Apologies if I can’t draw myself up to be too irate about the overall performance yesterday, but if I’m honest with you, all we needed was the win and that’s what we got in the end. So now isn’t the time to go all football purist and be outraged that we didn’t smash Sutton 6-0 and see a full-flowing Arsenal dispense with a team who’s reserve goalie looked straight out of the Harlow Men’s Sunday League Division four.
You see the thing is, regardless of how terrible we’ve been of late, we were never going to go to a ground like that and destroy Sutton. They play on a fair pitch every week, they were set up from the word go as damage limitation and being difficult to break down, and none of our players wanted to see their own seasons curtailed.
That’s why – as the BBC1 commentators were quick to point out – the Sutton players ‘wanted it more’, because this was their big moment. This was about those players getting a chance to shine in front of the cameras. So of course they were going to win more of the 50:50 balls because they had less fear about injury than some of the Arsenal lads.
So let’s give them a virtual thumbs up. They had their moment in the limelight, they have received a Premier League big club and they’ve hopefully profited from plenty of TV money and other goodwill generated from this cup run.
Now, on to a Arsenal, for we do need to talk about some of those performances. I was a little wound up last night by some of the players putting what was perceived as a lack of bother in, but having had the night to sleep on it and think of a few mitigating circumstances, I think I’m happy to just chalk this game down as ‘job done’. From a footballing point of view though, the game was terrible, with Arsenal seeming to make almost as many mistakes in possession as Sutton. I remarked last night that I don’t think a minute went past without a team making a basic error and usually that simply meant a simple pass. Symptomatic of this yesterday was David Ospina’s bizarre kick straight to a Sutton player about 20 yards from the goal. That happened all over the pitch, all night, which I find strange because you can hardly blame the bobbles and bounces of the pitch, can you?
It was all over the pitch that we were making mistakes. Mustafi went in reckless early on and I was just glad he got the ball, because otherwise he could have been in a spot of bother, but Oliver saw enough of a touch to give him the benefit. Xhaka’s radar seemed a little rusty at times, but he was still better than Elneny, who gave the ball away and his normally solid pass completion felt like it went out the window.
In the attacking third I saw the line up and thought that it might be a good one to drive at Sutton. But the only person who really looked the part in the front three was Perez. He was busy all night and as each game passes by, you have to wonder what’s going through Arsène’s mind when he doesn’t give the Spaniard a chance. After all, of the other players in front of him in the pecking order that played last night, based on that performance you’d hardly opt for Iwobi or Walcott. I thought Iwobi was really poor. He’s struggling at the moment. It felt to me like he gave the ball away more than most people and as I’ve been saying for weeks I like the lad, but he needs to be taken out of the starting XI for a while. Let’s not kill his career by overplaying him at his age, Arsène.
The other of the trio, Theo, got his 100th goal so congratulations to him. That’s 100 in 11 years. So about 9 a season. But he’s got there so we should applaud it. Better applaud that than his performance, because he played a classic Theo Walcott game last night. When he wasn’t anonymous, he was losing control of the ball and yet just when you feel astounded at how he continues to get game time, up he pops with a goal. Scoring goals is the hardest thing to do in football and Theo scores goals. Which is why his overall game is so maddening sometimes, because he could be so much more, if he worked on other parts.
As for the rest of the team, I thought the Jeff saw the game pass him by and it was hardly an advert for him to be a starter by next season. These are the games you want him to show his class, but he’s got time, so we’ll just chalk it down to experience. The other guy who I thought did well when he came on was the Ox. Again he drove at players from the midfield and although it was against non-league opponents, I thought he and Xhaka worked better as a partnership than a few we’ve seen in the last couple of months. He was even involved in one of the silliest points in the game, when their centre half tried to scare him off the ball with some sort of fake headbutt. Weird.
So all-in-all let’s just be glad we’re still in the competition. We play Lincoln in the next round and that will take us to the semi final if we can win that. The performance was just like your theory driving test. You don’t get anything special for finishing with a 100% correct score, so you might as well just do what’s needed to pass and nothing else. That’s what we saw yesterday and ultimately, we can now move on and forget about the performance.
Catch you all tomorrow.