I think I won’t make much of a mistake if I say our Sunday game has produced only two positives: we have almost guaranteed 3rd (provided we avoid defeat in the last match) and Giroud had a good game, one which was long overdue for the Frenchman. Actually, thanks to Southampton, we even retain a slim chance of finishing 2nd. However for that to transpire we’ll need three things to happen:
- Everton avoid losing to Sunderland in midweek
- Newcastle beat Tottenham in the last game
- We beat Aston Villa
Of course the positives I’ve gleaned can be viewed as relative. Finishing 3rd or even 2nd in a campaign where we should have done much better is disappointing. I maintain this is not enough. I have nothing against Leicester, their achievement is phenomenal. Indeed if they win their last game, the Foxes’ point tally (83) will be only 4 points less than Chelsea’s last year (87) and 3 points less than City’s before that (86). It’s ours’ underachievement that disappoints me.
As for Giroud, well, one could argue 15 games without a goal is atrocious for a 1st-choice striker at a club like Arsenal. But you adjust your expectations based on what’s happening, not what should be happening, so I’m glad for Ollie.
And now the negatives (see what you’ve done to me, Arsenal? I used to write long pieces about the positives mere months ago. See above re expectations)
It was crap. It was a great big turd. Polished and steaming. How did we manage to get a point playing the way we did?
Rhetorical question. I know how. City were at our level. Or maybe slightly better, but not by much. They started brightly, like they would in a Champions League semi-final (oops), pegged us back and got an early goal through a very good strike from Aguero.
However we equalised almost instantaneously. Welbeck regained possession of the ball by pressing Sagna into a failed clearance and Giroud crossed it to no one. Hilariously, Clichy decided to head the ball to Hart, and caught his keeper flat-footed. City were spared a comical own goal because Clichy missed by inches, but Giroud smashed the ball in from a resulting corner (kudos to Mangala).
Not much happened in the remaining 35 minutes of the first half, however early on in the 2nd City went in front again. Bellerin lost a duel to De Bruyne, the Belgian picked up the ball, ran with it and lashed a low shot into the bottom corner.
Once again we managed to equalise. We worked the ball to Giroud via a flowing move, the Frenchman flicked it on for Sanchez and the Chilean slotted the ball past Hart. The Gunners survived the late half-hearted onslaught from City and took a point from a fixture made hard by the fact neither side was interested in playing football. A fair point, thus.
The moment Mertesacker went off clutching his hamstring I knew we were facing the prospect of seeing Gabriel pair Koscielny for the remaining two games of the season. But it didn’t make me feel any better, or indeed easier, when I saw the Brazilian’s name on the starting sheet.
I mean, he’s a walking calamity. An accident waiting to happen. A ticking bomb. Don’t get me wrong: I think that, with time, Gab can become a fine centre-back, much like Koscielny. However this time clearly hasn’t come yet.
The Brazilian has been badly at fault for a lot of goals we’ve conceded this season. Lost duels, bad positioning, backing off – we’ve seen it all from him. On Sunday he was again guilty, basically inviting De Bruyne to shoot. An opportunity the Belgian gladly took and capitalized on.
I know this won’t happen, but I’d like to see Koscielny paired with Chambers against Villa. And beyond, provided we don’t buy a senior defender in the summer. I can only judge from what I’ve seen during games and what I’ve seen is this: Chambers is much more adept at playing centre-back than Gabriel is at this point in time.
I like Aaron Ramsey, I really do. Of all our midfielders he was the best on the day, though it’s not saying much. He’s definitely less culpable in such a weak performance than Alexis, Iwobi or even Elneny and Wilshere. The latter two were less erratic, but they were also hardly visible. At some point I genuinely forgot we had Jack Wilshere on the pitch. He was nowhere to be seen.
But. There is a “but”. Aaron doesn’t work well in a pair with Elneny. This pair didn’t gel and this pair is too lightweight to be defensively secure. Yesterday our midfield resembled a Chinese takeaway and Ramsey played a part in this.
I’m dead sure it would have been better, had Arsene started Elneny and Coquelin, especially since the our manager opted for a guarded approach anyway. Even Coquelin with Ramsey would have been better. When Coquelin came on, it became painfully clear just how much we missed him. He set the tone, he put us on the front foot, he snapped into tackles and interceptions. He was ready to die on the pitch rather than back off and cede territory.
I mean, really? Theo Walcott is not the answer, regardless of what the question is. What was the point of bringing him on? So that he could spurn a golden chance (one of the few we had all game, it has to be added)? So he could spend his 20-30 minutes hiding on the right flank?
Then mission accomplished. He did both. Campbell would have been better on the right. At least he would have helped the defense. Cazorla could have come on and Ramsey moved to the right. Neither happened.
I have a strong suspicion we are looking at favouritism from Arsene here. Campbell suffered from it, Chambers suffered from it, now Coquelin seems to have suffered from it. I have no other explanation for what’s happening. The side we saw on Sunday was unbalanced, we all knew what certain selection choices could lead to, they led to it and yet I’m sure it’ll happen again.
Because let’s face it: it has happened before. I don’t mean before this season, I’ve already said I won’t re-evaluate my earlier opinion. I’m talking about this campaign. Ramsey and Flamini didn’t work, but we saw them play for two months. Gabriel has been erratic, yet he remains 3rd-choice. Campbell did little wrong, yet he was benched for Oxlade, Walcott and then Iwobi.
It’s a sad state of affairs. It’s sad to see Gabriel start, know he’ll make certain mistakes and then actually see him make these mistakes. Sad to see Ramsey being shoehorned into the side at all costs. Sad to look at Coquelin and Chambers on the bench. Sad to know it’ll happen again next week.
The last word
The draw leaves us in 3rd, with direct qualification firmly in our hands. It also leaves City 4th, and a win for United in midweek will see them drop to 5th. Which will be amazing given the gulf of quality between them and United. It’ll be fun watching Pep in the Europa League next season, but I’m still amazed at how City came to be in such a situation.
I’ll leave it here. Back to preview the last game of this wretched season.
P.S. Shame on you, Petr Cech. Shame.