It wasn’t the most exciting game, nor the most thrilling, but a functional 2-0 win over Aston Villa put us top of the table yesterday afternoon. The goals came from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey, and while it felt pretty comfortable in general, a side with a better forward might well have made our lives a little more difficult in the end.
It began well with the award of an 8th minute penalty. Theo Walcott got on the end of a Mathieu Flamini pass, got goal side of Alan Hutton who grabbed him and clearly fouled him in the area. The referee did nothing. It looked like he was going to play on but a few seconds later pointed to the spot. On Match of the Day 2 last night they said it was the linesman 30 yards behind the referee on the left hand side of the pitch who signalled to the referee that it was a penalty.
While there was no doubt it was the right decision, I don’t think it’s unfair to question why it took an official a long way from what happened to give it when the referee himself had a perfect view of it from much closer in. It was as obvious a penalty as you’ll see, so I don’t really understand why he didn’t make the award himself.
Still, it was given, Giroud stepped up and confidently dispatched the spot kick to put us ahead. The Frenchman was cross with himself later that he didn’t do more with a Mesut Ozil free kick, but in general the game was pretty dull fare until we got our second.
It began with Ramsey winning the ball deep in our half. Giroud fed Ozil who played it to Walcott in the centre circle. The first three kept running, Walcott fed it through midfield to Ozil and when it was clear that the Aston Villa players had not bothered to chase them back, it was left for the German to square to Ramsey to finish what was a scintillating move.
It’s little wonder that Villa are in such trouble. I know it’s an intangible but the Arsenal players wanted to make something happen, the opposition just couldn’t be arsed trying to stop them, and that was the difference.
In the second half I thought we looked a bit leggy, the effects of Wednesday night played their part, and while Alan Hutton is a fantastic comedy villain, what with his constant fouling and being a bit crap and that, he did put in some decent crosses from the right side. Rudy Gestede didn’t connect properly with a header he should have at least got on target, while Scott Sinclair headed over the bar from inside our six-yard box.
There were other efforts on goal that weren’t too far away and it was a bit of a worry that Villa were allowed the space to have those opportunities. Certainly a better side would have caused us more problems and given that we face Man City a week from today, it’s something we’re going to have to work on.
It feels as if the midfield balance isn’t quite right. Ramsey is obviously a player who makes things happen in the final third (he has 2 goals and 2 assists in his 3 games back in the middle), but the other side of that is that we can be exposed with greater frequency than we were when we had Coquelin and Cazorla together in there.
Maybe some will say it’s churlish to point it out after a win that sends us top of the table, but ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away. In the short-term improvement has to come from within, from perhaps curbing Ramsey’s attacking instincts a little, but in January it feels more and more like the kind of signing we should make is a player who can allow him to do what he does best and provide greater defensive security. Who that is, I have no idea, but maybe our data boffins can find the right man.
Anyway, it’s something I think we need to be mindful of and maybe when you do face better teams with better players there’s more natural caution to your game. I guess we’ll find out next Monday evening because that will certainly be a greater test than Villa.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:
It was a convincing performance overall. In the first half we dominated the situation very well and got two goals. In the second half it was a bit more difficult physically because we gave a lot on Wednesday night and you could see that the legs were a bit tired.
I do think we forget a little easily how a midweek trip away from home can have an effect on the subsequent league game, especially when you have to go away again. So to come through it with a win, and another clean sheet, is very positive. We’re top of the table for now, although that could change if Leicester beat Chelsea this evening, and that’s obviously a very decent place to be.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the players got a couple of days off this week to recuperate ahead of what’s going to be a very tough schedule. Not playing again for a full week means aches and strains can be treated, and hopefully we’ll be in good shape for Man City, and for the festive games which are going to be really testing.
James and I will be here this morning with an Arsecast Extra looking back at the weekend, and we’ll have reaction to the Champions League draw which takes place later on. Will it be Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid; Wolfsburg or Zenit? My money’s on my old home town, Alexis returning to his old club, and Mesut doing a Davor Suker on them.
Podcast will be up around lunch, all the news and the Champions League draw reaction on Arseblog News. Until later, have a good one.