Friday, May 24, 2024

With a nod to John McClane

Victory over Spurs. Qualification for the knockout round of the Champions League. A pair of two goal leads that have remained chaste. Without wishing to jinx anything, I think this week is proof positive that our problems are solved forever. I kid of course. The last four or five years have followed a seemingly endless pattern and at the moment, we appear to be on the incline of the trend.

A big defeat leaves us reeling, our confidence deserts us for a few games and we play within ourselves for 3-4 matches. A scrapped out win, a couple of unconvincing draws and possibly another defeat are thrown into the mix. Then we produce a big result, the confidence slowly returns, the team start to show signs of a pleasing synergy until…..well, then another significant defeat hits us and so we begin the cycle again. But let us not be too cynical this week, because there have been some big positives aside from the 6 points collated.

Most pleasing about Saturday were the signs that webs of understanding are being weaved. The front four looked as symbiotic as they have at any point this season. Walcott, Cazorla and Podolski buzzed pleasingly behind queen bee Giroud. To emphasise the point, Walcott, Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud all scored classic “centre forward” goals inside the penalty area. But Podolski, Walcott and Cazorla were also able to conjure up assists with near classical wing play.

For these reasons the likes of Poldi and Theo needn’t obsess too much about how centrally they figure in the formation graphic. So long as the understanding is good between the attacking players, they will all get chances in the centre. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Ljungberg and Pires never allowed their status as wide players to prevent them from foraging for nuts and berries in the penalty area.

The manager spoke about a greater sense of shared responsibility in attack with van Persie having rowed, rowed, rowed his boat cuntily down the stream. This time last year he had scored 13 of our 25 goals in the league. So far this season, no one player has more than four of our 23. Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud have four each, Gervinho and Walcott 3 apiece. That suggests that the manager’s vision is coming to fruition in that area.

With a centre forward like Giroud it makes sense to have a wide option feeding him. Walcott has tossed 31 crosses into the opposition penalty area in the last two Premier League matches. Only 3 have found an Arsenal player, but crossing tends to be a hopeful exercise anyway, and shouldn’t be relied upon as a staple tactic. Crossing success rates are generally low.

The important aspect is that the 3 crosses Theo produced that did hit a teammate have all been dispatched. (Vermaelen’s cross against Montpellier also led to a goal). We shouldn’t be throwing balls into the area all the time, but it shows that, if the delivery is good, we have the players that make it a worthwhile option if required. Arsene seems to pinpoint Giroud’s recent form to him acclimatising to his teammates.

“I always think the guy who is up front has to adjust to the players he plays with. His runs are dictated by what the others behind him are capable of doing. We have players now in midfield, like Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta, who can find you if you make the right quality of runs.”

But I think his blossoming is just as much to do with his teammates acclimatising to him. I’m minded of the game at Anfield in early September when he cut a frustrated- if hunky- figure; showing early for passes from the centre circle, grappling with a defender and holding play up, only to find no teammate within thirty yards of him. Arsene acknowledged this in part in his post Montpellier press conference,

“Giroud is good when he plays completely on the offside line. Sometimes when he doesn’t get the ball enough he wants to come deep. That is not his game.”

The build-up to Cazorla’s goal against Spurs shows that the penny has dropped and his colleagues have recognised the value in getting closer to him. Wilshere certainly benefited from this with his goal on Wednesday night too. Because Giroud’s teammates now appreciate his hold up play, they are getting closer to him higher up the pitch, where his physicality is more dangerous.

So far as I see it, the main issue upfront is one of depth. To this end, Wenger hasn’t ruled out calling up a sympathetic ex for one last night of passion in the shape of Henry. Putting the romantic appeal of signing Henry to one side, a longer term option surely has to be the priority? Arsene pinpoints the loss of Gervinho and Chamakh as leaving us light upfront. But Gervinho has been a striker by default only and Chamakh hasn’t so much as a solitary minute of league football under his belt this season.

The striker market is likely to be competitive in January. The Manchester clubs look pretty well stocked up there. Other than that, most of our immediate competitors, both on our coat tails and hovering above us, will be looking to add in this area. But we have money. Plenty of it. We need a striker. So let’s buy a Mertesacking striker. Henry should be an absolute last resort. But it is a tough market.

The harsh reality is, we’re left to hoover up the players Madrid, Barca, United, City and Chelsea don’t want / need and that would improve our squad. That’s the position whether people like it or not. But I really would like to think some sort of scouting would take place before settling on Henry. I don’t think that task to be beyond a manager that is paid £7.5m a year. If we do plump for Thierry once more, the suspicion that we’re again prepared to “make do and mend” in a critical area of the pitch will linger.

The midfield is showing growing signs of understanding too I think. This piece from @hazzaboy21 talks about Wilshere’s return and its permutations. The article makes a pertinent point that, at least initially, Wilshere’s return has posed a problem for Arteta. Jack likes to play slightly higher up the pitch than Diaby did early in the season. The upshot has been that Arteta, Arsenal’s umbilical cord, has been cut adrift.

Opposing teams have found joy in sitting a withdrawn striker on Arteta to prevent him from germinating possession from deep. Jack has dovetailed much more effectively with Mikel in the last two games and that understanding will develop further given time. Villas Boas sent Clint Dempsey on at half time to play the withdrawn striker role, but the American was unable to prevent Arteta’s flow with Arsenal sitting deeper, poised like snakes in the grass, waiting to launch counter attacks.

Indeed, when asked about Jack’s goal on Wednesday night, Wenger was keen to emphasise his defensive responsibilities as Arsenal’s pivot, or ‘go between’ midfielder betwixt Arteta and Cazorla, “He should not be too obsessed by that (scoring goals). He defended well, he is the kind of player who has to be a complete midfielder not purely an offensive player.”

We’re in a stage where we play every three or four days now with a seemingly endless cavalcade of tough away matches on the horizon. Rotation will be required and we’re about to see just how much the manager trusts his squad. Hopefully the next time I write to you, another six points will have been greedily gobbled up, the remnants dribbling down our chins. Until then, yippi ki yay Mertesackers. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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