One step forward, two steps back. That’s how I felt after our performances in the games against Crystal Palace and West Brom. Some supporters will argue that a four point haul from two away fixtures in such close proximity, is a reasonable return. Whilst many will point the finger of blame entirely at the feet of Mike Dean for his ridiculously poor decision to award West Brom a late penalty in the latter of the two fixtures. After all, he not done so, we would have taken home all three points.
However, I’m not sure what was worse, that decision or our overall performance against the Baggies. Where we lacked pace, width, creativity and delivered a performance that made it difficult to tell what side had started the day bottom of the table and what side in sixth. With neither goalkeeper overly tested throughout, a draw was a fair result in what was one of the worst games I’ve watched in a long time. Quite an accolade in itself when you consider some of the laboured dross our games have served up recently.
The days of us playing entertaining football on a consistent basis are long gone, with the team now only capable of doing it sparingly. At Crystal Palace our overall performance was largely an improvement in comparison to our recent displays. With Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez in particular, impressing.
Where Sanchez is concerned, it wasn’t just about his two goals, his desire to track back and help out defensively, was noticeable. If he is to see out the remaining six months of his contract, that’s all we can ask.
Although our attacking play was good to watch at times, with Alexandre Lacazette looking sharp, the same cannot be said about our collective defending at Selhurst Park. However, the team was not helped by Wenger’s negative substitutions. In taking off the only recognised centre forward in our starting eleven, Arsene effectively invited the home side to attack us for the remaining fifteen minutes of the game. A rather bizarre decision when you consider how porous we are defensively and that we were very much in the ascendancy at that stage of the game.
Arsene’s supporters will argue that it was the right decision because he was trying to ensure we held on for the victory, for what was only our third away league win of the season. My personal view is that had we kept Lacazette on or at least replaced him with Danny Welbeck in order to retain our attacking focal point, we may have added to our three goals, instead of conceding once more. In seeing a change in the dynamic of the game, Arsene ignored the opportunity to rectify his earlier error when he replaced Granit Xhaka with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and ignored Welbeck yet again.
That is not to say that I don’t rate Maitland-Niles, I think he’s very calm and composed when in possession. Particularly impressive when taking in to account his inexperience and that he’s frequently played out of his natural position by Arsene. In my opinion he’s a midfielder and should be given more opportunities to play there. Perhaps at the expense of Xhaka who hasn’t been overly impressive of late. Although some strangely thought he had a good game at West Brom. He’s had worse games but if you thought that was someone having a good game, your standards must be pretty low.
Why not bring Welbeck on at that stage of the game and relieve the pressure by using his pace to give their defence something to worry about? Thankfully we held on for the three points and Arsene got away with it but that won’t always be the case. Unfortunately we won’t always get away with Arsene’s poor in-game management and as the West Brom game proved, we won’t always get away with delivering substandard performances either. For the record, I accept that the referee did cost us the victory on this occasion. That’s not often the case when our supporters have blamed the match officials for our defeats.
Following on from Lacazette firing another blank at The Hawthorns, increasing criticism is beginning to be aimed in his direction by some supporters. Harshly in my opinion and it’s my belief that had he been playing in our side from several seasons ago, he’d most likely have doubled his current goal tally at this stage of the season. My concerns don’t lie with Lacazette, they lie with the current lack of openings being created for him. Our preference for a slow build up and sideways passing style, certainly doesn’t help him or suit his style.
Recently, I would go as far as to say that it appears that the only way he will get a clear goalscoring opportunity in a game, is if he creates one for himself. Give him the right service and he’ll score goals, I’m convinced of that. Arsene’s reluctance to play him for the full ninety minutes hasn’t helped either. Our manager bizarrely claims that Sanchez’s future “isn’t his problem” but I would hope that even he realises that finding a way for our main centre forward to hit the back of the net on a more regular basis, very much is his and his staff’s problem.
Let’s hope Arsene, Alexandre and the team find the answers against Chelsea tonight…..