Having slept on yesterday’s draw, watched the highlights and both AW’s presser and post-game interview, and gulped down some validol to get over the fact how monumental an excuse of a ref Anthony Taylor is, I’m ready to say the draw was a fair result overall.
For every good attack of ours we looked just as vulnerable at the back. Chelsea matched us toe-to-toe in a very open-ended game, highly reminiscent of the Liverpool draw on December 23. Both Courtois and Cech were worked in equal measures and both had lucky escapes when Sanchez and Zappacosta hit the woodwork.
For a neutral, this must have been a highly exciting game, with two sides of similar quality fighting it out. For both sets of fans it was a signal to stock up on validol for future encounters, the first of which will happen in just 6 days. Let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it.
Three at the back
Probably more out of necessity than a burning desire, Wenger played three at the back. You have to admit none of our central defenders are good enough to deal with Chelsea’s quality in a duo with Laurent Koscielny, who was himself unavailable. I’ve talked about how Wenger is hardly convinced by any of Chambers, Holding, Mustafi or Mertesacker. So he picked the former three, a right thing to have done in my opinion.
The Englishmen deserved and needed a chance to shine too. However on the basis of that game only Holding might force his way into Arsene’s thinking. He was less noticeable than his counterpart Chambers, and that was a good thing, for Chambers stood out with some poor distribution and decision-making.
Calum is a player of confidence, we know he is better than what he showed us yesterday. He needs the support of fans and the manager’s trust and right now it looks he’ll come up short on both fronts. It is a tricky situation that needs careful management. I remain convinced he is a player of requisite quality to feature for Arsenal.
Super Jacky Wilshere
Yesterday was probably Jack’s best game in an Arsenal shirt this season. He was very good with his burst of pace, tracked back diligently to mark Hazard and Fabregas and scored a peach of a goal with a quality strike.
Also, he probably should have seen red. Having been booked for a crunching tackle on Cesc Fabregas early on, the Englishman proceeded to go down after minimal contact on two occasions, giving Taylor an earful for one of those. He was walking on thin ice, but he was integral to breaking Chelsea’s intermittent press. Go figure.
With Aaron Ramsey’s return scheduled before the next league game, Wenger has a decision to make. The Welshman has been one of our best players up until the injury, but Wilshere has more than delivered since. AW was full of praise for the Englishman after the game:
“I think he is at the level now where not many people expected him to be. When was the last time he played for England? Exactly, against Iceland [at Euro 2016], he came on. Since he has not played for England and I would say that means that everybody had given up on him. Today, nobody would be surprised if he was selected again. So that means instances of us being criticised for that, I think first of all he deserves a great credit for remarkable strength and we do as well.”
Personally, I think Xhaka should give way to accommodate all of Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil. Some might say it is too risky defensively, but then again it’s not like Xhaka offers that much of a protection. There’s nothing he does defensively Wilshere can’t do, and we’ve seen it lately.
Anthony f*cking Taylor
My least favourite ref after Mike Dean. Their incompetence will go down in history. What I find the most infuriating is three days after a non-pen was awarded against us, after all the coverage thereof, after Wenger was charged, we find ourselves on the wrong end of a call again.
Bellerin certainly kicked Hazard, but:
- it wasn’t much of a kick
- not all contact in the box is a pen
- Hazard went down clutching the wrong part of his leg…
- … only to get up and take the pen in 15 seconds
- That pen would never have been awarded to us
It was an appalling decision from Taylor. Maybe we haven’t done enough to win, but that’s not for him to decide. We are talking about the ref again after just three days. Is this a healthy situation? How can a ref be the star of the game? How in the name of God there are so many wrong decisions every single gameweek, but nothing gets done about it?
I understand that refs are people, they have to make a hundred calls every game and that there’s a limit to their competence. However the situation is ridiculous. We don’t hear about ref controversies in hockey or basketball every single week, if at all, for that matter. The time has come for VAR, and for some goddamn transparency with regards to how PGMOL pick and control refs.
Whatever footballing shortcomings the man might have, I can absolutely understand his fury at the absurdity of what’s happening. Yesterday he looked to have reached a tipping point, and I don’t blame him.
Arsene called out both the refs and the media and I’m with him. On the refs:
“We got, again, a farcical decision but we knew that as well before, so we have to deal with that. That’s it basically.
“I don’t know, I don’t want to talk about it. I’m fed up with that. The referees get away with you, the English press, no matter what they do.”
And on the media:
“You have watched the game last night (Swansea vs Spurs), you couldn’t read a line about it today. So nothing will change. So we have to deal with that and we have to live with that. … A refereeing decision influenced the game, no? But nobody talks about it. So that means nothing will change.”
The double standards are obvious, the stoking up of flames is obvious and the refereeing standards are also obvious. We have our shortcomings on the pitch, Wenger is a big part of that, but I admire his one-man crusade for decency and fairness in football. I’m not holding out hope he’ll be able to change anything, sadly.
The last word
The draw leaves us in a hard place, but on the bright side our league schedule eases up in terms of opposition and we should have some of our regulars back in no time at all. The fight for the top four is not over by any stretch of imagination.
However we do need to get our defence back in line for the results to improve. Not much we can do about refs’ incompetence, but you couldn’t have watched yesterday’s game and thought we are all fine defensively. Even if we faced the reigning champions.
I’m a bit sad I didn’t get the chance to talk about some of our better players on the night, like Ozil and Lacazette, but I’m still fuming about the whole penalty thing to an extent. We now break a bit as far as league games are concerned, so hopefully our key players get at least some rest in the next ten days or so.
And I’ll be back with you soon to cover either Chelsea in the cup or Bournemouth.