So, we remain top of the table after a 2-0 win over Fulham which was deserved but not without moments that could be classed as concerning.
We started brightly, very much on the front foot, and Mesut Ozil might have scored in the 4th minute only to connect poorly with a right footed effort which was cleared off the line. It also had Olivier Giroud asking why he didn’t pull it back, but it was encouraging.
After that, however, we seemed to retreat into our shell a little bit. The game became flat and one-paced, and that suited Fulham who grew in confidence and began passing it around quite nicely. Szczesny had to make a good stop from a Sidwell volley, be alert to stop Dejagah (his name makes me think of that goddam Maroon 5 song, so he has jumped very close to the top of my most hated players list), and only for a club-footed mule of a touch from Kacaniklic we might well have found ourselves behind.
But we weathered the storm … storm is overplaying it … squall might be a better word, and as the half drew to a close we looked more threatening. A Cazorla free kick rebounded to Sagna who saw a left footed drive save before Giroud was given offside.
The second half began with some dangerous head tennis in our box, Giroud making a fine block to keep them out, before we started to get on top. Serge Gnabry, who clearly fancied a goal, took his 4th shot of the day. It was the only one on target at that point and Stekelenburg made a good save, but the young German was relentlessly positive all day and it’s hard sometimes to tally that with the fact he’s just 18 years of age.
Sagna almost opened the scoring after a great Cazorla free kick, Koscielny miskicked the rebound from 3 yards out and Gnabry cut inside but saw his effort blocked by a Fulham defender. We weren’t so much knocking on the door but pounding on it like the big bad wolf.
The goal, when it came, was beautifully worked. Cazorla cut inside from the left, he played it to Giroud on the edge of the box who gave it first time to Wilshere. Jack cut it back inside and Santi, continuing his run into the box, finished perfectly from the penalty spot. The Spaniard had been tracked by the annoyingly named Fulham man whose manager must have been saying ‘You’ve got to move Dejagah’ (argh, please kill me).
Five minutes later it was 2-0. Hangeland headed out a Monreal cross, it fell to Cazorla in the D, he took a touch then unleashed a low left footed shot which went through Sidwell’s legs and, eventually, into the net. That’s three in three games for the former Malaga man now, and the manager spoke afterwards about how dangerous he’d been and how he’s now finding his level again.
Podolski came on and rattled the post with a mighty shot that Stekelenburg got a good hand to but there was to be no scary finale like at Villa Park. We remained error free right until the end when Darren Bent, a bit fortuitously, found himself clean through but in true Darren Bent style put the ball wide with the goal at his mercy. A very late Szczesny fumble was recovered by the keeper and at that the game was done.
Afterwards, Arsene said:
We were in control for the 90 minutes but a bit one-paced in the first half with our passing. In the second half when we got up a gear we scored the goals. We had a few more chances but overall in games against teams who fight not to go down, it is very difficult. Sometimes it is a question of patience.
I’m struggling to do much with this game/performance other than to file it away under the ‘Three nice points, thank you’, category. That isn’t to say I thought we were brilliant, or that we played anywhere near as well as we can, but when it comes right down to it, these are the home games you’re expected to win, and win we did.
I think there are individuals who are struggling a little bit but there are signs of others coming back to life. Santi Cazorla is the obvious example, after his two match winning goals, but I think we’re now beginning to see Jack Wilshere benefit from playing on a regular basis. He was always trying to make something happen and the deftness of his pass for Cazorla’s opening goal was really very nice indeed when you watch it again.
It gives the manager something to think about when we’ve got Ramsey and Arteta available again but it’s the very best kind of problem he can have, and the competition for places in this midfield could well be a big factor in how well the rest of this season plays out.
As for the interminable Ozil guff my feeling is this: he is a great player who isn’t playing as well as he can right now. However, when you watch him, you see a player who always wants the ball, always wants to be involved and always wants to find a positive pass. It’s difficult find that pass when you’ve got one man ahead of you in a penalty box stuffed with 6 or 7 defenders, so perhaps we need to look at helping him make things happen rather than standing waiting for him to do it.
He’ll come through this relatively difficult patch, no doubt about it, but I’d be worried if he was a player who was hiding or didn’t look to get involved. Even at the very nadir of his form Aaron Ramsey was constantly seeking the ball, Ozil is the same, and I’m 100% positive that we’ll see a similar upturn from the German.
I get that people expect a lot from a £42m player but he is a player, not a robot, and is subject to the vagaries of form just like any other. It’s also worth pointing out that many of the complaints stem from the price-tag, not what he actually does, and it seems to me as if there’s always got to be something to complain about.
We’re top of the league, in great shape, we’ve got room for improvement and to play better, and to me that’s encouraging rather than something to get bent out of shape about.