Quite unexpectedly (for me, first of all) I made it in time for the game. That’s due to my missing out on Cumberbetch’s “Hamlet”. For those of you interested, someone here came up with a brilliant idea to broadcast the play on a big screen, in cinemas. And sell tickets, naturally.
So my friend proposed we go and see the play, but then a last-minute hindrance prevented him from joining me. That’s my personal life in a nutshell. Even when I do have the energy and desire to go out on a weekend, something stops me at the last possible minute.
Away from my non-existent personal life, and, more importantly, moaning of a 22-year-old and back to matters Arsenal, though. The Gunners did the job in a calm and professional manner and, despite this not being one of our better performances, I’ll have a dull 2-0 over a, say, rollercoaster 3-2, any day. I just love it when the Gunners go about their business as calmly as they did on Sunday. 3 points, top of the league, a clean sheet and an intact nervous system. On to points of interest.
The performance itself
It felt like we were playing in second gear the entire game, but this I can’t blame the boys for. The performance in midweek was as draining as it was exciting. Both on physical and mental fronts. The same 11 guys who started in Greece also started in Birmingham. That’s as much down to the quality of their game as to our inability to rotate them. Sanchez’s return can’t come soon enough, but I fear this won’t ease the burden on our midfield. Hope Arteta’s working on these calves of his.
The quality that set us apart on the day, the same which helped us overpower Olympiacos, was efficiency in front of goal. Up until 80th minute we took only 5 shots with 2 on target, both were goals. In the final 14 minutes we took another 3 shots, 2 of which were on target, but our overall 8 shots looked meagre compared to Villa’s 18. The Villans’ downfall was what? You are right, efficiency.
Villa took 18 shots, but only two were on target and both were from outside the box. Cech can catch these potshots all day long (congratulations to him for equalling James’ record, by the way). But a more revealing stat shows us both Arsene’s troops and Garde’s men took 7 shots from inside the box, the difference being efficiency. 4 of our 7 shots were on target, 2 of them goals, while the Villans saw one shot blocked and the other 6 put wide.
In other words, while being far from exciting, the Gunners were clinical and that was enough.
Our Spaniard seems to be suffering from a dip in form. Ever since he came back from his injury, Hector didn’t quite looked himself. This run stretches to 8 games, including today’s.
Bayern performance exempting (I simply don’t want to recall that atrocity), we have conceded 5 goals in 7 games. It’s not much per se, but most of these goals came from the right side of the pitch or can be in some way traced back to Bellerin.
Spurs? Kane outrun Mert who tried to cover for Hector, who was out of position badly. West Brom? Bellerin failed to man-mark Morrison for the first and allowed a low cross to come in for the 2nd. Norwich? The pass for the goal came from the right side. Sunderland? Who the hell was Koscielny covering for on the right when he conceded that free-kick? And against Villa Bellerin was suspect defensively again.
Maybe I’m being picky. After all, Bellerin is only 20, it’s his first season as a regular. It’s not like he is Monreal, a full-back with years of experience (kudos to Monreal, by the way, another solid performance). Form fluctuates at such a young age, this is nothing new.
Moreover, we have to understand Bellerin’s, erm, surroundings, changed quite a lot in these past weeks. By that I mean we no longer have Coquelin and Cazorla, who were better suited to cover for the Spaniard. Both patrolled the space in front of our back 4 more efficiently than Ramsey and Flamini currently do. Also, instead of having Ramsey on the flank, Hector now has Campbell. Our right-back is as affected by the current changes as the rest of the team, maybe more.
Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of room for manoeuvre, at least till Cazorla and Coquelin return. Or until Arsene buys a new holding midfielder in January. So Hector has to adapt to the new situation somehow.
Rambo had another good performance in the middle. He scored that second goal (and started the move which led to it himself), he completed 71 out of his 78 attempted passes (made the most passes of any on-field player), while also chipping in in defense, winning 5 tackles, 3 of these centrally, 2 near our box. Finally, the Welshman ran a whopping 12 km, setting a new Premier League record. The man’s an engine.
Arsene was also full of praise for Aaron:
“He had an outstanding performance today. I think of course he is naturally more of a central midfielder and I pushed him out wide for a while because I believe we have seen many times that when players are pushed against the line they need to shorten their technique. When they come back into the middle again, they are better players.”
Make it 2 goals and 2 assists for Ramsey in his last 3 games. Also notice how Arsene talks about purposefully playing Aaron wide. It clearly never was his intention to keep the Welshman there till the end of days.
However, I still think a Flamini-Ramsey partnership is too gung-ho. Neither can set a tempo to our game (other than hectic) and I sincerely hope Arsene addresses this problem by either making Arteta/Wilshere a part of the equation or delving into the depths of the transfer market in January.
That was a very important win with some nice little bonuses on top: Giroud scored his 50th league goal by coolly converting another penalty, Cech kept his first clean sheet since October, thus equalling James’ record, Ozil got his 13th assist in just 15 games…
But it was also important from a strategic point of view. Arsenal has moved into the 1st place as a result, a point above City (who got a lucky bounce vs Swansea) and Leicester. Granted, Leicester can still leapfrog us, but they’ll have to beat Chelsea to do that. Doesn’t seem particularly likely, but with Chelsea you just never know…
However we also put some distance between us and the rest. United are now 4 points behind, Spurs (hahaha) and Palace are 7 points adrift and everyone else even more. Nice weekend for the Gunners. Now we get 8 days till the City game to recover and prepare both physically and mentally.
Let’s hope we do just that.