Hello dear reader, welcome back to my Friday column, I hope you’ve had a good week (after all, Arsenal played twice and won twice and twice scored twice and twice kept a clean sheet…) and are sitting comfortably in your favourite chair; hopefully with a steaming mug of hot chocolate in front of you, perhaps with a cheeky marshmallow on top, bobbing away on the surface like that girl at the start of ‘Jaws’.
So, you will have gathered that Arsenal have had a pretty good week as we leave the traditionally (for Arsenal) torrid period of time that is November and enter the festive month of December – I don’t know about you, but I think of the Boxing Day fixtures as a bit of a halfway point of the season – with Arsenal sitting top of the Premier League by four points and top of their Champions League Group (F) by three points; although not safely through just yet.
Here are five things I have learnt about Arsenal this week:
People expect Mesut Ozil to be an instant world-beater: Ozil was quite quiet by his exemplary standards against Southampton and Olympique Marseille. However, he showed when stepping up for the penalty that he isn’t hiding and although it was poorly taken, he still upped his game and set up Jack Wilshere for a typical Ozil assist.
Why ‘a typical Ozil assist?!’ I hear you ask. Well, if you peruse YouTube for Ozil’s Real Madrid assists, you will see that a lot of Cristiano Ronaldo’s goals set up by our German playmaker involved Ozil collecting a pass on the right and pinging a perfect ball across the goal; between goalkeeper and defenders, for Ronaldo to tap-in with minimal effort at the back post. Which is exactly how him and Wilshere combined together against the French team on Tuesday.
As against Crystal Palace, Ozil was a whisker away from the incredible against Marseille; at Selhurst Park, Ozil attempted a spectacular volley when free in the box and skied the ball over, when he really could’ve taken a touch and then shot at goal in a much easier fashion, whereas against Marseille a hesitant touch meant that he missed an opportunity to control a lovely Aaron Ramsey scooped pass and have a one-on-one against Steve Mandanda.
The smallest of margins, but to quote the great Al Pacino in the superlative ‘Any Given Sunday’ – “…You find out life’s this game of inches, so is football. Because in either game – life or football – the margin for error is so small. I mean, one half a step too late or too early and you don’t quite make it. One half second too slow, too fast and you don’t quite catch it. The inches we need are everywhere around us. They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second…”
Ozil is trying, he is playing well, he is covering the ground and he wasn’t brought as a goal-scorer, he was signed as a playmaker…an assister. And the man is still assisting. But he needs Lukas Podolski to hit that back post, he needs Theo Walcott to make the runs Ronaldo and Angel Di Maria made for him in Spain and he needs a rest too I think, especially after he was unwell against Manchester United and unfit to play for Germany against England.
Arsenal’s backline looks like the real-deal: I mean, to quote GOB Bluth, “Come on!” This backline looks like a trophy-winning defence, without an obvious weak-link in the first choice five. Things look dicier if any of them don’t play, but Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen are excellent replacements.
The goalkeeper position is a problem I have highlighted before, and I still don’t think Arsenal have strength in depth here. Carl Jenkinson has been somewhat error-prone so whilst I still think Arsenal need to sign another centre-back, I also think that signing another right-back would be a good idea, maybe loan Jenkinson out? But that first-choice five, well, are mustard. Two clean sheets this week that were highly deserved and although Wojciech Szczesny had little to do against Olympique Marseille, when he was needed, he came up with some great saves.
Per Mertesacker has just got better and better and Laurent Koscielny seems to have gotten over that ‘mare against Aston Villa. Let us hope, with France overcoming Ukraine, he isn’t smarting about his performance and red card in the first leg of that qualification battle. Let’s hope Per signs that new deal, before Pep Guardiola and his staggeringly brilliant Bayern Munich side come calling…
Arsenal play better with Mathieu Flamini in the side: This may be stating the obvious, but considering I have been bleating to anyone who would listen since Gilberto Silva was packed off, that Arsenal need a defensive midfielder, I have now seen just how much better Arsenal play with Flamini ‘mopping-up’ behind our scary looking attack now that he has been signed as that much-needed shield.
I thought Arsenal would cricket-score Crystal Palace in the opening minutes of that game, such was Arsenal confidence and verve, but then Flamini limps off and suddenly Arsenal looked nervous, half-hearted and open at the back.
Flamini really was the key signing this summer, as well as Ozil has been since signing. And yes, I still think Arsenal could do with a second defensive midfielder to cover Flamini; Mikel Arteta doesn’t convince me there, although he has played bloody well there, but he isn’t getting any younger, nor quicker. A young tyro who wants to learn the trade from the two aforementioned players would do the trick for me.
Jack Wilshere is coming back to his best: Oh Jack. Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack, Jack. His first goal on Tuesday had me exclaiming like Kim Cattrall in ‘Porky’s’ and had Mrs C running out of the kitchen to tell me not to wake Cross Jnr. up.
What I love about Jack is his ability/want to a) get into the box and score a tap-in, like his second goal on Tuesday, and b) his ability/want to give the ball a damn good spanking if he gets an opening, like his goal against West Bromwich Albion. Plus, we have all seen that he is highly skilful and perfectly adapted for Arsene Wenger’s brand of pass and move; which of course led to him scoring the (surely?) ‘Goal of the Season’ against Norwich.
Jack was running, tackling and giving everyone an outlet all evening against Olympique Marseille. I hope that the on-looking, in-the-away-end Joey Barton was more than a little green with envy. What might have been, eh Joey?!
‘Sleevegate’ is ‘a thing’ now: Yes, thanks to ‘Arsenal Super-fan’ journo’ John Cross (no relation) of The Mirror, #Sleevegate is ‘a thing’ now. Yes, really.
Now, say what you like about the club’s many traditions (I personally love the little traditional touches that make this club ‘The Arsenal’ in the eyes of many fans) but do the tabloid press really have to add the ‘-gate’ suffix on the end of any word that corresponds vaguely to the something or other that they are desperately hand-wringing over at the time?!
Yes, Flamini took a pair of scissors to his shirt. It was perhaps, a little disrespectful and there were words said. But I mean, seriously, ‘Sleevegate?!’ And they say that newspapers are dying…is it just lazy journalism or do they really think that this is a scandal that measures up to the ransacking of a political office? It wasn’t the first time against Manchester United that he has chopped his sleeves off and I doubt it will be the last. See The Daily Mail’s website for evidence of this ‘scandalous behaviour’ (if you have a strong stomach…I had to buy a copy of that hateful paper the other day for my Dad, I had to buy and hide it in a copy of ‘Razzle’ to save my embarrassment).
Here’s one for you lazy tabloid boys; #Hackgate.
Thanks for reading, take care.