On a cold, snowy/slushy Saturday lunchtime, Arsenal laboured to a 2-0 victory that will have hardly inspired any of us to think that some kind of minor miracle will take place between now and May.
But do you know what? It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because all that we should really be concerned with is that the team got the three points it needed. That’s what yesterday was about. Having tripped up twice last week and having put in some pretty limp performances since the start of 2017, as I made my way back to Highbury & Islington station, all I could think was: job done.
Hull City under Marco Silva are a different prospect to the one we smashed in September. They are better organised, the players know what their gameplan is, plus they have a couple of editions in players like Grosicki and Markovic who are tricky and yesterday had pretty good games. They targeted our right hand side in the first half and our left and side in the second and more often than not found themselves with plenty of space to get balls in to our box. Had they had a more deadly forward on the pitch, they may have made us pay. But as it was we managed to shut them out despite some pretty intense pressure in the second half.
Arsène and Xhaka were serving the last of their bans and with the Swiss in particular I’ll be glad when he returns. Not least because I am hoping that we see a Xhaka/Ox midfield. What Xhaka does that Coquelin does not is to drop deeper and pick up the ball from the centre halves and effectively distribute the ball forward. Coquelin may close down space quicker than Granit, but yesterday he showed his limitations. I thought he had a really poor game, spraying the ball out of play and only once in about six or seven attempts, did he manage to execute a long range pass that actually found an Arsenal player. Conversely, I thought the Ox was excellent, and with every passing game I’m getting more and more impressed. His tracking back and winning the ball was evident yesterday. His vision was there too and he was spraying balls left, right and centre to find Arsenal players. Plus he was giving us something that none of the other midfielders have given us this season, which was to carry the ball at pace and direct running through our midfield. The only other person that can drive like that in Arsenal’s midfield is currently on loan at Bournemouth, so for me to see Oxlade-Chamberlain show those talents on a few occasions was a delight.
I really hope that much like Coquelin’s rise to prominence -in that it came about more by chance and an enforced situation on the team through injuries – the Ox finds himself a regular feature in that midfield. Because it works. And if we can have two effective ball distributors in the middle of the park, we might have found a formula for success, albeit to late to rescue the season from a league title perspective.
So we huffed, and we puffed, and we couldn’t quite break Hull down at first. Alexis had a decent chance and should have scored when he dragged the ball wide of the right hand side post, and Bellerin had a good chance after a one-two with Theo, but just as I was getting worried that it was about to turn in to ‘one of those days’, Alexis managed to bundle it in with the unintentional use of his hand. I watched Match of the Day last night and bizarrely both Murphy, Linekar and Wrighty all seemed to think the goal shouldn’t have stood. Equally bizarrely, Clattenberg apparently spoke to Hull players and the manager at half time to apologise, which I don’t understand because under the letter of the law the ref got the decision right. When a ball ricochets off a hand it’s no foul, much like if the ball is kicked at a defenders hand down by his side when it’s inside the box isn’t a penalty. So I don’t understand why everyone is saying the first goal shouldn’t have stood. It should, and it did, so that’s that.
The fact it did stand made the halftime chat a little easier and what was pointed out to me which I have to admit is true, is how Özil looks a little short on confidence right now, which I think is causing some of these poor performances. Yesterday he just didn’t seem to be able to influence the game as much as he does sometimes and certainly in the final third he looked a little off-key. We just have to hope that he recovers some of his form however. He’s certainly class enough to. Perhaps his form is a mirror of how the team are. When he seems to be on song the team often purr, so the fact he’s looked a little ropey in recent weeks may have an impact on this team too.
So it was an edgy second half and it probably should have been even edgier with a dismissal to Gibbs, but for some reason Clattenberg only produced a yellow when the Englishman took out Markovic as the last man. We can be thankful for that and so can Gibbs, who I thought was another player who had a good game yesterday, probably deserving of an extended run in the side. Whether that happens in midweek against Bayern though remains to be seen.
The introduction of Welbeck and Lucas made us a little bit more lively, but because of the removal of the Ox from the centre of the park we looked a little more ragged, which meant the penalty, sending off and subsequent conversion of the goal by Alexis was a welcome late cherry on top. I must say though, he’s not the best penalty taker in the world. His low drilled shot yesterday wasn’t far away from the ‘keeper saving it and he’s had a fair few saved this season. But I guess it’s hard to really criticise any penalty that’s converted, right?
So we draw level with the Tiny Totts on points after their defeat and it’s a mini break in the Premier League now until we play Liverpool at the beginning of March. That will be a tough on and we might find ourselves further away from the pack with a game in hand when that comes around, so it just goes to show you just how important picking up results like that are.
Onwards to Bayern away. Speak tomorrow.
Great blog & Good analysis. Completely agree with the Ox. He is playing great and should be one of the first names on the team sheet.
It seems Ozil and Iwobi should not be playing together as neither is much of a goal scoring threat. When you play, Sanchez, Iwobi, Ozil, and Walcott too much of the scoring burden falls on Sanchez, as Walcott is so inconsistent, therefore we never really look that threatening. With a line up of Welbeck, Sanchez, Ozil/Iwobi in the middle, and Perez, you have three goal scorers on the pitch with the creators being Ozil/Iwobi as well as Ox and Xhaka as deeper playmakers. Welbeck is probably a better option upfront because of his aerial abilities but you could really interchange Sanchez, Perez, and Welbeck.
Thanks Marc. We have different styles and players who all do something a little differently. But you need to find a balance in a system and I think that’s where we fall down sometimes.