Being ill and writing about Arsenal isn’t the most fun thing to do, especially when we’ve been playing the way we have recently, so you’ll have to bear with me during this lengthy piece. This last two weeks of football has been painful watching for an Arsenal fan. A gruelling game vs West Brom and just about squeezing by, another tough Sam Allardyce team in Palace then came along and made life tricky early on before the Scorpion King saved us and finally Bournemouth, where it seemingly just all went wrong. I’ll also briefly discuss the media consternation at Pep Guardiola, who I think is a little unfairly being vilified for not being 30 points clear at the top of the league. More on that later, we have plenty of problems ourselves before having to worry about Pep and his baldness.
The West Brom and Crystal Palace games were ideal scenarios in which to entrust Giroud with the lead role in our three pronged attack as they were always going to be physical encounters. This proved to be astute decision making from Wenger as Giroud duly obliged with two great performances. People (and I mean morons within our own fan base) continue to scoff at that 1-0 win vs West Brom yet the same people lauded Chelsea’s 1-0 win vs West Brom as “getting the job done”. There are some people out there who just want to suck the joy out of anything and try to use social media to drive their agendas. As was displayed with the “protest” vs Norwich last season, not as many people care as the agenda seekers thought. Any-who…moving on. The win vs Palace displayed one of the greatest goals we’ll ever see. It’s made my top five ever Arsenal goals in terms of the sheer technical quality of it. Here it is just in case you haven’t seen it. Stunning, absolutely stunning. It’s a game from then onward we really should have put to bed with the number of chances we created and contrived to miss. However another solid performance coupled with a clean sheet and three points is nothing to sniff at. Now comes the real low point…
The first 70 minutes was Bullshit and the last 20 minutes consisted of some Fight. We played Bournemouth 48 hours after beating Palace so we knew that it was going to be a tricky game especially with them having had an extra days rest. Not an excuse by any means, that’s just what we knew going into the fixture. That being known I was hugely surprised (and not so in a way) that we stuck with Giroud up top. The tabloids in us all will say “but he got a goal and two assists mate, what are you on about?” but his inclusion with the aforementioned circumstances struck me as naive and hopeful rather than planning for the opposition at hand. With Giroud in the team we are far less able to press and far more susceptible to a high press, which we all know that Bournemouth like to employ. Also with them having had an extra days rest there was only one way they were going to start, fast. To counter that we would need to employ a pressing game of our own and Giroud leading the line doesn’t allow for that at all. His inclusion means we are a man light in that regard and so makes our job a lot harder to nullify the Bournemouth press. That being said the goals we conceded were farcical because they were borne of individual mistakes. Bellerin and to a certain extent Ramsey were culpable for their first goal. Bellerin began the move aware as he looked to cover Mustafi but once that portion of danger had subsided he switched off and ball watched for a split second too long. He also won’t be happy at how he got turned for the goal but in any case this was something that could have been prevented with or without Giroud on the field. The second came from a quite stupid decision on Granit Xhaka’s part and I guess now we are seeing elements of why Wenger was so reluctant to throw him straight in at the beginning of the season. He has moments of madness a little too often for my liking and his errors both on and off the ball have cost us goals on a number of occasions this season. Fraser was clearly pushed and it was a stonewall penalty, which meant we were 2-0 down in the space of four minutes. The classic “oh we’ve let one in let’s feel sorry for ourselves” second goal that we have been known to give away in years gone by. The first half ended with us pressing a little more but unfortunately we couldn’t break their defence to make the second half a little easier. The Coq going off injured acted as somewhat of a blessing in the heat of the game as Ramsey tucked back in alongside Xhaka and we looked a little better on the ball.
