Recently a habit I had for some time, bubbling under the surface, started to get the better of me: a habit of turning my back on the TV when there’s a dangerous situation near our or our opponents’ goal. Not when such a situation arises from open play, I mostly have free-kicks and penalties in mind. I didn’t want to watch Coutinho’s free-kick (but couldn’t turn away), I’ve given in to my fears when Leicester were adjudged one in the dying seconds and I have stoically watched Santi put away the penalty against Watford, my knees trembling slightly.
Yesterday I was faced with two further choices: Tadic’s free-kick and Santi’s late spot-kick. I have faced my fears for the former, but couldn’t do so for the latter. My validol jar is getting suspiciously empty, just 4 games in.
However, I feel much, much better off discussing a squeaky bum time win, then a draw or a loss. Think we should just call both dross. It’s much easier to analyse what needs to be addressed with three points in the bag than to bemoan dropped points on top of that. And analyse we will.
I was just as excited to see our line-up, which featured both new boys, as I was baffled by the early period of indifference. Southampton made a good job of pressing our players in possession and we just couldn’t settle into any kind of rhythm. Some of the fans I follow on Twitter (even most) immediately pointed the finger of blame at Coquelin, naming him all the usual names, and saying we would be much better at playing the ball out from the back with Xhaka.
I do not intend to return to this theme after every match. I also most definitely won’t dedicate an entire section of my review explaining why Coquelin and Xhaka aren’t interchangeable and will be rotated based on the opposition. I did it once (I also did it in several languages), I’m not going to dwell on it any further. If you want to throw a hissy fit when you see Coquelin’s name on the teamsheet, that’s your business. Way I see it, Xhaka would have had a hard time yesterday because of the rain, the pace of the game and Southampton’s pressing.
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The Saints ended their period of domination with a logical goal, however it doesn’t make the manner in which the goal was scored any less farcical. Medley bought into Redmond’s dive near the penalty box, Cech parried Tadic’s curler onto the bar, but the rebound hit our keeper at the back and bundled inside the net. Maybe it’s time to suggest Cech’s positioning might be off during free-kicks? It’s the 2nd time in 4 games when he’s conceded one and, while Coutinho’s shot was a thing of beauty, Tadic, while much closer, was less spectacular, made even less so by the wall that didn’t jump.
The goal finally lit a candle under the boys’ backside and ten minutes after conceding we equalised. Ozil’s corner was kept alive by Perez, however it’s Koscielny’s overhead effort that deserves the most praise. A delightful shot, especially for a central defender.
I have to say I’m impressed by Koscielny this season. Just when I thought he plateaued last season, just when it appeared the captain’s armband burdens him, he comes back from a summer tournament and strings together three exemplary performances. Way to go, Kos. Fingers crossed his swelling isn’t bad.
Back to the game, however. As it was starting to looked rather gloomy for us, with Alexis and Cazorla spurning brilliant chances and Long getting a couple on the other side of the pitch, something gave and Medley awarded us a penalty. A deserved one too, Giroud was clearly hauled off his feet by Fonte. The ref’s reaction to Southampton players surrounding him I liked even more: he just calmly booked Virgil and Bertrand for unsporting behavior.
Cazorla stepped up, I turned away and the roar informed me the Spaniard did the job. Hilarious how he once again slotted the ball down the middle. I don’t know why, but the sight of unhappy Forster is almost as satisfying as the sight of unhappy Long. We held on after the goal and that was that.
The overall performance
It was far from perfect, to be honest. We deserved the win, however our insipidness and sluggishness reminded me of last season. I hope it’s just a one-off, rustiness after the break, because the alternative doesn’t bear thinking about. If we can’t play good football with such a good squad, then the problem goes deeper than the squad. Which it very well might, but let’s not jump to conclusions just yet. Consider my musings a mere observation.
Koscielny and Cazorla will steal the headlines for obvious reasons (Cech should get a mention too, made a couple of crucial saves in the 2nd half), I was very worried about Oxlade-Chamberlain. He had another weak outing, didn’t track back to help out Monreal (who had an exemplary performance too, by the way), ran into dead ends and some of his passing was truly woeful. Between Walcott buzzing around, Alexis being his usual self and Iwobi demonstrating tidiness in possession and sparkle in the final 3rd, Ox is running out of time and chances. If it were up to me, I’d bench him immediately and start Alexis in his place.
The last word
If we want to start our Champions League campaign with a win, we’ll have to considerably up our game. Pass quicker, finish better and, overall, look much more a unit than we did yesterday. We have the players, now let’s build the actual team.
A win puts us in 6th, level on points with three other teams. We’ve also made up ground on United, who lost to City in the derby, however Pep’s team remains 5 points ahead, and Chelsea have an opportunity to draw level with the Citizens.
Phew, I’ll stop here. Back with a preview of our Champions League opener. Have a great Sunday (or what’s left of it).