Yesterday’s game was always going to be more of an emotional and nostalgia-infused affair after Wenger’s announcement on Friday. It was a warm day with that April sun that sometimes greets us at this time of year in London, all adding to a very carnival and friendly feel to the game, almost like when it’s the first in the season and the air is full of optimism and excitement of what lies ahead.
I even got inside the ground about 10 minutes early. That almost never happens when there is the amber nectar to be consumed.
The stadium started to fill out and was certainly more full than in recent weeks, but even about 15 minutes after kick off I noted that the upper tiers still had plenty of space available, which is a shame because it felt like this would be a game in which all Arsenal fans would get together and cheer the ending of the era. One suspects that Burnley might be a little more to the stadium announcers attendance figures than yesterday or the previous games.
In terms of the game itself Arsène shuffled his pack against West Ham, probably a little more than we thought, with Ospina, Elneny, Iwobi, Welbeck and Lacazette all coming in and starting. I’m not quite sure why he did it in that way because it felt like a bit of a half measure. Ramsey moved forward to play in the number 10 role that he craves, but in reality that first half never quite clicked for Arsenal.
West Ham sat compact and having seen Newcastle undo a clearly confidence-hit Arsenal back line, the tactic from Moyes to echo the instructions that Benitez gave his team, was fairly obvious. So in that first half we saw more balls into channels and in behind for Arnautović to run in behind and on a couple of occasions it looked like he might have a bit of hit against Mustafi and Koscielny.
Thankfully though West Ham don’t really have a deep lying midfielder with the same passing range as Shelvey and the result was that West Ham’s chances were limited. But so were ours and I can only really recall a Koscielny header wide, Welbeck dragging a shot wide and a Xhaka free kick straight down Hart’s throat in the first 45.
The atmosphere had turned back to quite a muted one after the first 20 minutes when, unfortunately, we all realised that this Arsenal team isn’t in any great shakes from a tactical perspective and at half time I wondered whether we’d get any kind of reaction from the players in the second half.
To be fair we did though and you could tell that the tempo had been upped after the first five or ten minutes. Players started finding spaces over the pitch and West Ham’s compact shape began to get stretched. We needed that goal though and so when our player of the season shinned one in from a corner, I thought Monreal had set us on the way to sure fire victory.
We had a few good build up opportunities before West Ham equalised but sadly everything seemed to go to Iwobi in the build up and as we know with him this season, it usually ended up with a mis-hit shot or overhit pass. He really needs to be taken away from the first team. It isn’t working, he had a bit of a shocker yesterday, so some time away from the club – maybe even a loan – could end up making or breaking his Arsenal career. But as it stands right now having him in the first team is detrimental to both his development and our overall play.
West Ham’s equaliser came from – surprise surprise – some of our own careless defending. It started with Bellerin being poorly dispossessed halfway through our half but whilst Arnautović’s shot was well struck, it felt like there was at least three opportunities where we could have avoided the ball even getting to him.
But therein lies Arsenal’s problem, which is that our back line just simply isn’t good enough. Not organised enough, they don’t seem to defend as a unit, talk to each other much and the result it that we concede sloppy goals on a weekly basis.
It’s just a good job we have a bit more quality in attack and in Aubameyang we have a man who can change games. His omission from the starting line up was weird, but as soon as he came on for Iwobi we looked more threatening and in that last ten minutes we created a heap of chances that make you bitter that UEFA even have that stupid rule that means he can’t play on Thursday.
It was his dummy for Rambo’s cross that brought us back level and it was his pass to Lacazette which secured the points. He is a quality player and although he’s known for his running and ability to get in behind as a central striker, he still played his part in a crowded penalty box to have an impact.
The dream for next season surely has to be that we could see a front two of Auba and Lacazette together because you could clearly see that they have an understanding together already and when Lacazette got his second of the day, it was big smiles between the pair of them.
Those two goals will be mightily important in the context of Thursday’s game and Lacazette has hit a bit of a streak of late. Perfect timing when you’ve got a team as miserly as Atletico Madrid coming to town because they won’t be easy to break down.
Before I finish up with some thoughts on the manager though, a quick one about Ramsey because although it didn’t always come off for him, he did still get a goal and has become a pivotal player in this Arsenal team. Let’s hope he’s on form on Thursday because if he is it’ll go a long way to overcoming the Spaniards.
So, to the manager, who was a little more candid about the fans than we’ve seen. He didn’t exactly go for the jugular with some of the fans, but he certainly has had something on his mind. His comments about the lack of unity that hurt the club were very pointed I thought and it’s clear he’s been holding some stuff in for a while. I wonder if when the dust has settled he’ll be even more open?
I suspect not because I think he’ll want to keep the memory fans have as positive and whilst that will largely remain in tact regardless of what he says about factions of the Arsenal fan base, he just doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to start going in to one over fans that turned on him, it just doesn’t seem his style.
I guess we won’t have to wait long though. The season finale is less than a month away and he will no doubt have microphones shoved in front of him repeatedly between then and during the World Cup. At some stage he’ll do a more revealing interview with Bein sports so we’ll probably just have to wait until that comes out.
But for now we should be pleased for a win, one in which we’re set up nicely for Atletico, when hopefully the team can put on a display that puts us closer to the final.
Catch you all tomorrow.