What a difference a week makes.
It certainly is a long time in football.
Given the distance of 24 hours I’m much calmer about the performance and victory against Leicester City.
I’m more appreciative of the fact that we did take all three points, though our performance didn’t necessarily warrant them.
The selection was an exciting one. The quartet of Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, and Theo Walcott were joined by the returning Alexis Sánchez.
Leicester, meanwhile, selected three centre-halves – it had all the makings of an attack Vs. defence affair.
For the opening quarter of an hour it was one. But we weren’t doing the attacking.
In the opening couple of minutes Riyad Mahrez won the visitors a corner, and it was he who nearly opened the scoring in the thirteenth minute. Escaping down the left (where Bellerín was again naïve at times, albeit while being isolated by Theo Walcott) he fired the ball through David Ospina’s legs from a tight angle…thankfully too tight for the ball to nestle into the net. Lucky escape.
Every time one of our players received the ball with their back to goal anywhere near the box they were clattered. No bookings. Some free-kicks were given, making the decision not to hand out any yellow cards even more baffling. [He did eventually book Danny Simpson, but evened it up with a card to Giroud just minutes later. Giroud had the ball kicked at him by Mark Schwarzer, and the decision epitomised Jones’ performance.]
This seemed to wake us up and, well, thank Dennis for Mesut Özil.
The German vacated the left wing and began to play the game on his own terms. Our first chance fell to Walcott after a cutting pass was spotted and executed by Özil with typical precision.
Unsatisfied with Walcott’s finish, the German took matters into his own hands yet again. A fantastic dribble led to a smart effort being tipped wide by veteran goalkeeper Schwarzer. Özil himself took the resulting corner, whipping in a low ball, which was really tidily dispatched by Laurent Koscielny.
One-nil to The Arsenal after 27 minutes.
After better passages of play the lead was doubled just a few minutes before half-time.
Özil again at the centre of things, Schwarzer could only parry his long-range effort straight to Walcott, who finished excellently.
A very quiet and largely anonymous evening for Walcott, but he did at least get himself on the scoresheet again. Three goals in three starts, but he doesn’t get involved very much in any other aspect of the game – quite the conundrum for Arsène Wenger.
2-0 at half-time against the team 20th in the Premier League.
That’s your bread and butter, isn’t it? Sailing shouldn’t really get much more plain.
But it does.
Leicester weren’t exactly revitalised by the break, but we encouraged them. We sat off but without a compact shape: neither pressing nor making ourselves difficult to break down.
Essentially we did nothing to make the game difficult for them.
The goal came just after an hour.
Jeffrey Schlupp’s work down the right led to a good chance for Andrej Kramarić. Ospina saved his effort but parried it straight back out – this seems to be a worrying trend when the Colombian stopper makes a save, particularly low down. The attack continued and led to a corner, from which Kramarić netted his first goal in English football.
More than once there was an opportunity to get rid of the ball, but indecisive headers allowed Kramarić an effort from the edge of the box, which he thrashed into the near post.
Surprisingly Alexis – who had an issue with his knee in the first half – had re-emerged from the tunnel. As Arsène Wenger said, he didn’t look himself. He was replaced son after and it doesn’t look good for him for the time being. Olivier Giroud replaced him, but we didn’t use his strengths to really tighten our grip on the ball or the game.
As we lost our heads a bit and Leicester put more forwards on, the game became stretched.
We really lacked a calm head to just put his foot on the ball, slow the play down, and kill Leicester’s momentum.
Instead we rushed, played risky passes when we didn’t need to, and offered them the occasional counter-attack. No huge chances were surrendered but it’s this sort of situation that I would offer a kingdom (if I had one) for a fit Mikel Arteta.
To compound matters further we not only lost Alexis but look set to be without Aaron Ramsey for at least four weeks. The midfielder came on but only managed nine minutes before going off with a hamstring issue.
We did hold on, and the points are the most important thing. I get that, but I can’t help but look beyond it just a bit.
Being incapable of getting to grips with a five-defender system yet again is a worry.
After struggling against Hull and playing awfully against Liverpool at Anfield you would have thought this is something we’d have looked into.
Funnily enough both of those games were drawn 2-2 but – as was the case last night – results don’t always correlate with performances.
Hence, despite the 2-1 victory, my concern.
But, we responded to a huge blow at the weekend to come away with a win. It’s something to build on again, hopefully starting with a better performance against Middlesbrough on Sunday.