Tell me if this sounds familiar: Arsenal play at home to a side with a relatively unheralded keeper, go on to create an absurd number of chances, said keeper has the game of his life, and Arsenal end up going one-nil down before mounting a valiant comeback which ends in a late equalizer from, probably, Alexis Sanchez.*
*Arsenal fans all suddenly experience a profound sense of Déjà vu
This has so often been the case for Arsenal – unspeakable beauty mixed with very little cutting edge. On their day, Arsenal can send a relegation-threatened side back to the Stone Age with their football, but there are always regrettable slip-ups, slip-ups we end up bemoaning when we see how far behind the Gunners are in the title-race. If only we beat such and such…
But on Saturday, that wasn’t the case, thankfully.
Still lacking an edge, wasting golden opportunities and allowing lesser sides to stick around for FAR too long, Arsenal managed a 2-0 victory over Stoke City.
How they managed to score two goals despite doing this…
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) September 12, 2015
…I’ll never know.
Big chance after big chance was wasted, but in the end all that matters is the victory that took Arsenal to third in the Premier League table.
What do we take away from such a thoroughly dominating performance?
The defence had yet another assured, calm game, allowing just two shots within the box. Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla, the team’s creative hub, combined for two assists and 15(!) key passes, while Hector Bellerin contributed with four key passes (all of them yielding what Opta terms ‘big chances’).
It was very much a team performance, but it was the meaty french forehead of Olivier Giroud and the cool, composed finish from Theo Walcott that secured the actual points.
So often, the conversation surrounding Giroud and Walcott has been about which player is more better suited to being Arsenal’s main striker.
Arsene Wenger, indeed the only person’s opinion that tangibly matters, is seemingly intent on rotating them, but never playing them together. Which is a pity, because each player’s goal was a testimony to what they offer, and their respective misses (and there were many) hinted at why neither will ever be able to truly make the most of the creative artistry behind them.
Francis Coquelin, who had one of his better games of the season, broke-up play in the middle, the ball made its way to Mesut Ozil, the World Cup-winner scanned the field, and unleashed a soft, poetic ball from juts beyond the halfway line.
The camera couldn’t even pan fast enough to keep up with Ozil’s otherworldly vision and speed. The ball eventually landed on Walcott’s foot, the speed demon wearing the historic #14 cushioned the ball, took his first touch, held off his defender and finished neatly past a determined Jack Butland.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain draws a foul six metres or so inside the corner flag. Free-kick to the Arsenal. Santi Cazorla steps up, swings in a curling cross that is met by the model masquerading as a footballer and Giroud tucked the ball into the back of the net, infuriating the thousands of Twitter accounts shouting abuse at him. “FFS Giroud” was laid to rest again.
Now, explain to me why those two acts of smart football cannot co-exist?
Why can’t Walcott simply start on the right and be given free reign to make runs through the middle when the opportunity presents itself? Why can’t Giroud just start in the middle, hold the ball up, be a powerful presence in the air (both offensively and defensively) and act as a foil for the likes of Alexis, Cazorla, Ozil, Ramsey and Walcott?
Oh, I know, we come back to the debate that will be answered by age rather than firm decision-making – do you sit Cazorla or Ramsey out?
On the left, all of Arsenal’s goals and shots on target. On the right, all of the goals and shots on target Arsenal have conceded. Huge discrepancy, especially when it comes to shots close to goal and central. Real dominance in each game so far this season.
Credit: @FootballFactMan (Paul Riley)
Arsenal are still the leaders in shots (22.4), shots on target (7.8) and second in shots conceded (8.8), but have somehow only scored five goals and conceded three.
This will change, it simply has to.
Arsenal have created 18 ‘big chances’, but have only converted three of them.
Time will heal this wound, and the defence is already stellar, but I can’t help but feel that Ramsey’s role on the right is not only slowing play down, but also allowing teams to make life more difficult for the team’s greatest threat, Alexis.
It’s been established that Walcott is a nightmare for defenders, so playing him on the right (with Bellerin) would free up more space on the opposite flank too.
Alas, Wenger’s current set-up is working (to an extent), so he has no overwhelming reason to change it.
Here’s hoping he won’t regret this decision in the future.