Scoring five is a good way to end a bad run in front of goal. Prior to the game lot was made of how bad our shots to goals ratio was and it was a worry, however it was a temporary worry. Eventually everything was going to click into place and a shot would be just inside the post rather than just outside it. What would have been really worrying was if we weren’t creating chances in the first place.
Against Leicester everything clicked, although we can thank Ranieri’s willingness to go toe to toe with us in some part.
Here’s what I said last week;
“Leicester are unlikely to sit deep and defend so our forward players will have a few extra yards to work with, and Leicester don’t have the best defence.”
They gave Özil time and space and he punished them with it. Theo utilised the space left behind their defence to terrorise them, and of course there was Alexis.
His goals showed that he has his mojo back, but they also served to alleviate some of the mounting frustration that was creeping into his game. Before the first goal (and in previous games) he had been trying too hard to do it all alone, but after his first goal he seemed to relax and make better, more team oriented decisions.
Despite scoring five there were some negatives to come out of the performance because we conceded two poor goals.
I mentioned last week that Vardy is quick, and his first goal came when he chased a long ball on Mertesacker’s side. I understand that Bellerin was caught out upfield, however Per was unwilling to close down the space as he knew he would simply be outpaced.
Instead he made the decision to narrow the angle of Verdy’s shot by occupying a central position that he knew he could get to in time. Obviously it didn’t work and I can’t help but think that had Gabriel or Chambers been in the same position they would have been able to make a challenge on the Leicester man.
The second goal was a collective failing. Bellerin failed to clear a rebound, the Ox was ball-watching and Per should have come out and closed Vardy down. Poor mistakes.
Last season I wrote a blog about Wenger being disrespectful to the opposition with his team selection. Many of you agreed and many of you did not. Wednesday was another example of it and it cost us badly.
In what Arsene himself had declared a ‘must win’ game, he opted to play our second choice goalkeeper. Cech was not injured and fatigue is hardly a factor for ‘keepers. This was a selection made purely to keep Ospina happy, and whilst I applaud his efforts to placate his player, this was not the game to do it.
Selecting your second choice has a further effect on the rest of the team. It invokes a sense of confidence (which has come from the manager) which often leads to complacency.
Here’s the bottom line; Arsene felt that we didn’t need our best goalkeeper, (or left back) to beat Olympiakos. Our players knew this. Their players knew this.
They are the champions of their country. They deserve respect, regardless of how many goals we can score against the likes of Leicester.
More bad defending from Gibbs was a factor in the defeat. Whilst he wasn’t to blame for the first & second goals, he was ball-watching in the build-up to the third/winning goal. As you can see from the picture below he was unaware of not one, but two players behind him.
I think what it comes down to with Gibbs is a lack of concentration and a lack of positional awareness.
I understand his thought process for *that* goal. He believed that his momentum would carry him over the line, so he looked to bounce the ball on his way down and be ready to grab it again from behind the line but with his arms and the ball remaining in front of the line. We all know how things actually transpired.
David Ospina is not a bad goalkeeper, but by the same token he’s not anywhere near Cech. We shouldn’t be taking risks in must-win games.
Ideally you want to go into a big game at the weekend coming off the back of a big win during the week, however we’ll just have to make do with one days extra rest over United, (who played Wednesday).
We can expect the return of Cech and Monreal, whilst Mertesacker and Gabriel will almost certainly be our centre back pairing. If Theo doesn’t start I’ll be deeply shocked given his recent form, and Ramsey would certainly start on the right if my name was Arsene Wenger.
The long term absence of Shaw is a blow for United, so with respect to Darmian, whomever plays on our right will likely be one of our main sources of attack.
With Van Gaal likely to play both Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin in front of his back four, switching the play quickly will be very important if we’re going to create any space for ourselves in the final third. Santi and Özil are more likely to be passing from one side to another than forwards, in order to drag United’s back lines around and create the gaps we need to be able to play. If we don’t get our passing going quickly and accurately we’ll struggle.
For their part United will have watched the way we defended against Olympiakos (and Leicester to a degree) and taken note of two things. Positional naivety and Mertesacker’s unwillingness to close down a fast player, so we can expect a lot of attacks to come down our right, especially on the counter. They’ll also look to win set pieces, as it’s no secret that we can’t defend a corner.
At this stage of the season I would take a draw, because nothing is won in October and as long as we’re within touching distance of top spot around the new year we’ll be in with a chance.