I have to say, it’s quite tough trying to paint a different looking post-match picture on here after the team gives us the same black and white cut-price paint kit to work with every second game. It’s been drab, drab, drab, IRIDISCENTRAINBOWCOLORED5-2, and drab once again. Roller coaster analogies have been run down to the ground, but it seems like we’ve been handed free guest passes to the Arsenal Six Flags Adventure Park of Consistent Inconsistency this season too. New coat of paint, some nice new football accessories and all that, but the rides are the same.
Most games where points get dropped will have extenuating circumstances, and I honestly think the weather did neither team any favours at all yesterday. It was very much the ‘wet night in Stoke or Birmingham’ where Andy Gray raises his haunches, howls at the moon, and asks all and sundry if they can ‘do it’; very much the seamy underbelly of the Premier League, in jarring contrast with the Top Four clashes slathered in glamorous neon.
Up till a point, having a wet pitch suits Arsenal’s game- in that the ball moves quicker across the pitch and that is conducive to our fast passing. But yesterday’s relentless deluge started clogging up the ground after a point. The ball alternated between suddenly speeding up (I remember it going out of play via Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski, and Arshavin because of improper judgment of the speed) and unexpectedly slowing down. As the commentator blithely put it at half time: It was Aston Villa nil, Arsenal nil, Conditions one.
Seeing as Zeus had decided to turn Villa Park into his personal bathtub for a few hours, Arsene decided to not start Wilshere, or bring him on at any stage of the game at all. Now while I applaud that decision in isolation – Jack’s initial stress fractures were caused chiefly due to overplaying – one wonders if it would have been more prudent to give him a complete rest and put an extra striking option on the bench instead. But more on that later.
Although the tippity-tap of merciless raindrops was stifling, Arsenal’s overall style of play was far more so. We reverted back from the rampaging scimitar on show against Tottenham last week to the blunt butter knife that was sheepishly put on the table in late October. Illusory domination supplanted attacking ambition, the forward movement was more frozen-pond than flowing-river, there were side passes heaped upon side passes in the hope that someone would eventually have a pop…all old hat, really.
Two players trying to make things happen were Giroud and (sharpen your knives) Ramsey. The former repeatedly came deep to try and start attacks, and dovetailed well with his attacking partners to set them up with small flicks and lay-offs. Ramsey was very much in the mold of Scrappy Doo: battling all over the pitch, never hiding, making mistakes, and battling again. I’m not saying he was great, but he tried to rise above our mediocrity with effort.
You can understand the lethargy in part: this Arsenal team has been playing a game every three days for over a month now, and faced an impressively determined Aston Villa side yesterday that worked its collective bollocks off to get out of their rut. But the fact that the tiredness excuse is being bandied about this early into the season is disquieting. This past week, we played against ten men for large parts of one game, and strolled around against a toothless Montpellier in the other game. Hardly a battery-emptying week when you think about it. Malaga travelled to Zenit in midweek and beat Valencia 4-0 yesterday, in a humbling dose of perspective. Out tiredness seems more cumulative, which is because we don’t have adequate squad cover in vital positions and end up overplaying players in said positions.
I’ll get this out of the way like a quickly extirpated band-aid: I didn’t think taking Giroud off was silly. He’s one of the players we risk being too dependent on, and hence overplaying; he took a knock on his ankle in the second half which risked being exacerbated; and he’s surely going to be leading the line against Everton in three days’ time. But I think two things went against the substitution viz. it was too late and the wrong player came on.
Let’s talk about the second thing first. Marouane Chamakh’s continual absence from the squad baffles me. We can argue for all eternity about whether he should have been sold in the summer, but the fact is he wasn’t, and Wenger must have had some plans for him this season. His confidence certainly can’t drop any lower (in fact, after his brace against Reading in the League Cup, it’s as high as it has been in the last two years), and after Ron Vlaar went off injured for Villa, they had two callow central defenders there to be dominated. In my opinion, playing Gervinho as a central striker is properly mental. He’s a false forward, never mind a false nine. Having Chamakh on the bench (maybe instead of Jack, as mentioned earlier) and swapping him with Giroud in a like-for-like substitution would have made more sense.
As it transpired, Wenger brought Coquelin on, sent Arteta a bit forward, played Gervinho as a striker with Ramsey roving in the vicinity, and Arshavin and Cazorla swapping places at will. It’s a justifiable system change- but changing this system for the last five minutes defeats any purpose it might have served.
In the end, the substitution will get far more column inches than it deserves (it certainly has on this blog) because we need to paint a different post-match picture with the same paint kit. The right substitution could have won us the game (Indeed, a sumptuous Arshavin cross almost did) but we drew the game because of what we did (or didn’t do) in the 85 minutes prior to Giroud’s number going up.
Everton away next, as the games come thicker and faster than Theo Walcott running through treacle. I’m trying to remember times when more football made me happier…
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