If you wanted to give a summary of Arsenal’s 2012/13 campaign to this point, you could simply play the video of last night’s game. It was like an inventory of all the things we love and hate about this team.
Full Stadium with away fans protesting about ticket prices – CHECK
Comedy defending combined with lucky opposition finishing – CHECK
Tactical imbalance – CHECK
Injury prone player gets injury from innocuous situation – CHECK
Inconsistent officiating that pleases neither side - CHECK
Ineffective sideways passing- CHECK
Improvement after half time – CHECK
Oppositions most mediocre player scores against us – CHECK
Rousing comeback based on increased tempo and massive effort – CHECK
Spasmodic goal burst for Arsenal - CHECK
10 minute period of looking a match for anyone – CHECK
Missed sitter – CHECK
Andre Santos looking like a pub player (complete with fitness issues) - CHECK
If you haven’t seen it, here are the highlights.
Inevitably, in the minus column of any analysis, we have the performance of the defence.
Typically, the day after Wojciech Szczesny gave amongst other things an impassioned support of the back four to Amy Lawrence of The Guardian, talking about the lack of midfield protection, our Pole in the Goal and his friends in front of him put on their own rendition of “Send in the clowns”. We had Sagna slipping on an invisible banana skin, Vermaelen tripping over oversized shoes, Mertesacker handing out sweets to visiting children, and Gibbs doing an interpretive dance embodiment of the exploding clown car. Szczesny himself seemed to doing his own personal grand scale hokey-kokey and then we had The Great Bozo himself, Andre Santos.
Beyond the quick feet and irritation factor of Suarez, the pace and look-at-me personality of Sturridge and Stevie ‘Hollywood Ball’ Gerrard, Liverpool had no quality going forwards. The problem is they didn’t need it, due to a combination of terror stricken distribution from the back, bizarre full-back positioning (magnified by Santos confusing left-back with central midfield with alarming regularity), and a shocking lack of physical bravery from certain individuals. Both the Liverpool goals were gifts generated by mediocre passing and good effort on their part but no more. The first was a little unlucky with slips and deflections, but the second was criminally bad. When Jordan Henderson runs through your back four, you know there is trouble.
But there’s the paradox of this team. Far better sides in Arsenal’s recent past have wilted at 2-0 down, when characters like Nasri and Hleb would do disappearing acts. The current lot, for all their long discussed problems, seem to have some balls at least. Even in the first half, when we were a little ponderous, we reacted well to going behind and created chances, if no clear cut ones. After we went two behind just after the hour, we totally took over the match, scoring two and just missing out on two or three more. Although we had a lucky escape at the end when Santos did his best to get his second assist for Liverpool, Giroud had already missed a couple of VERY presentable chances.
The Frenchman still divides opinion with his erratic finishing and lack of pace, but he picked up another goal and another very good assist. Although he still frequently misses chances the likes of RVP, Ian Wright or Henry would have scored, the goals he is scoring are from a repertoire that none of the above regularly utilised. What is surprising is that out of the 21 league goals he scored for Montpellier last season, only one was scored with his head, whereas this year it is his threat in the air that is his main weapon. This suggests some untapped potential finishing with his feet, and a quick look on YouTube confirms this.
Elsewhere last night, Wilshere was again excellent, as were Cazorla and Podolski in the second half, and Walcott was a constant threat, scoring a rocket of a goal, and coming very close on 3 or 4 other occasions. Although it went narrowly over, it was also very encouraging to see Theo beating the full back to a header after a deep cross from the left. That would be a very useful weapon to add to his armoury. As a supporter of Theo and an advocate of his contract renewal, its great seeing him really kick on this year, both in terms of his finishing and his willingness to take responsibility. There are still some tactical questions about how best to utilise him whilst maintaining team balance, but 18 goals and 12 assists in 29 games is not to be sniffed at by anyone. Despite his early season sabbatical and largely playing out wide, he now has overtaken Bale, Defoe, Dzeko, Rooney amongst others and sits fifth in this year’s Premier League goalscoring charts. We all said that it was time for him to step up, and so far he’s doing just that.
I also want to give some praise to the continued return to form of Aaron Ramsey. While lacking the physique and instincts of a prototypical deep-lying midfielder, he seems to be fitting in very well to the Arsenal 2012-13 interpretation of the role. His distribution was mostly excellent, he picked his opportunities to press forward well, and although on both occasions the ball eventually broke to a Liverpool player, he was the man tackling back and in the right position for the Liverpool goals. It is a role that suits him well as he likes to have a lot of the ball and has a lot of stamina, but currently lacks the speed of decision making to play further forwards to any great effect. He doesn’t yet have Arteta’s experience, calmness or nose for danger, but he does have a little more size and speed. While I’m not convinced that the approach the manager is employing at the base of our midfield complements the adventurous approach of our full-backs, it does seem Ramsey is a very able deputy for this role. It can either lead to him moving further forward as his game develops, or he could be the long term option for this position. I would certainly say he has more upside than Arteta if he can learn from the Spaniard’s mental approach to the game. Some may question where this leaves Coquelin, but I feel the Frenchman is more suited to a high energy box to box role.
Other than that, it seems a little pointless trying to draw conclusions from this game, because this team is so wildly inconsistent during matches and over the course of the season.
So all we can do now is wait until midnight and endure hours of ‘breaking news’, invented helicopter sightings and Harry Redknapp talking to anyone who’ll listen about how he needs to buy 5 players to help his poor bare bones squad of 30 senior professionals.
I wrote in a previous blog that the club needed to make a statement signing to lift the spirits and add significant quality. It seems that they tried to do just that with David Villa, but Barca’s progress in all competitions and the player in question having a child born three days ago seem to have put paid to that. With Man City sniffing around having de-Ballotelli-ed, it seems that ship has sailed, as if the player were to become available, the oil billions will win the day pretty quickly.
However, having shared Wenger’s ‘quality not quantity’ view, the departures on loan of Chamakh (to add to Park and Bendtner), Frimpong and Djourou, leave us exposed, especially with Gibbs picking up an injury last night. To put it into context, we are three injuries away from a team with Fabianksi, Squillachi and Santos in the starting eleven, and we haven’t been able to put a striker on the bench for three Premier League games. Given that it seems Arshavin is as much part of the Manager’s plans as he would be on loan in Russia, having to move Walcott or Podolski up front would also leave us short on the flanks, especially until the erratic Gervinho returns.
So I’m watching deadline day in hope rather than expectation, given the Manager’s comments, but even as one of his supporters, I would suggest a lack of arrivals (even on loan), would be tantamount to a dereliction of duty.