Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Arsenal 1-0 West Ham: Welbeck wonder-strike gives Gunners a semi

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You know, we could sit here this morning and talk about a game of football that was short on quality from the first whistle to the last. We could talk about Arsenal having lots of possession but failing to make as many chances as you would like. We could talk about how there was so little going on at times the commentator started talking about the type of shoes the stand-in fourth official was wearing (this seemed to excite him far more than anything that happened on the pitch).

We could, but we won’t. I don’t see the point of that. Does anyone need to hear anything more about Theo Walcott, for example, on a night when he demonstrated all the parts of his game which drive people up the walls? I think not. I’d rather focus on the positives, not least of which is that we’re now into the semi-final of the Carabao Cup.

That may not be everybody’s shining ambition at the start of the season, but we’re there and we’ll find out later this evening who we’re going to play. It could be Man City (gulp), but also one of Chelsea, Man Utd, Bristol City or Bournemouth. It’s gonna be one of the Manchester sides, I can feel it in me bunions. Anyway, that’s a worry for another day.

Arsene Wenger played a back four again, and I think all four of them – despite the fact they had little to do in general – played pretty well. Mathieu Debuchy showed enough again to assure us that Hector Bellerin has some decent back-up in this system. The two centre-halves, Calum Chambers and Rob Holding, were very solid, and even when West Ham introduced Andy Carroll – a man who looks like an almost bankrupt strip-club owner crossed with Victor Frankenstein’s best effort yet – they had no troubles at all.

Outside them, the selection of Sead Kolasinac – and the lack of Ainsley Maitland-Niles in the squad – raised some eyebrows. Has the Bosnian fallen so far from grace (can anyone who has seen Peaky Blinders hear that word without doing it in a thick Brummie accent?) that this is now his lot? Has he been injured? There was talk of a hip problem throughout the season so perhaps that’s part of it.

Whatever the thinking/reasoning behind it, he played as well as anyone on the night, creating a great chance in a first half which had little going for it from an attacking point of view. He looked defensively solid, again with the context that he didn’t have a lot to do, and perhaps put himself into contention for a start on Friday night – assuming this was about giving him playing time.

Further forward, Joe Willock – who just turned 18 in August – was impressive again. 92% passing accuracy, two tackles, three interceptions, and one superb run into the box which could have created real danger for West Ham. He looks a prospect. It’s early days, of course, but it’s promising to see a young midfielder come in and play with such calm and assurance.

Then there was the goal. Danny Welbeck scored it, wafting a leg at a cross he’d failed to meet with his head, and diverting the ball into the net with his majestic right shin. There’s now something almost magical about what he’s doing. Between his miskick/air-kick assists, and these finishes which are less than convincing, it’s like a piece of footballing performance art.

Tune in next week when he gets a hat-trick, scoring his first with his nose; his second by falling over backwards when trying a Cruyff turn and landing on the ball with his arse, squeezing it down, into the ground, up into the air and over the stranded goalkeeper; before sealing his treble by kicking the ball onto his right nipple – erect and stiff from the cold – and watching as the deflection wrong-foots everyone and the ball trickles barely over the line to the extent that we need the video replay to confirm it’s actually a goal.

While our inability to extend the lead might ordinarily have been a worry, it didn’t really seem that way last night. West Ham brought on Arnautovic, the Lidl Ibramhimovic, and he did nothing. My only regret is that Debuchy didn’t take some measure of revenge for that shove and kick him right in his stupid balls, but hey, you can’t have everything. They looked like they could have played all night and not scored, and while some of that has to be down to them, we should take credit for some of that too because we did stay focused throughout.

The only downside was the loss of Giroud late on with what looked like a serious hamstring strain. Even if the manager’s continued insistence on bringing him on for Alexandre Lacazette with twenty minutes to go frustrates, he is a good option from the bench and late in games as his 10 goals in 2017 after the 80th minute mark demonstrates.

At this time of the year, with so many matches to play, no injury is welcome, and barring some kind of Christmas miracle he’s out of Friday’s Premier League clash with Liverpool. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said:

I felt we played with quality and spirit and pace in the first half. Overall for 90 minutes we looked solid defensively and weren’t tested at the back too much. Tested, but not in danger. Second half we lost a bit of pace and were less creative and then couldn’t the game off. So it was down to not making a mistake.

Mistakes have not been in short supply recently, so fair play, we didn’t unnecessarily and without any good reason shoot ourselves in the foot. It’s some game time for some players who will be required over the next little while. Between league and FA Cup we have five games in 15 days, and the squad will need to be managed and rotated.

January gets no less hectic with a two-legged semi-final in this competition either, so keeping players match sharp is a positive thing. Right, now we can turn our attention to Friday night, the visit of Liverpool and all the rest. That’s what will occupy us for the rest of the week, so stay tuned here, and over on Arseblog News for all the build-up.

Have a good one.

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