The Premier League season drew to a close yesterday and some of the results were, how shall I put it, quite unexpected.
Aside from us thrashing West Brom (I think even the most optimistic of us couldn’t predict such a scoreline), we have: Burnley beating Aston Villa away despite being relegated long before the game, Leicester thrashing QPR (not the win, the thrashing was unexpected) and Newcastle getting a first win under Carver to stay up. However, what Stoke did to Liverpool was the most surprising thing of all. I mean, Southampton never really stood a chance to beat City and aim for 5th place, but Liverpool just capitulated. They were totally outplayed for the second game in a row. As a result of two defeats, the Scousers finished below Tottenham – That’s how bad their season has been.
There’s only one person I really feel for in this theatre of absurd: Steven Gerrard. Liverpool’s captain has performed below par this season, but he’s a living legend who deserves much better than to lose to a mediocre Villa side in the cup and suffer two heavy defeats in his last two games for the Club.
There are people who I have enormous respect for beyond those who play(ed) for Arsenal. Stevie G is one of them. I never understood all the mockery and abuse levelled at him in the last two years. Surely fans (not only Liverpool’s) should be a bit more respectful towards one of the greatest English midfielders of his generation?
But apart from Gerrard leaving on such a sad note, I couldn’t care one bit where Liverpool finished, whether they will sack Brendan Rodgers and how bad they have been. It’s their mess and theirs alone.
Our performance, meanwhile, was inspiring. Just the one that was needed before the final. With all the right faces in all the right places. I’ll start with the hat-trick hero, our surprising (but no less efficient for it) centre-forward on the day. His name is…
Theodore James Walcott
Theo was given 70 minutes up front with Ollie Giroud finally getting a bit of a respite and the Englishman was gorgeous. He demolished West Bromwich inside the first 40 minutes almost single-handedly. For the first Theo did touch-and-strike inside the box, for his second he demonstrated the ability to dribble in tight spaces and his third was a simple tap-in but a) the combination leading up to it was gorgeous b) Theo beat the offside trap for the goal.
Theo went on to produce further three shots on target and Myhill had to work hard to save these. His overall contribution? Well, Theo only made 33 touches and 15 passes (all successful) before being subbed off for Giroud in 68th minute. That’s probably not very good for a winger, cause it would be a demonstration the said winger didn’t contribute much in the defensive sense, but Theo wasn’t playing out wide yesterday. He was a striker and he was pretty damn efficient. Now we can see his stake to play as a centre-forward is very real indeed. Sure, our style of play is different to when we deploy Giroud, however, isn’t that a bonus? We have a wholly different option on our hands and that’s what we’ve been striving for. An alternative to Giroud in terms of play style. Walcott has given Arsene an almighty selection headache ahead of the Cup final.
Jack Wilshere , Santi Cazorla & Mesut Ozil
Jack played on the wing while he was on the pitch and, much like Walcott, he was gorgeous. He and Ozil combined for Walcott’s second, he ripped West Brom’s defense apart with a dribble on his own for Theo’s third and in-between Jack scored a wonder goal. One which was later voted as goal of the season. Brilliant outing for Jack, a reminder to everyone just how good he is when in form and another player with a claim for a starting place in the final.
Cazorla, meanwhile, had a stellar outing in a deeper position. 114 passes completed (pretty sure he led all players), 92% pass accuracy, 4 chances created and 2 assists (his 10th and 11th this season). He’s second-best in the league in this regard, behind Him-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. I’m here trying to say that we should keep Cazorla at all costs, because it will be fiendishly hard to find a replacement.
Finally, Ozil. He was influential once again. He had less passes than Cazorla (74/81), amassing a 91% accuracy nonetheless, but it’s his “chances created” column that left me drooling once again. 6 chances. Ozil created 6 chances, 5 from open play. As such he has 78 chances in 22 games. I’ll let you do the maths (hint: Ozil tops the league in terms of chances-per-game). A much-lauded Hazard, for the sake of comparison, has created 100 chances in 35 games.
He was shaky and it was surprising. For the entire first half Ospina had literally nothing to do, so I was infuriated when we conceded from a corner and ruined Dave’s clean sheet. Until the replays showed Ospina was himself to blame for the goal. He came out to claim the ball, missed it entirely and allowed McAuley to plant a free header into the empty net.
Dave had another two shaky moments: first led to a corner from which we conceded, second that horrendous “through the gloves” moment.
Before the game I rather liked the idea expressed by Arseblogger: whoever starts against West Brom, it won’t mean a lot. If Szczesny starts that may be to either give him some minutes before the final or to allow the fans to say goodbye. While even if Ospina started (which he consequently did), it wouldn’t mean the Big Dave would start in the final.
However, I was rightly pointed out Fabianski played the last league game last year, despite Szczesny fighting for Golden Glove. So I guess Szczesny played his last game for the Club in March, against United. Arsene seems to have given up on Woj.
But I keep wondering whether Ospina’s shaky display yesterday gave Arsene second thoughts. Personally, I’d stick with Ospina in the final: Szczesny’s last game came more than two months ago and he was very nervous that night. We don’t need an out-of-practice, fidgeting keeper in the final. Besides, sticking with Ospina will be an indicator Arsene trusts the Colombian and this might well play a part in Dave’s performance on the day. Not that I think Dave is ought to be dropped on the merit of one shaky performance.
We avoided the qualifiers in the CL. Phew. That means two less stressful games in “hell” (other name for Turkey) and, of course, the opportunity to attract players from the get-go of the transfer market. It seems our first transfer is already in place: today the official account of Chile’s football federation announced Arturo Vidal will join forces with Alexis Sanchez after Copa America. Fingers crossed.
Right, that your lot for now. Bulk up on reading with Tim’s usual “By the numbers” (where I took most stats for this review) and David’s brilliant article on why a resounding win over West Brom could prove vital.