It is a thankless task writing about football, or any sport come to that.
You never know what’s going to happen from one match to the next, which of course is part of why we love it so much. Your preconceived notions can be torn to shreds, your carefully constructed narratives destroyed in the flash of a boot, a bat, a ball, a fist.
Sticking to the football – which is why you’re here after all – I learned nothing from last week’s self penned words about not rushing judgements. The team news came down ahead of our match with Hull City, Alexis at number 9, the continuation of Coqzorla and I was off.
Off my head with rage – and remember I’m someone who likes both Cazorla (understandable, I think) and Coquelin (slightly less understandable in some quarters).
Why were we persisting with someone who looks lost at #9? Why the continuation of a midfield partnership for the third game in a week? Why was Petr Cech back in goal? Okay, I made that last one up a little, although…
Ninety minutes of football later, Arsène Wenger was able to reflect on a job well done, particularly off the back of the PSG point. Arsenal had turned in their most impressive 90 minutes of the season to date, with Coquelin highly influential. For his part, Alexis could have had a hat-trick, if only he could take a penalty properly. Doesn’t he know the correct way to do it is to smash it down the middle?
Seriously, though, not to dwell too long on our victory at Nottingham Forest, how nice was it to see Lucas smash his penalty, so many penalties by the way, into the top corner? That’s how you do it! I liked his second goal too, a lot. That seems a very atypical Arsenal goal, so if that’s what he’s going to bring to the party, I can’t wait to see some more of him.
Anyway, back to Hull, go straight back to Hull boy.
It just goes to show the truth of something else I said last week, which is that the manager has more information at his disposal than we could ever dream of. He also, whatever his faults, knows a thing or two about judging a player and building a team. Remember, this is the man who not only won the league unbeaten, but also guided a team containing Denilson, Bendtner and Eboue into the Champions League spots.
The deployment of Alexis at centre forward allowed for the inclusion of Alex Iwobi at left wing and Iwobi put in a performance which underlined his growing importance to this Arsenal team. It also showed the value of having a mobile front three, with Theo showing exactly why certain writers at Daily Cannon – okay, Helen and Matthew – regard him so highly.
What’s interesting is that every game we play without the most handsome, extravagant footballer in the world leading the line is another step away from the style of play Giroud (you knew I was talking about him, right?) encourages. We can’t play to Alexis in the same way, because Alexis can’t do the things that Giroud does.
But he can facilitate a much more lively, exciting, style of play.
There will inevitably be growing pains as this style evolves, assuming it does, but perhaps Arsène has decided that the potential reward outweighs the risk. It’s early days for Lucas, of course, but it would seem his signing was made with this shift in mind.
Granit Xhaka’s continued presence on the bench for Premier League fixtures was obviously a sore point for Gooners the world over on Saturday. Happily though, his omission proved to be a footnote to this match. Whisper it, but perhaps Arsène is actually being very smart in not bringing him in straight away. His presence is bound to keep Cazorla and Coquelin honest; they know that a drop in standard and it’ll be Xhaka can.
And if we didn’t know he can already, we do now.
I’m not quite sure that unleashing 30 yard piledrivers into the top corner of opposition goals is going to do him many favours with a manager who favours the collective approach.
Then again, if you can, then why not?
Xhaka showed his prowess again in the League cup against Nottingham and his willingness to shoot, but also hit the target opens up all sorts of possibilities. Particularly in a team which, now Santi Cazorla has apparently forgotten how to hit a football, has very little goal threat from outside the box. With all due respect to Alexis and Aaron Ramsey’s occasional moments of brilliance.
It strikes me that the clamour around Xhaka is a little reminiscent of being a kid around your Christmas. You have plenty of perfectly serviceable toys already in your possession and you’re happy with that. But the Millennium Falcon shaped package under the tree looks far, far too tempting; it’s dominating your thoughts.
You want it now.
Look at it.
Granit Xhaka is that Millennium Falcon, we want him now.
I have half a mind that, despite the narrative around the Coqzorla partnership, this Saturday may see Xhaka’s Premier League career in earnest. However, that feeling is one based in the knowledge that Chelsea are almost certain to sit deep and hit us on the counter. Having a midfielder capable of unleashing Xhaka bombs from distance may make them think twice; and it’s not like this is all he brings to the party, is it?
I’m looking forward to this Chelsea game, I must admit. With a certain degree of trepidation, it’s true – as last year, we always seem to find a way to lose against them. I just feel that perhaps Arsenal are finally ready to turn the blue tide back.
The proof will be in the playing, of course, but I think Chelsea usually represent an accurate barometer of how good this team is. For once, we may actually prove to be up to the task.
Please God, let me be right…