought to myself that this is a perfect opportunity as City will likely beat Southampton and a bore draw at the bridge would be a good time to cash in. How very wrong I was…
Firstly to our game. We started positively and the first 10 minutes looked to set a pattern fro the game; we would be on the front foot against a camped defence and the first goal would have to come from us and come early if we were to open a stubbornly set up team (and rightly so). This however was not the pattern of the afternoon. Boro created the better chances over the 90 minutes in my opinion and if not for Petr Cech, then we would have surely been humbled by the visitors. Of course there is a reason we have a world class keeper and that’s to make world class saves, which he duly obliged in doing. In saying that our midfield balance looked off, which hampered us both going forward as well as being exposed at the back. There in lay, what I believe, our biggest mistake of the season so far. Santi Cazorla has played a lot of football already this season and has looked like he’s needed a break. I thought that the home game v Ludogorets was the perfect opportunity to play a domestically suspended Xhaka and give Santi a well earned rest. Yes the game may have been trickier and hindsight is always the easiest way to make decisions and be the best manager in the world, however Cazorla could have had the week off to rest his 31 year old legs and been fresh for Boro at the weekend. This didn’t happen and we look to be paying a longer term price in that Wenger doesn’t know when Cazorla will be back. He did train on the Friday before the game, however Wenger still had this response, which is discouraging to say the least.
The game itself made unpleasant viewing as when it looked as though we were about to make a breakthrough the final pass would let us down allowing Boro to breathe and/or counter-attack with ferocious pace down our left/their right with Traore. He gave Monreal a tough time, however the lack of support provided to Monreal has long been a concern this season and something that will need to be addressed in the longer term. As the game wore on the further they remained camped in their half, not really applying much of a threat, even on the counter. It was a game that was crying out for a Giroud, a plan B. Balls were being delivered into the box and there was not really anyone there to aim for. I think with 20 minutes of Giroud we would have created a more telling chance and maybe would have taken it to be sitting a little prettier at the top of the league. As it was, it finished 0-0 and felt like a huge opportunity missed. On balance however we really deserved to lose the game so can count ourselves lucky to have got a point. The afternoon’s other fixtures didn’t affect us so much until later in the evening when Liverpool had the opportunity to go top. They were leading 2-0 and set for top spot before a late West Brom goal ensured we remained there. Not that it’s important at this stage of the season, however it might have felt like an opportunity missed on their part as well (not quite as badly as us, but still). Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil looked a little tired and it showed. Let’s hope a weeks rest will get them ready and firing for Sunderland away. Keeping with Ozil for a second, there was and has been plenty of social media jazz around how he’s a flat track bully from the likes of Stan Collymore, who then went on to predict that we would win 3-0 and finally at the full time whistle tweeted with #wheresmesut. If ever there was someone who needed the attention to provoke reactions then that’s him and a lot of other journalists to be fair, because they need the reactions even if they don’t necessarily believe their own hyperbole. Susceptible fans fuel it with hate, it just needs to be ignored so that the more researched and talented journalists and writers can be heard.
The next day of fixtures were the interesting ones. I couldn’t quite believe that City were held to a 1-1 at home vs Southampton, however what was great to see is that we were able to grind out a win against them. They are a well drilled side who play good football, so are tough to beat. What followed later that afternoon was something that I did not expect in the slightest. Yes we knew Mourinho would make it about him. Yes we knew that if Utd won it would be yet another tactical masterclass. Yes we knew that if he drew, it would have been yet another tactical masterclass. Yes we knew that if he lost, it would be everyone else but his own fault. The excuse wheel would well and truly be required. 4-0. I couldn’t believe my eyes. At the end to quite visibly make what he said to Conte become now the talking point is typical of the man. I just wonder what the Chelsea fans will make of it, in particular Duncan Castles (LOL). It smacks of the balance of the players that have been brought in, all really attack minded and used to being a part of a team whose modus opedandi is to play attacking football. It’s because the attacking talent coupled with the anti-football he plays, that there is an imbalance on view. There’s plenty of time for this to be corrected as they are only 6 points off top spot and have played Man City, Leicester, Liverpool & Chelsea. They still have to play ourselves and Sp*rs but they aren’t too far at all. It just depends on how long their self implosion is allowed to continue. Chelsea on the other hand have found an identity and a system that works for them and a big win like this will only reinforce their belief in it. It is of course far too early to look at the league table, however what’s clear is that it’s going to be a close a title race as we’ve seen for a while. Incidentally we have played Liverpool, Chelsea & Leicester, so only one less ‘tough’ game than Utd. We’re doing a little better than them but only a little. The real tests for us will be in the following weeks when we play Sunderland away, Sp*rs at home and then Utd away. If we are 6-9 points clear of some of our title rivals at that point then we may have some cause for jubilation, but much work is needed in between now and then.
Until that time however, I can actually fathom enjoying this weekends results as we haven’t lost pace at the top when we really should have in conjunction with being able to laugh at the #SpecialOnce.
Have a great week folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.