Well. There’s only one place to start today, isn’t there?
What. A. Goal. Take a bow Olivier Giroud, because you ain’t scoring another one of those in your lifetime son, not in a competitive match environment anyway. It was majestic and although I couldn’t be at the game to see it in person, the audible gasps from the crowd as Sky were showing the replays, were obvious. I said to the folks and The Management at the time that you can always tell when a wonder goal is scored at the Emirates, because everyone turns around to the big screen and you get that murmur of astonishment from the crowd.
What was great about the goal was not just the majestic finish, but the build up to it. I’d encourage you to watch it again, but you don’t need that from me, do you? Right from Lucas Perez tracking back to slide the ball to Bellerin who cleared, to Giroud’s fantastic flick which outdid two Palace players, then the quick counter and the finish. The only part of it that you could say wasn’t executed properly was Alexis’ ball to Giroud, because it was behind him, but given the reaction of the Frenchman and the result, I think we can forgive that.
The game itself looked to be a potential banana skin and with Ozil out with injury I did wonder how we’d react, but I needn’t have worried too much, because Palace are down there for a reason. Allardyce set his side up having taken inspiration from Pulis of sitting deep and being compact, but unlike against West Brom, both of our fullbacks were having none of it. Bellerin and Montreal were superb all day I thought. They got in behind again and again and again and before Giroud scored his goal on 17 minutes he should have had one already under his belt, after Montreal had played a great ball in for him to swipe a boot at it.
Giroud was given the man-of-the-match because of his goal, but I’d have given it to one of the fullbacks, because they helped us to completely neutralise Townsend and Zaha by pinning Palace back to sit on the edge of the box.
But the whole team clicked yesterday. After about ten minutes I think we’d got in behind the Palace defensive line about three or four times. When Giroud scored his scorpion kick, it had felt like about 40 minutes had passed, because we had been so dominant up until that point. Weirdly I always normally feel so nervous right up until we score, but after the first five or ten minutes I realised that it was only a matter of time. Everything was clicking. The fullbacks were pressing high, Xhaka was pinging ball after ball into wide positions, Alexis and Perez, as well as Iwobi, were able to beat their men comfortably enough. It was all working. So when we got the second quite early in the second half, it never really felt like we’d drop any points.
Which is just as well, because everyone else is winning too, so we simply couldn’t afford to underperform. We’re now at the halfway point in the season and we’ve picked up 40 points. If we match that for the second half of the season we’ll get to 80 but even that might not be enough because as some have already pointed out (including Arsene himself), all of the big teams are winning the games they’re supposed to be winning this season. So it’s down to those head-to-head matches that we are now seeing where the sides are breaking away.
I was pleased to see Iwobi get his goal too. Again, Monreal getting in behind the fullback was good for us, but Iwobi nodding in will give him a good boost. He’s been in and out of form this season but yesterday he played in a number 10 role in the absence of Ozil and it did allow him to come in-field more and influence the game. Obviously he’s not going to be able to audition for that role on a more regular basis because we have Mesut, but it was still good to see that there is somebody who can deputise if needed.
And up the sharp end of the pitch with him, I thought Perez played well too. What he gives us that others don’t – aside from Theo – is that direct running off the ball. He was always looking to be played in when we had the ball in the middle of the park but in the slightly off-centre positions. That’s really positive to see and I for one hope he gets more game time in the coming weeks. I think he deserves it.
A word on the midfield duo of Xhaka and Elneny too. The Egyptian disappears off for the African Cup of Nations soon, but he gave us a very assured performance alongside Xhaka. Chaka is the main creative force of the two and is the man who was spraying the ball around, but Elneny provided a very valuable service in that midfield – occupying good positions, always being an option for retention of the ball. It’s good that we have these options, but if Santi is going to be out for quite some time, that leaves us with an injury-prone Ramsey, Coquelin and Xhaka all going for two positions. That’s not exactly a depth in the team. Hopefully all three can remain fit.
There will be little time for rest and reflection though. We have Bournemouth tomorrow and it will be another game in which defeat or a draw won’t be good enough. City will beat Burnley at home, Liverpool will pick up three points against Sunderland and so by the time we play again, it’s unlikely that we’ll be in a position where we can pick up points against our rivals.
We’ve just got to keep plugging away though. Match preview tomorrow.