It was a weird old game yesterday. With the goals we’ve been getting all season and the plaudits from an attacking point of view but not a defensive one, it felt as though we should have been dispatching Sporting Lisbon with a little more ease on our own soil. After all we’d gone to their gaff and managed to get three points, so a home tie to send us through as group leaders would be no problem, right?
Football is rarely such an easy game to predict though and so is Unai Emery’s Arsenal starting XI, so when that came out and there was a decent amount of rotation taking place, we probably should have known this wasn’t going to be a whitewash.
Sporting came for a point and ultimately got there through a mixture of some very good defensive play, but some pretty average Arsenal attacking if we’re honest. Emery went for a shuffled team which included rotated squad players luck Cech, Lichsteiner, the resurrected Corporal Carl Jenkinson at left back, plus a front line of Mkhi, Iwobi, Smith-Rowe and Welbeck and despite the fact it’s not our most dynamic and fluid of front lines, I think it’s fair to say none of us expected the team to draw a blank.
Sadly though there seemed to be one moment in the game in which a lot of the match now feels like it centred, which was the injury to Welbeck on about 25 minutes, and a horror injury it was too. You only have to look at the horror stills to see just how bad his ankle looked and Emery hinted at a break after the game.
If that’s true then it’s probably most of the season – if not all of it – gone for Welbeck and at a time in which he’d been scoring goals for us this season, it’s a big blow to us as well. Welbeck has five to his name this season as a third choice striker and when you can call on someone like that to crop up with a decent goal tally, you know you’re having a good season.
We just have to hope that he finds fitness as soon as possible but given his contract situation you wonder if that might have been his final appearance for Arsenal. I hope not.
The game itself felt a little flat immediately afterwards, but after half time it felt like we were starting to pop the call about again, although our lack of cutting edge in the final third was poor. Emery’s team is built on marauding full backs and in Lichsteiner – another casualty last night – and Jenkinson we didn’t quite have the dynamism that Emery would have probably wanted from his fullbacks. Lichsteiner simply doesn’t have the pace and Jenkinson is playing on the wrong side, exemplified by his very well timed run at one point that see him get in behind, only to overhit the cross to Aubameyang and the ball go wide and away from danger. You can level a lot of things at The Corporal for his lack of technical ability and talent, etc, but what you can’t say about him is he can’t cross, so to see him overcook a ball like that which he’d probably usually nail shows how it didn’t really work for him yesterday.
But it didn’t really work out for many of the team actually. The game felt a little flat, we knew Sporting would offer little going forward other than the occasional Nani run followed by dive and roll around on the pitch feigning injury, which is pretty much what happened.
What also happened is that it never really worked to our purring best all over the pitch. Too many poor decisions were taken in the final third and Mkhi had one of those games where he does a brilliant reverse pass, then provides very little for the following 10 minutes. He’s a frustrating player at times but you look at him every time there’s a close up and he rarely looks 100% happy.
Mkhi, what did Jose do to you?
Midfield was one area where I thought we had two good performances, but for very different reasons, because Guendouzi was good with his passing range but Ramsey was also responsible in his defensive duties.
On Guendouzi I love his distribution. Every time he hits a long pass it just looks so controlled with the way he strikes it. He’s so composed on the ball and when he shapes his body to make that pass you know that he’ll find his target regardless of the difference.
Ramsey too played well I thought. He showed that despite what people say about his lack of defensive discipline, when given instructions to operate in a certain way he can certainly deliver a more defensive performance. When he had his resurgence in form in 2013 it was down to starting from the basics and that came from the more defensive side of his game. It’s frustrating because if he was to find a way to couple the defensive side of his game with his higher pressing and occasional goal scoring side to his play, I think he could easily be one of the best – perhaps the best – midfielder in the world.
But we don’t get that from him all of the time. We get a very very good player, but only one part of his game, which is perhaps why the club are not banging down his agents door with a sign saying “shut up and take our money!”.
Other than that there wasn’t really a lot else to talk about. The sending off at the end was a minor footnote in a pretty uneventful game. In some sense it was probably the best red card Mathieu has ever received; Auba was clean through if he doesn’t take him out and his subsequent blazing over of the free kick vindicated his cynical trip in the dying minutes.
Red cards in the dying minutes for opponents seem to be things that happen to us a lot. Why can’t they do that in the 10th minute and give us most of the game to dominate them?
Mind you, last night felt like a slog and in the light of this grey London Friday morning, it feels as though we’d have probably have gone that whole time without scoring anyway.
But hey, despite the fact we’ve drawn three out of our last four, our unbeaten run goes on and sees us extend to 14 now. We can make it 15 on Sunday and with a host of players rested last night you’d hope that there’s a freshness about our team that wasn’t evident last night.
Onwards we roll.
Catch y’all tomorrow.