Sometimes football can be a real grind. To play, to coach, to manage, it can be a right old slog and when The Management’s family came into the kitchen yesterday at halftime – gingerly entering wondering in what mood I’d be in – all I could really report was that the first half had felt like the longest 45 minutes of my life.
We were ponderous with the ball, slow in our build up play and the passing of the players selected in red and white yesterday was abysmal for large parts of the game against Stoke. A trait of a successful Arsène Wenger team in the first few years of his reign was the ability to pop the ball around quickly, accurately, with very little errors and that allowed us to move the ball from back to front so quickly.
Yesterday was an example of why this team is where it is in the league. Özil, Wilshere, Chambers, Aubameyang, Mustafi, Monreal; all made some pretty questionable decisions in their passing range and it was frustrating as hell to watch.
What I also noticed yesterday was what I’d describe as cowardly football from some players. Sometimes on a football pitch it’s easy to get lost positionally on purpose; Theo used to do it all the time. You know – when you take up positions on the pitch so your teammates can’t give you the ball. I saw that yesterday from one or two players in the first half but also, I noticed that there was a lot of return passes, which is also slightly cowardly in my opinion. The type of pass where somebody gives you the ball and you give it straight back to them. There was plenty of that.
But here I am four paragraphs in and I’ve not really had much positive to say, which does feel weird, especially given what we got in the end was a 3-0 victory. It didn’t feel like the archetypal home win by that number though. The second half started much in the same way that the first did and for at least 25 minutes into that second half it felt like this game was going to either peter out to nothing or end up with an Orcish counter attack and defeat.
We started to create a few more chances with about 20 to go though and the introduction of Lacazette and Xhaka made us look a little more forward-thinking I thought. Suddenly we had a guy who would hang off the shoulder of the last man like Auba would and with Xhaka coming on there was a better passing range than what Elneny and Wilshere gave us.
Özil suddenly seemed a little more lively and it was his weave into the box that we got the first penalty for. Yes it looked a little fortunate after about three replays but in real time it looked like a clumsy challenge from Martins Indi.
As soon as the ball hit the net the Arsenal fans who had bothered to show up yesterday had a wave of relief and when Auba drills his second goal in there was yet another sigh of relief because at that point we all knew the game was done.
There was just enough time for a silly Stoke challenge and what I thought was a significant returning goal for Lacazette from the penalty spot. Let’s not forget how forlorn he was looking before his injury because he hadn’t scored in a while and so the fact that he came on and broke his duck yesterday will have quite some significance for him and us I think. If we want to have any chance of going further in the Europa League then it is essential that Lacazette has his scoring boots on and that goal yesterday effectively means he can reset his confidence levels ahead of Thursday night’s game against CSKA.
It was quite some grind in the end but ultimately the three points are the best thing and if it helps to send a horrific football club down in Stoke City then there is all the more reason to be happy that we could play our part in that.
We still have so much to do if we want to build up the momentum to win the Europa League I think, but tomorrow would have been important for the players, so let’s just focus on the fact that another morale-boosting victory has been chalked up.
Catch you all tomorrow.