Going into the weekend of football, we played first and in doing so we had the opportunity to apply some pressure to the rest of the title contenders. Coupled with that we also had the opportunity to give them hope, not something you want to do this early on in the season. Yes a draw at home to Boro last weekend wasn’t ideal and did end up giving some ground away, however there were a fair few blips from teams last weekend so it didn’t prove overly costly. So the heat was on, even against bottom of the table Sunderland, to ensure we led the way for a twist filled weekend of football.
The game began well with us well and truly on the front foot and it looked as though Sunderland were playing for a point from the get go. A dangerous game when you have the home fans sitting on the fence and not fully behind the team. A long afternoon lay ahead for them…Some great link up play from us in a 22 pass move ended with a sumptuous cross from Oxlade Chamberlain down the right hand side followed by an even better header from Alexis Sanchez. HE CAN SCORE HEADERS AS WELL!? Playing as our centre forward he really has come to the fore. It feels like his first season all over again and he has a new found hunger to prove that he can cut it there. I like it and because of him the others in the squad are playing off his energy and bettering themselves. The game then entered into a pattern where Martin Atkinson joined the crusade to try and help Sunderland out of the mire that they are in. Decision after decision went their way and on top of that anything that should have been a yellow card or worse for them went unpunished and unnoticed. Steven Pienaar made a horrendous Xhaka like tackle and it went card free (This ‘new rule’ is clearly farcical as it has in no way been enforced upon anyone other than Xhaka. The FA really don’t have a clue on things and have clearly convoluted things to make consistency even harder to deal with for themselves. Clowns is the word that comes to mind.). The second half began with us on the front foot again and Alexis was hauled down for a stonewall penalty, which Atkinson waved away (hello Championship next weekend!) and minutes later a simple long ball was played over the top, which Mustafi should have dealt with but a moment of indecision and a slip later, Watmore was in and was brought down for a penalty. It was a little unlucky as Cech tried to pull out because Koscielny was there to cover and he inadvertently brought him down. A Penalty for sure but no less than the Alexis Sanchez one. Defoe levelled from the spot and the game was on for Sunderland. They had found hope. Then came our plan B and what a plan B it was. Giroud was on the pitch for less than 2 minutes and with his first touch was able to put us back in front. Alexis sent the ball wide for Gibbs to deliver a decent cross but Giroud’s finish was something else. Stunning. Add 5 minutes to that goal and we won a corner, which Ozil delivered for Giroud to once again bury into the net. A deft header and with two touches Giroud had two goals. Plan B was perfect. Just 2 minutes after that Alexis Sanchez finished the job with a great move that albeit fortuitously ended up at Alexis’ feet, was still a great team goal. 4-1 and game over.
The reason plan B works so well for us is simply because when we play a pacey pressing game, teams try to sit deep and defend what they have with and organise themselves in a narrow manner. This squeezes the space and forces us wide, which is why our first goal came from a cross. When the space is narrowed and we bring on a more traditional number 9 it leaves the narrow and defensive team more exposed to a team with a target man. They are inherently used to dealing with intricate play through the middle take 10-15 minutes to adjust to the new way of playing. This told as the second and third goals came from crosses. I know the third was a corner, but an aerial threat was something that wasn’t as prominent before Giroud came on and just to have ONE more body to deal with makes things more difficult. By then the game was pretty much done and why having this plan B will be so important for us. The reason I think it’s better to go with Giroud off the bench rather than to start is that when we play with a target man from the off a team can set up to defend against that and transferring from a deep lying wide threat to a more pacey approach is easier than the other way around as a team protecting a lead naturally narrows as it camps at the back. We could finally have a solution for the problematic teams we face.
In the other results it was great to see Sp*rs drop points as well as Man Utd. Utd could have scored at least 5 on the day, but a combination of great goalkeeping and poor finishing meant they drew 0-0 at home to a resolute Burnley side. The pressure mounts ever more on the not so special one. Great to watch when your own team have won.
Ludogorets loom for us on Tuesday night followed by the small matter of the North London Derby. We won’t get much chance to rotate as a win vs Ludogorets is a must to keep our quest for Champions League qualification as group winners, alive. Sp*rs will be in the same situation, however, as their qualification to the last 16 also remains unconfirmed. An absolutely massive week ahead before yet another international break, let’s hope it’s a good one.
Have a great week folks.
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