And then there were three …

We’re bending into the home straight now and the yellow tape of the finishing line is coming into soft focus. I think there are some regrets from the United game- not least that Bacary Sagna didn’t just go the whole hog and boot Robin van Persie into orbit. We’re unlikely to face a Ferguson side that preoccupied again. van Persie’s  penalty conversion gave him the opportunity to execute the most nauseating fad currently infecting football. The non celebration.

Apparently this is supposed to be interpreted as a sign of “respect” for the opposition fans that used to sing your name so. My annoyance with this hyper PC idiocy is not exclusively limited to van Persie here. It’s football, you’re supposed to try and score for your team. Don’t apologise for it. That’s just pandering to the sort of people that love to be offended. Hopefully you’ll agree, dear reader, that those people ought to be flown to the sun wrapped in silver foil. Unfortunately, they’re actually the people that book comedy acts for PFA shindigs before complaining about them bitterly.

Whatever next? Will players apologise to their former supporters for goal line clearances? Maybe they can pen mawkish memoirs on their personal websites begging for atonement, having executed a particularly good tackle against their former club. We all hate you Robin, so just celebrate. You pretty much took a torch to the “dignified respect for your long term employers” train about the time you hit the submit button on that risible statement last July. Don’t insult people’s intelligence. That goes for other footballers too. We know you’re happy about scoring. You’re supposed to be. Don’t kowtow to the emotionally incontinent who can’t deal with that.

Speaking of emotional outrage, we play at Loftus Road on Saturday and doubtless you’ll be tired of the coverage ticket pricing for this match has generated. Arsenal fans are of course being charged £55 to watch Arsenal play a Championship team in a ground that would pass for a penal institution in some cultures. I know, I know, you’re bored beyond collective sighing as this rehearsed indignation has once again danced across the interweb this week….

Despite QPR’s inadequacies and ‘Arry’s pocketbook of “not me guv” excuses (I love it when he refers to Rangers as “they”) this is a game that worries me. All of our remaining fixtures worry me. (That said, not sure I can recall an Arsenal game in the last twenty years that didn’t). Despite a buoyant, enthusiastic start against a bleary eyed United, Arsenal seemed to become increasingly introverted as the game progressed. This was true of the Fulham match too. For all the talk of Arsenal having been there and done it with regards to Champions League qualification, we look incredibly uptight about it all.

There are personnel issues that give cause for anxiety. How we augment the loss of Giroud is a question that was not resoundingly answered against United. Bar a couple of counter attacks in the first half, we never really looked like hurting them. Podolski has the ingredients of a second striker (Anam explores his performance more in depth here)  arriving undetected in the penalty whilst opposing defenders are occupied with chewing a meatier fillet, but outside the area and with his back to goal, he’s food and drink for centre halves. I think Walcott’s loss of form has coincided with Arsenal taking a more solid defensive shape off the ball.

Theo is at his best when Arsenal win the ball high up the pitch and he can pant in from that right touchline like a puppy gesturing towards the front door with its leash in its mouth. That was exactly how he broke his recent scoring duck against United. But Arsenal are favouring a more stand offish, shape based approach off the ball and it’s difficult to argue with the defensive results it has yielded. Walcott is not nearly as effective within that mode of play.

We actually finished the game against United with more of a 4-4-1-1 shape, with Cazorla playing on the shoulder of Gervinho upfront. Walcott and Chamberlain became orthodox wingers betwixt a Wilshere-Arteta midfield sandwich. I think this tweak was less about Cazorla’s ability to play a killer ball into the marauding Gervinho (!) and more about moving Cazorla a bit closer to the opponent’s goal. Arsenal’s striking options are of such a poverty that Santi was effectively handed the bindle and hanky for the whole attack. We’ll see if this is a portent for how the Gunners line up for the remainder of Giroud’s suspension.

You could ask if it’s worth Arsenal’s while reverting to the high pressing game for the games against Wigan and QPR. You’d hope we’d still have the defensive nous to deal with QPR and Wigan (right? Guys? GUYS?) if it meant playing to the strengths of players like Gervinho and Walcott. In essence, this has been Arsenal’s season long battle in a nutshell, wrestling between their attacking instinct and the need for security. The team isn’t balanced yet so one strategy has always had to dominate the other without the two interlinking effectively.

The problem with reinstating the high pressing game is that its two most faithful proponents are Rosicky and Wilshere- and both have fitness issues. Essentially, we’re trying to manage them as though they are one player at the moment, with one substituting the other relatively early in the game. I’m not convinced that has really done many favours for our rhythm in midfield. Consequently, it’s our more defensive players that have been the most positive contributor to results of late. Mertesacker, Koscielny, Ramsey and Arteta would all likely feature in our top 5 performers for March and April.

Sans Giroud I just don’t see our attack felicitously forging the sort of explosive chemistry that will power us over the line. I think that rearguard is going to have to see us through for one final push. The Frenchman is the only player we have that can properly play the spearhead role. If that was obvious enough last summer, it was positively glaring by January. The unwillingness or inability (delete as applicable) to rectify that could be very costly. But I guess there’s very little we can do about it now.

It does strike me that we’re in the position of hoping that the defence stays firm and crossing our fingers for some Cazorla magic. We’re the men that have built our house on Santi. Let’s hope the floods hold off for just a little longer. In closing, the Arsenal U-21s play at Underhill for the last ever time on Friday night against Liverpool. Entry is free and kickoff is at 6.30pm. The Ladies also play their curly haired, shell suited counterparts at the Emirates on Tuesday. Summer’s coming, so get your fix while you can. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

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