Blimey it was cold watching the football last night. Real ‘brass monkeys’ stuff and after the first half of football we watched I did wonder whether all I’d have to show from an evening of sleet and numb toes was a solitary point against a dogged Cardiff team.
And it was a dogged Cardiff team. Struck by the sadness of Sala’s absence and a club rocked by what will surely only be sad news, Neil Warnock set his side out to be stoic and difficult to beat and I think he certainly got that in the first half. They sat deep, encouraged Arsenal to show creativity by breaking them down with a deep defensive unit and at times throwing bodies in the way, particularly with one impressive block in the first half in which Lacazette will have probably have expected himself to do better.
That was probably the mantra from yet another pretty average first half: “could do better”. Arsenal were their usual first half sluggish selves but I can’t help but think the team selection played a part. In came Lichtsteiner and Monreal in the back four – no real surprises given the injuries – but we also saw a bit of a bizarre midfield three of Guendouzi, Elneny and Torreira, which was odd because Xhaka was named on the bench.
I don’t know whether it was because Unai felt Granit need resting, but you can’t really convince me that Elneny does anything better than the Swiss, even tucking in to a defensive three at times during the game if needed. But it was Elneny who was chosen and for that first half we huffed and puffed offensively and it never really fell to the right players. Mesut Özil made his first start in ages and I thought was bright in patches, but with Cardiff finding bodies to block space his tricks and flicks were always in deeper positions and sadly falling to the likes of Elneny and Guendouzi who both slowed okay down in the first half.
But in the second half where one went off, the other stepped up and I thought Guendouzi was much better as we pressed to get ourselves ahead. He used his constant movement – sometimes maddening when it leads to positional indiscipline – to be an outlet throughout and with a team like Cardiff looking to remain constantly compact it meant that his constant movement was great for this game.
It also helped that in Iwobi coming in for Elneny Cardiff knew they had another wife attacking threat to think about and that gave Guendouzi more space, but props must also go to Iwobi for a very good ball in behind the full back to Kolasinac for the penalty. It was inch perfect and not the first time those two players have found each other this season in that type of build up play. Stonewall penalty, up steps Auba, good strike and then the game starts to open up to Arsenal’s advantage.
You’d like to say that we should have gone on to put a few past Cardiff but in reality this is an Arsenal team that doesn’t look balanced and hasn’t clicked all season. So we huffed and puffed until a very impressive solo goal from Lacazette and I have to say he’s been one player who has really impressed me this season. He’s a quality finisher, industrious worker, links play well and I think is perhaps slightly overshadowed by the goals of Aubameyang. But the Frenchman had a great game last night and he got reward for his efforts with another goal on the scoresheet.
Of course Arsenal are the gift that keeps on giving though, so perhaps it was inevitable that we’d end up conceding, although thankfully it didn’t impact the result in the end. A three points that is vital given that we play City away at the weekend and most likely we’ll be picking up a sum total of zero points against them on their own patch. Even if Newcastle did win tonight, I’m not expecting much from the weekend so with United drawing at home to Burnley, we have to cross our fingers that it’s the wheels falling off the Solskjaer hype train. Maybe.
For now though it’s another three points at home and hopefully it gives the players some much needed confidence. We do need to sort out the tactical approach though, because all of this tinkering by Emery is not doing the team any favours right now. It fails to build any kind of momentum and rhythm and you can sort of see it in the players and the way they’re playing. They don’t really have an idea of our identity and style because we change it so much from game-to-game. I don’t want to sound a bit Goldilocks having had years of a rigid identity, but there has to be a balance between the Wenger approach and what we’re getting now, right?
Anyway, don’t want it to sound too negative, not after a win.
Catch you all tomorrow.