Last night Arsène Wenger must have played his invisible ‘Birthday Get Out Of Jail’ card, because after what we all watched in Belgian last night, there are not many people who have a physical or emotional stake in the club that will argue that we didn’t get quite fortunate, by picking up the 2-1 win.
I suppose the counter-argument is that fortune would be a back pass that the ‘keeper shanks into his own net, where as our goals were entirely of our own making through our play, but if you watched the game in the same way I did I’m sure you’d agree too that we were fortunate.
We never ever really got going. Perhaps the warning signs were there early on, when Santi was fed a delightful ball by the stand-out performer Alexis, only for the Spaniard to shin one right into row z. In the opening exchanges of a game you think to yourself as a fan “that’s ok, it’s good we’re getting into those positions, so we’ll get another chance”, but you don’t expect to see the opponent ‘keeper not worked for the vast duration of the game thereafter.
Some way through the second half, it occurred to me that this felt very much like the Hull game, which was a real worry. We were laboured, lacklustre and lethargic all rolled into one and the quick interchanges of passing between players that has typified Arsène Wenger teams done the years just wasn’t there. I pointed out to The Management how static we were part-way through the second half. As if to help me prove my point, I was able to show her six passes in a row that were to players standing still. Successful football teams move into spaces, create gaps, pull teams apart and work at creating openings to fashion chances. I saw none of that for the duration of yesterday’s match from Arsenal players. Paul Merson had said at half time that it was as if none of the Arsenal players wanted the ball. For a change, I agreed with him.
The goal we conceded felt to me as if lessons had clearly not been learnt from the weekend. Another floated ball into the middle, another defender caught under the flight (this time it was Chambers), another half-decent header from a half-decent attacking player. DeJa Vu and Arsenal another goal down to a side that we really should have been out of sight against.
Let’s be honest, I don’t want to seem like I’m being disingenuous to our opponents of the evening, but that was a distinctly average Champions League side that we came across yesterday. You could tell from their build up play and potency in the final third that they were not a side that would trouble 95% of teams in the competition. But they troubled us. They troubled us quite a lot actually.
Midfield was virtually anonymous I have to say. Yes, the defence was at fault for us going behind, but our midfield had an evening to forget. Jack and Rambo hardly impacted the game at all and, whilst he has come back from injury only recently, I hope that it was his lay-off that caused another average display from Ramsey and not a sign of a dip in form. We want to see the Ramsey from last season, not a regression into the player that tried flicks and long passes to the frustration of everybody. Again, let’s put it down to regaining his fitness for now, but I didn’t see any real penetration from the midfield. There are a lot of people in the media world that wonder what Özil does, but without wanting to put an injured player on a pedestal, that is exactly the sort of game we needed him in. I saw about three or four very good forward runs throughout the game in which it only needed a good pass from a player with vision to see, but instead we chose the simple five yard sideways pass and chose to build up play slowly again. Mesut Özil is a great player because he sees those types of passes, and it was that cutting edge from a player with vision that we missed last night.
But for all of this anguish, for all of my assertions in other blogs recently that we have not ‘clicked’, perhaps I should give a smidgen of credit to the players for ultimately securing a vital victory that one hopes is essential in rebuilding what appears to be a fragile level of confidence amongst the players. The goal from Gibbs was an absolute pearler and Lukas Podolski showed exactly what he is – an absolutely deadly finisher – Benjy and Steve had to be virtually broken apart via Whatsapp last night!
So the job is done and the wounds are minor and repairable. But there needs to be a vastly improved performance against Sunderland on Saturday afternoon.
See you tomorrow.