When you win and score six, it’s easy to think that everything is rosy and that decisions which were questioned before kickoff didn’t, ultimately, matter.
Hindsight is, as we all know, amazingly useful and never wrong, but with Granit Xhaka set to serve a three-game domestic suspension because Jon Moss got his rules mixed up, most people expected Granit Xhaka to start against the Bulgarian champions midweek
Arsene Wenger, perhaps not wanting to make the same mistake as he has done in previous group games against so-called weaker opposition plumped for his first choice midfield paring of Coqzorla, and we were rewarded with a quite excellent display of ball recovery from Francis, six goals from Arsenal, and one (serious or not, nobody knows yet) ankle injury for Cazorla.
That injury meant that, with Xhaka’s suspension in play against Boro, Ramsey still not fit because his hamstrings are made of the same stuff they use to make ‘cheese’ in a can, and Wilshere at Bournemouth, Wenger had no choice but to play Elneny alongside Coquelin in the Premier League.
It shouldn’t have been much of an issue.
Boro went into this game with just six points from nine games having scored only 7 but conceding 11 and confidence levels said to be hovering around rock-bottom.
But nobody factored in Arsenal’s Care in the Community scheme that they wheel out at least once a season to help a struggling side get their campaign kick started.
The inclusion of Elneny alongside Coquelin, Coq ‘n’ El, meant that we were stuck with two midfielders who are quite average when it comes to passing insight, with both quite capable of keeping the ball moving, but never in any meaningful way.
Their sideways stats shows the lack of penetration that we endured on Saturday
Would Santi have made a difference?
Without a time machine, we will never know for certain. But if you had to unlock a defence and had only one player to pick from Elneny, Coquelin or Cazorla to do it for you, who are you going to turn to?
Coquelin is good at what he is employed to do – break up play. So is Elneny. We were never going to need both of them against a team that wanted to sit 11 deep in their own half and look for a chance to springa counter should it come their way.
The lack of movement up top perhaps belied the faith the front three had in being picked out by one of the midfielders behind them, hence we saw Ozil and Sanchez drop deeper and deeper as they looked to try and pass the pass they wanted passed to them.
That took away one of our attacking options, blunting things further.
The 0-0 draw itself will not likely be fatal and many teams will struggle against Aitor Karanka’s men if they show the same sort of defensive discipline and work rate that they produced at the Emirates.
What it does do, however, is highlight how one small decision can impact things further down the line and how this game, that we all think of as so simple, is never, ever as black and white as the pundits would have you believe.
Sometimes it’s the decisions on the day that determine the result.
Sometimes it’s one you made when you weren’t even thinking of this game.