It feels like quite a bit since we’ve won a game of football comprehensively. So it was really nice to not fret about the result for most of the second half and just lazily follow the action.
I was worried going into the game. On top of Swansea being a tricky opponent for the Gunners for the last couple of seasons, regardless of their manager and players, we sported a rather short bench. Jokes about three double-barreled names aside, it was also a bench light on midfielders. With Cazorla out indefinitely, Coquelin sidelined till end of January and Elneny at AFCON, the only fit central midfielders were Xhaka and Ramsey. Certainly quality players, but no room for manoeuvre always has you fearing anything going wrong.
Thankfully, nothing did. Let’s look at the hows and whys closer.
A slow start
We had another slow start, allowing Swansea to basically pin us back and be the better side for the opening 20 minutes or so. Naughton forced Cech into a fine save, while some careless passing out from the back gifted the Swans a couple of opportunities they duly wasted. After that we gradually grew into the game, eventually hit top speed in the second half.
I’m starting to think these slow starts are intentional. Obviously not the part where we play like crap and gift the opposition goalscoring chances, rather the overall tempo to our game. Perhaps we cannot maintain the same level of intensity for the entire game, forcing Wenger to choose between dragging our feet at the outset and tailing off at the end.
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The Frenchman opted for the latter against City and Everton, and that had some nasty side effects. He went along with the former recently and, while it creates a risk of opposition punishing us early on (e.g. Bournemouth), it generally worked better.
Of course it’s a bit odd if we can’t, in the middle of the season, maintain the same level for the entire game, but the heavy schedule may have taken its toll. To say nothing about injuries. How many games has Xhaka played start to finish in the last couple of months?
Giroud up top causes controversy
Olivier Giroud seems destined to have the fanbase divided over his qualities and role in the team. However, while you can certainly make a case that our best football this season has been played with Sanchez as a (false) nine, sticking to Giroud was a wise thing to do in my opinion.
Why? Because Olivier is on a goalscoring run. Benching a player who scores in every game (Sunday was Giroud’s 5th consecutive strike in as many matches) will shatter his confidence and won’t guarantee a much better output.
Honestly, you can’t do much more than score in every game. Using Giroud as a lightning rod for the way we start games, or for our slow tempo, is childish. Yes, we play differently with the Frenchman up top, but do you mean to tell me we always play good football with Alexis Sanchez? Our worst performances (going by the quality of football on offer), Everton and City away, happened with Alexis as a striker. And let’s be frank, he did very little in both games. But few said he was the problem. Whereas Giroud instantly came under fire.
Olivier is just the spearhead. If we have a leaky defence, a keeper with a knack of conceding at his near post, or a midfield in a state of constant change (misfiring in most iterations), there’s literally nothing Ollie can do. He scored five goals, four winners and an equaliser, and on this form he should continue to lead the line. Whether he will is another question, seeing as he sustained an ankle injury. But should he recover in time for Burnley, he should start.
Iwobi puts on a show
While I almost expected to see Lucas start after the Spaniard once again proved a valuable asset in the previous game, I had few complaints Iwobi did. The Nigerian’s ability to find pockets of space and/or creating them by taking opponents head on allows us to have a numerical advantage in the final third.
While both goals went down as own goals, I think the first one shouldn’t have. However what’s important here is that Alex has come back a different beast after a short stint on the sidelines. His goals output rocketed, as a result of more composed finishing on his part. Iwobi’s runs into the box now represent a serious problem for the opposition, because he seems equally capable of scoring himself as he is with setting up a teammate.
The last word
The win allows us to climb one spot in the table, while also being just one point off second-placed Spurs. Pochettino’s men thrashed West Brom before our game even started, which ensured they stayed ahead of us. Chelsea have made short work of Leicester, so nothing gained on the Blues either. At least nothing lost!
But the other leaders came bearing gifts. Manchester City were comprehensively beaten by Everton, while Liverpool and United shared the spoils at Old Trafford. Favourable results indeed. City also play Tottenham up next, so there’s room for further improving our position.
That’s it from me for now. Back here with a preview of Burnley. Until then and have a great week.