The dreaded November has come and gone, with our team still top of the Premier League and on the verge of European qualification in the Champions League.
Last time we went to Germany it was under very different circumstances. We gave Bayern Munich a fright but knew this time against Borussia Dortmund that we had to do more than that. Realistically if we wanted to qualify from this group we would have to win. It was truly a terrific effort from the boys. Defensively I’d argue it was the best performance we have seen under an Arsene Wenger side in the modern era. You have to remember how good this Dortmund team are at home. For us to restrict them to one real clear-cut chance and to use that as a platform to go on and win the game was a testament of how this team has defended for the majority of 2013. The chemistry between the back four as well as the effort from our attacking players to give them more protection is noticeable and it’s becoming harder and harder to break us down.
We marched on to Old Trafford with all the confidence in the world – or so we thought. Despite being top of the league, playing the best football, defensively solid and up against a team in transition we unfortunately played the game I feared we might see. Manchester United were there for the taking but we can’t get that mental block out of our head when we face our old enemy. We approached the game in the wrong manner, went out too concerned about what they can do and didn’t concentrate on our game. On the day several of our big players didn’t turn up and predictably Robin van Persie of all people punished us.
It was our first league defeat since the opening game against Aston Villa and our worse attacking performance. There are people who believe in the theory that if you beat all the teams that you’re expected to then you will, at the very least compete for the title. Yet I think it is so important for us to win at least two of the games against Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United this season. Confidence wise it’s massive to know that you can beat the teams around you and obviously those victories will allow us to either pull away or claw back some ground. We face two of those sides I mentioned this month and I do expect us to approach those games in a much more positive manner.
After another long international break, which I think came at a right time; it was back to league action against third-place Southampton. I have watched them a few times this season and knew it was going to be a tough game. They are very well organised, pressure you high up the field and are physically a lot stronger than us. I think Wenger summed up the match best when he said that we didn’t take our chances but stayed focused and took advantage of their mistakes.
Olivier Giroud scored the two goals, including a penalty. He’s done very well this; season scoring 10 goals in all competitions. He’s taken his game to another level and obviously feels more comfortable with his status in the squad. However, as expected, I do think the quality of his performances are starting to decline. He’s not holding the ball up as well as he was at the start of the season and is not looking as clinical in front of goal. This is most likely down to starting every single league and Champions League fixture and not being as fresh as possible due to do lack of rotation.
I don’t want to sound negative, as this has been the best start to the season we have had since 07/08 and I genuinely believe we have a chance of the title. However you do get the feeling that with just an unwanted Nicklas Bendner, a forgotten Chu-Young Park and a raw Yaya Sanogo, that our negligence in purchasing a forward in the summer could come back to haunt us. Luckily there is the January transfer market to go and put things right. Of course the returning Lukas Podolski will help us but a striker is a must in the January and something I will touch on in next month’s blog.
The Marseille game turned out to be something of a formality. They rested their best players and I think it was the easiest game of the season so far. It was great to see Jack Wilshere score twice and have a great game. As I said in my last blog it will click for him, we will soon see him consistently playing like that week in week out just like a certain Welshman. Annoyingly, despite having 12 points from what was called the ‘Group of Death’, we are not yet qualified. With Napoli needing to beat us by three goals to go through then you would imagine that we will see out the job professionally, but still, weirder things have happened and we need to be focused.
On to Cardiff City who had drawn against Manchester United and beaten Manchester City at home already this term. Another season I would have probably said that I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had dropped points. However, I was confident beforehand and despite having to weather a bit of a storm for around 25 minutes in the second half we ended up comfortable winning the game.
Not only was it a great win but our rivals ended up dropping points. When you look at some of the players that other squads have compared to 10 years ago it means that everyone can get a result against anyone. There are no bankers anymore certainly not away. Does it make winning the league harder? It’s difficult to tell but I would certainly say that this would probably be the most rewarding of league titles for whoever wins it.
Just a few other things to end the blog with. Some of the criticism of Mesut Ozil has been ludicrous. A transfer to a new club on basically the last day of the market (which was not expected at all), minimum settling time yet he has eight assists and three goals. If you are expecting Ozil to beat three or four men consistently and then find the top corner of the net then you are wide of the mark. Ozil is a pass master, has a vision that others don’t see, rarely loses the ball and brings the best out of others. He can only get better but we have to be slightly patient with him however if being patient means settling for the person with the most assists in the league then I can deal with that.
Poor old Santi Cazorla hasn’t had the best of seasons so far and looks a little bit off the pace. Currently I think we are trying to play him into some form but it’s just not quite clicking for him. People are already jumping to sweeping conclusions such as he can’t play with Ozil or out wide (despite playing there for most of his career and not exactly having to hug the touchline. He was our best player last season and we know what he can be capable of. With some big games coming up next month let’s hope he finds some of last season’s form.
And finally I thought I would end the blog mentioning Pat Rice. He’s very sadly battling cancer. Described by Mum as my one of my Dads “absolute favourites” and having met him myself more than a few times, I can say he’s a great guy and really hope he comes through this.
See you next month.