The second half began with us pressing on and looking for a breakthrough only for a long ball to see Bellerin under pressure. Now no matter what you say about this, Bellerin was fouled in the identical way that Fraser was fouled for their penalty yet Michael Oliver deemed it to be fine. Terrible officiating in our direction once again. I did say a few weeks ago that these things balance out over the course of the season, and I hope that I’m proved right as we should be in for some damn good luck in the second half of the season. Fraser went on to nutmeg Cech from the tightest of angles. Cech hasn’t covered himself in glory over the last few months and his immovability as first choice is in question as the clangers, though not obvious, are there to be seen. Food for thought as Ospina waits on the sidelines. 3-0 down and the social media pelters had begun, both from in and out of the Arsenal fan base. Bournemouth then got knackered, as you would when playing a high intensity pressing game, especially only 3 days after your last game. This meant that they retreated into their own half and enabled Giroud to actually get a kick in the game. This is where my annoyance lies. Giroud would have been in the exact same position off the bench, however we wouldn’t have necessarily been 3-0 down due to us having actually imposed ourselves on the game. In my eyes going with Alexis through the middle flanked by Lucas and potentially The Ox (who was fantastic when he came on by the way). Even if that didn’t work so well offensively we would have had one more available to counter their intense press rather than them easily bypassing Giroud, who let’s face it isn’t one for the pressing game. Not that he doesn’t try mind, it’s just a weakness of his. So with the Bournemouth contingent resting on their laurels slightly along with us pressing on we finally created something. A cross from The Ox, flicked on by Giroud and put away by Alexis sparked the comeback. We then looked like we cared a little bit and Bournemouth didn’t know whether to stick or twist. The Lucas Perez goal was one of real quality. Alexis passed infield to Xhaka who played a first time ball into Giroud, who then flicked it first time over to Lucas Perez who volleyed a superb finish into the far corner. 3-2, with 18 minutes plus stoppage time – game well and truly on. Bournemouth didn’t really know where to go next and the next few minutes was an exercise in us probing forward only to lose the ball high and Bournemouth countered. Gosling had a glorious chance to make it 4-2 and shut the game down but somehow fired wide when he should have scored. A couple of minutes later Ramsey was on the end of a bad tackle, where you could see what Francis was trying to do but ultimately failed at in going over the top of the ball and made the referee’s decision an easy one. Now we had 15 minutes and 10 men to play against, could we possibly even go on to win it? The chances came and went and a particularly good bit of defending from Bournemouth stopped Giroud from scoring with 8 minutes left to play and the clock ticked on by. It wasn’t until the 92nd minute where we finally got our equaliser. A cross by Xhaka and a great header from Giroud followed by a fairly terrible celebration. There are people complaining that he wasted 10-15 seconds where we could have gone on and won it but let’s face it Michael Oliver wouldn’t have allowed that. He had a fairly decent game however their third goal as well as not playing a second above 6 minute’s added time showed that he wasn’t free from home team bias here. We scored in the 92nd minute and a goal/substitution allows for a 30 second pause, which we were robbed of a little with the whistle being blown as a great ball was played over the top from Xhaka. So many managers, fans etc complain about the time added on having expired, however it is a MINIMUM + whatever a team has done to waste time in and around it. 3-3 at full time and while happy we showed fight it was still a disappointing result.
Back to the set up question. I really do feel as though Wenger picked Giroud on form as well as trying to keep him happy rather than looking at the team shape overall. We all know how loyal Wenger is to his players and it showed again vs Bournemouth. He’s trying to keep so many plates spinning with the squad that he has at his disposal (something that he isn’t used to in recent years) that he’s costing the team points with it. Hindsight is wonderful as we all make great managers after games but I can’t help but think a little more ruthlessness is required for us to push on and get over the line when the stakes are high. It’s not a result that’s the end of the world as it’s a ground where Sp*rs also drew and Liverpool managed to lose, but in the context of the league table it is a little damaging. The problems remain the same as they always have been, it’s whether the manager has learnt these lessons and is willing to adapt in future tests that’ll determine how far we go.
I’d also like to reflect a little on the whole Guardiola story. Now his interview post their win vs Burnley was short to say the least and he’s since mentioned to the reporters in question that it was nothing personal but it seems like he’s trying to get a message across. Now the media have been quick to jump all over him when a result doesn’t go is way and there are plenty out there like Stan Collymore who label him as a fraud and that can only cut it when the game is easy in Spain and Germany but continually caveat it with ‘he is a good manager’ simply because they can’t quite figure out whether he is or isn’t. Of course indecision or fence sitting doesn’t get you clicks or reads, hyperbolic overreaction does. Moronic ‘journalism’ but it’s reflective of the world in which we live. So many are saying he’s lost the plot over the way he portrayed himself in that interview, however he gave the same interview in three different situations; BBC, Sky and a radio interview I think. He’s trying to get the message across that basically says “slate me and I’ll give you minimal content to write about”. It has of course backfired to a degree but I also think it’s worked to a degree as well. He’s been labelled as arrogant and above the league, however the media are pretty self entitled to think that they deserve a perfect interview, when from the bald man’s perspective all he’s been given is hate in the press. It’s a tit for tat that the media haven’t liked one bit so it does put them in similar shoes to that of Guardiola to an extent. It’s like the “I don’t teach tackling” malarkey all over again, The British media didn’t deem that very British and have used it as a stick to beat him with. The fact is however ‘British’ we want our league to be the best coach in the league isn’t British, the best players in the league aren’t British and that’s what really hurts the media. A sad way of them fighting back but what else do we have but clickbait? Just let him coach and enjoy the fact that we have a great footballing brain in our league.
Oh and kudos to Sp*rs for not being completely useless for once.
Have a good week folks.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.