I’m writing this fresh from the most boring
derby game I’ve seen this season: I’m talking about the Manchester derby. However, the goalless draw with two shots on target and two dangerous moments overall certainly has its joys. In this case, it allows the Gunners to go two points clear of United and level with City.
Another important conclusion I’ve formed as a result of this game is that both teams are far from invincible. In fact, the quality of football on offer in Manchester today was so dire I’m now convinced we can win the title if we keep up our form.
But back to matters Arsenal and we did what was required on Saturday. Had it not been for a lucky deflection off Gabriel in the 44th minute, I think the manner of our win would have been more convincing. However, few would argue we deserved anything less than three points on Saturday. A win over a dogged Everton side in which the score flattered the visitors, on the back of a hard week is nothing short of a tremendous effort. Well done to the Arsenal.
Arsene made three changes to the side that beat Bayern Munich midweek: Gabriel came in for the ill Mertesacker, Oxlade replaced the injured Ramsey and Walcott made way for Giroud. However, our bench really had me worried.
In short, it looked defense-heavy. Flamini, Campbell and Walcott were the only non-defenders. Out of them, you can only trust Walcott to make an impact in the final third. Amusingly, Theo didn’t get off the bench the entire evening. Not that we needed him really, but it just highlights Theo is a very specific player, who would only be used under strict circumstances or wouldn’t be used at all.
I can only hope Arteta will return soon, but even his comeback won’t change much. Having Ramsey, Wilshere, Rosicky and Welbeck out simultaneously hampers our attacking options severely, at the same time limiting our rotation possibilities.
Fact: we have only used 19 players in the league this season, joint-fewest with Swansea. But while Swansea have a smaller squad, we were restricted by three long-term injuries from the very start. Add to these Ramsey, Arteta and Ospina and we are looking very light on numbers in several areas at the moment.
Such a shortage leads, in its turn, to overplaying the available players, which can potentially cause further injuries. We are skating on thin ice now: though Arsene said pre-game we don’t have a fatigue problem, we’ll surely have one soon if we don’t get several players back quickly. Fingers crossed the ones which seem affected the most (Bellerin, Alexis, Cazorla) will get a rest against Sheffield Wednesday and then we come through our next three games (Swansea, Bayern, Spurs) unscathed. And after the Interlull we might just get Ospina and Ramsey back. Hope Arteta and Mertesacker will return even earlier.
Gabriel, an able stand-in
Or is he a starter now? I’m confused a bit, as this season we never seem to have Mertesacker, Koscielny and Gabriel available at the same time to see which duo the manager prefers.
Regardless of his status, Gabriel put in a great shift. The unlucky deflection aside (he really is not to blame for it, was doing everything right by blocking the shot), Gabriel had 5 ball recoveries, was ⅔ on tackles (both successful were crucial ones, inside our box), made 2 interceptions, won ¾ of his aerial duels and completed 87% of his passes (40/46) displacing none in our third.
It was a tidy and able performance from Gabriel, his late tackle on Lukaku was absolutely vital, so I can say I’m pretty calm even with Mert temporarily sidelined.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, the criticised one
When the Ox saw his shot blocked in the 44th minute, my heart skipped a beat. Everton came flying out of their blocks and the rest you all know.
The Ox immediately came in for a hailstorm of criticism. I have to say there is a feeling most times Alex loses the ball it ends in goal at the other end. We conceded that way in pre-season against Everton, then on the opening day against West Ham and Ox’s Monaco mistake will live long in my memory.
Yet the criticism is blown out of proportion. Here is the guy who was a guaranteed starter last season all the way until March. Here is the guy most fans (myself included) were pining for Wenger to play in the opening stages of the season. Here’s the guy who most call a prodigy whose talent surpasses that of Sterling’s.
Have some patience. The Ox seems to me very much a confidence player. Not getting any support from the fans won’t make him play better and the Ox looks our only real option on the right for at least the next month, until Ramsey returns.
Really, who else do we have? I don’t think we can cut Gnabry’s loan spell short and even if we can, I’m not sure Wenger will do that. It looks like Walcott is now viewed only as a centre-forward, maybe because of his defensive contribution, or lack of thereof.
The only other option I see is trying Bellerin as a winger with Debuchy at right-back, but that’s phantasy territory. Not sure Wenger will even consider such an approach, although we do seem to have an abundance of defenders and not nearly enough attackers.
The most likely scenario to me (and probably the best for everyone concerned) is sticking to the Ox and playing him into form. Even yesterday he was far from catastrophic in the final third. Alex completed 4 dribbles of 8 attempted and created 2 chances for teammates. He also helped out defensively quite a bit: 2 tackles, 2 interceptions, 2 blocked shots and 3 ball recoveries. This particular aspect of his game seems to have improved, it was noticeable vs Olympiakos too, so here’s hoping he ups his attacking game in the coming weeks.
Olivier Giroud, our second-best goalscorer
While we were drooling over Walcott’s relative success as a striker, Ollie was quietly playing himself into form. He seems to have come a long way since his Zagreb red card (although as I’ve said then, I believe he had a very decent game up front up the the point of his sending off).
Whether Giroud starting was a tactical switch from the manager or a reward to the Frenchman for his recent goalscoring travails remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: Giroud was massive on the night.
He took 6 shots, 3 headed, 2 on target and hit the bar late in the game. He also created 2 chances for his teammates, won 4 of his 5 aerial duels and, surprisingly, proved a very efficient tackler by completing 4 out of 6 attempted. He was immense and it’s a shame he didn’t score a second goal, but it’s heartwarming to see Giroud start, get a goal and put in such a shift. Took his chance of re-establishing himself as first-choice really well. Ollie now has 6 goals in 14 appearances for the Gunners (5 in 10 in the league). Only Alexis Sanchez has more (7 in 14, 6 in 10 in the league).
It was a very good win against a resilient Everton side. On the back of a week we had, it makes the win even more special. Now we play three games away (Sheffield, Swansea, Bayern), before returning to the Emirates to face Spurs in what will be the last game before the break. A challenging ten-days period lies ahead.
I’ll be back to cover the Sheffield game for you. For now, enjoy our deserved win and a no-less deserved joint-first place in the table.
Onwards and upwards