We have arrived at the point of the season that I refer to as “the abacus stage.” When the finishing line is in sight, our brains are abuzz with equations. We make mathematical hypotheses based on fixtures remaining and projected results. Our calculations are complicated by psychology. Even in areas of the table that seemingly don’t affect you, cross references are made. For instance, what ramifications for Wigan’s defeat against Manchester City on Wednesday for our fixture against them in May? Will the Cup Final that immediately precedes our encounter have a positive or negative impact?
What about QPR in May? Will they already be relegated by the time we meet? Could we relegate them ourselves with a positive result? What possible implications could that have on their performance? Was Fulham’s meek surrender to Chelsea indicative of a team with nothing to play for going through the motions? Or will there be an affirmative response when they play against us on Saturday?
As if these dizzying forecasts weren’t enough, there’s a big elephant taking a vindaloo fuelled shit in the corner of the room. The prospect of Manchester United wrapping up the title in our environs is a horribly likely prospect. My brain just hasn’t been able to compute the ramifications of United and City’s results recently. I have literally had no idea which combination of results we should be hoping for. We’ll be wanting City to beat Spurs on Sunday, but does this make the ‘doomsday scenario’ more likely?
Did you ever see the Darren Aronofsky movie ∏? There’s a scene where the protagonist, Max, becomes so frenzied by calculation that he fantasises about drilling through his own brain with a Black and Decker. Maxy boy ought to count himself fortunate that he didn’t support a relegation threatened team in April. Maybe years of DIY lobotomy is to blame for the increasingly deranged ramblings of football pundits? This possibly explains their proneness to logical aberration. You know, like thinking nothing of linesmen routinely making offside decisions from forty yards away, but then acting perplexed when they award penalties from the same distance.
In the meantime, all the team and the manager can do is focus on themselves and they’ve given themselves (and, by extension, us) plenty to ponder in the last week. Jack Wilshere returned for the games against Norwich and Everton and his performances were rusty to say the least. The Everton game represented an improvement on a listless performance against Norwich, which suggests cobwebs are being blown away. Naturally, this has promoted some discussion as to how he fits into the team.
Last week I touched on my impression that Wilshere and Cazorla have been uneasy companions in midfield. This is a theme that has been taken up in greater detail this week, most notably in this piece. I’m not sure I necessarily subscribe to the idea that having Cazorla out wide is the issue. The wee Spaniard has played from the left for the majority of our recent good run. I think the issue between the two is more ‘psychic’ than that and therefore, I believe it will be very short term.
As Anam pointed out, Cesc Fabregas had similar issues adjusting to the trequartista role. I recall Wenger showing a brief reluctance to play Ljungberg and Pires in the same side owing to issues of balance. When the “car keys” of the Arsenal team were being handed from an half fit Thierry Henry to Cesc Fabregas in the 2006-07 season, Arsenal flitted from 4-4-2 to 4-5-1 from game to game, as the team adapted to its identity with its young Spanish figurehead. (A team built around Henry should always be as close to 4-4-2 as possible, but with Cesc as the kingmaker, greater security was required in defensive midfield).
I honestly believe that the “issue” between Cazorla and Wilshere will not last beyond the summer. Jack is still building up a rapport with Santi and vice versa. Both players have more than enough quality to rectify it. As it is, I think the conversation becomes less pronounced with a fitter, sharper Jack Wilshere. He’s still a young man and is building an in game intelligence and learning how to channel his energy more efficiently. In this respect, Aaron Ramsey’s recent upturn is instructive.
Ramsey is thirteen months older than Wilshere and lost a year of his career around eighteen months before Jack did. Rambo has earned commendation of late for his tireless energy levels, which have complimented Arteta’s more ‘Gilberto-esque’ qualities in front of the back four. Ramsey’s improvement is owed to a mixture of elements. Chief of which, in my opinion, is the development of his ‘in game intelligence.’ He has always had supreme energy levels and a heart to match, but he’s not just a trier.
You can deploy a wind-up toy in central midfield if you want somebody to just run around. Ramsey has begun to demonstrate the nous of when to run, when to hold, when to press. Having finally found a niche for himself in the side, Ramsey has been able to develop the sort of traits that only come with games. I’ve favourably compared him to Ray Parlour and he wasn’t merely a shit kicker either. Parlour didn’t play in five F.A. Cup Finals and win three league titles because he was the Keith Andrews of his day.
Ramsey is only at the very first stage of his improvement. With it, confidence will fertilize his performances and he’ll keep improving too. Stick with him. Jack will probably assume that understanding even more quickly. Whilst Ramsey and Wilshere are finding understanding simple to come by, there is less sympathy for Olivier Giroud this week after some missed opportunities of varying gradients on Tuesday night.
Amy Lawrence wrote an interesting piece on Arsenal’s striking options, or lack thereof. Giroud clearly lacks composure in front of goal, borne of over eagerness. The issue is that he’s not really a finisher. Podolski, Walcott and Cazorla are the finishers. They play off of Giroud and that’s a role the Frenchman performs very well.
I’m not convinced calls for an orthodox front two provide the answer as we have ostensibly been playing with a front two for some time now. Only one of Gervinho, Walcott or Podolski starts because their role is effectively as a second striker, albeit with a slightly wider starting point. I would be tempted to play Podolski in that second striker / winger role on Saturday. When the German came on against Norwich, he twice found space from the left side of the area as a result of Giroud’s target man function.
The first time, only miscontrol prevented Podolski from glancing the whites of the keeper’s eyes and on the second occasion he lashed a shot at the crossbar. I’m not convinced Walcott has adopted the winger / second striker role intelligently enough yet. He tends to just sprint idly into the penalty area when Arsenal attack whether there’s space there or not. Gervinho has played the role well but is still erratic in front of goal. I fancy Podolski has the intelligence of movement and the precision in front of goal to master it.
Giroud needs some of Podolski’s élan in front of goal. I recall Arsene saying of Ian Wright, “He was an excitable boy but you put him in front of goal and he became cold like a killer.” Obviously we can’t expect Giroud to morph into a natural finisher like Wright was, but Wenger’s post match comment was pointed I feel, when he said, “When in our finishing positions, we always wanted to use power.”
My other issue with Giroud is that too often he seeks out a cutback on the penalty spot when there are already runners from midfield occupying that space. We need him to attack the six yard area in the manner that he did for his goal against Norwich. There was an incident on Tuesday when Gibbs had gotten to the touchline and Giroud pulled away from him, leaving Gibbs with no viable options. (Gibbo wasn’t reluctant to show his annoyance either). Some of these issues may be soothed by the balm of time, but you can see why David Villa was on Arsene’s shopping list back in January. LD
Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA