Arsenal are firmly back on track after a week of two halves.
Well that was a contrast wasn’t it?
With the league cup game against Southampton being the worst performance so far this season, our first visit to the old Olympic Stadium was our most comprehensive and dominant display in weeks.
While my blood slowly turned to ice at the Emirates in midweek, much of the team on the pitch seemed to be as enthusiastic to be there as I was in the gods in the North Bank.
It was no great surprise that a midfield of Coquelin, Elneny and Ramsey was sorely lacking in creativity and cohesion, and there was precious little movement coming from Iwobi and Jeff on the wings. The net result of this was that a rusty Lucas Perez was left terribly isolated on his return from injury, and for all his running around found himself having to come deep to receive the ball. Accordingly, his lack of passing technique was frequently exposed by a well drilled Saints’ defence.
Arsenal moved the ball so slowly for the first hour that Southampton found it easy to keep them and arms length, and were able to play ‘rope a dope’. Despite claims afterwards by some in the media that Southampton could have scored five or six, they only had that many attacks in the whole game, and both their goals were brilliant strikes. That said, they had very little to do in order to score against an Arsenal team that looked like strangers.
Things got a little better in the second half, particularly when Oxlade-Chamberlain came on. Both he and Iwobi seemed determined to drag the team back into the match through energy and will alone, and the team created enough chances to even things up, but in all honesty deserved nothing from the game.
Much has been made of Jenkinson’s woeful display, but as a player who has a history of suffering dips in confidence, and who has missed the best part of a year, allowances have to be made. There remain serious question marks about his long term viability as an Arsenal squad player, but now is not the time to make conclusive judgements.
I was more frustrated with our Welsh Jesus, who strolled through the first half with a remarkable level of disinterest. Normally a player who never hides and is never afraid to try things, Aaron Ramsey put a display that was simultaneously overly-safe, wasteful and invisible. As one of the most senior members of the side, he should have been setting the tempo. Instead he stunk the place out in a major way.
Looking at the broader context, of late Ramsey has been getting a lot of stick and has been written off by some, but we need to remember how effective he has been in his best position when fit and consistently picked. For the first half of 2013/14 he was the best midfielder in the country by a distance, and not just in terms of goals scored. He was also top five in distance covered, tackles made, chances created and interceptions.
Crucially, he needs to remember this too, and perhaps what made him so successful. His utilisation as a free-roaming number ten for Wales seems to have affected his positional discipline and work-rate at club level (not to mention stints out wide), and he no longer feels like a secure option in a two man central midfield.
Of course, much like Frank Lampard, questions about defensive solidity and tactical suitability would be rendered largely irrelevant if he was back to that 15 goals a season plus form. Crucially, although not to the same degree, he is still getting chances, and could easily have had seven or eight goals this season since returning from injury, not to mention his incorrectly chalked off excellent finish against Liverpool on the opening day of the season.
In contrast, or perhaps as a reaction, to the display against Southampton, against West Ham we came out of the blocks with the tempo and attitude that was sorely lacking in midweek, and a patched up Hammers couldn’t live with us. They were ultimately lucky to only lose 5-1, even with a referee who applied the rules rather unevenly, with phantom yellow cards handed out to yellow shirts like confetti.
While aided by the injury to James Collins which forced the hosts to change their system, Arsenal were far superior throughout and only had their wastefulness in the first half to blame for not having a bigger lead at the break. That and a failure of our front players to attack good crosses from Monreal and The Ox.
Like several recent games, Arsenal were a little sluggish at the start of the second half, and threatened to let West Ham back into things.
However, unlike in the defeat to Southampton, it was the introduction of the aforementioned Mr. Ramsey that helped us take full control of the game in the second half, when the hitherto largely anonymous Walcott was replaced. At the weekend the Welshman was excellent.
Coquelin, despite a foolish booking, was dominant and the centre-halves impressed again, as did the out of position Gabriel. Perhaps this spell at full back may make him less prone to panicking in possession going forwards. If he can remain at least competent it gives Jenkinson a chance to get back up to speed out of the spotlight. On the other flank, perhaps freed by the presence of the more defensive Gabriel as his full-back partner, Monreal was excellent as an outlet and an attacking threat.
It was also great to see Oxlade-Chamberlain work through some sticky (brainless?) moments to show a full array of his direct running, passing and shooting ability. Despite ongoing consistency issues, he is bringing a lot more end product now than over the last two injury riddled seasons, and is staking a decent claim for a regular slot in the side.
Of course, it’s impossible to look beyond Alexis as the star man.
A little over a fortnight ago, we were all panicking about his ‘suicidal’ selection for a man of the match performance for Chile against Uruguay. Since then he’s got five goals and two assists and was only a crossbar against Bournemouth away from back to back hat-tricks.
Given that Ozil appears to be in a minor mid-winter malaise, the South American’s astonishing levels of performance are very well timed.
Other results have left us in second place, and well positioned for festive madness.
Although a draw would have been preferred, it was good of Man City to lose the plot at the end of the game against Chelsea, ensuring they will be without Aguero (who’s record against us is as good as you’d expect) and Fernandinho when we visit them in a fortnight.
Also, from a removed perspective, amusing to see the shamelessness of the refs inner circle, with a closet Man Utd fan appointing a Man Utd fan to officiate the City/Chelsea game. We’ve had enough of that over the years, so rather nice to see it happening elsewhere.
Elsewhere, the disappointment of Spurs being helped on their way by yet another farcical penalty award in their favour was tempered by the feats of Bournemouth, and Jose’s tactical genius in bringing on Fellaini to concede a penalty.
On another note, is anyone still disappointed that Jamie Vardy turned us down? Presumably, not as much as he is…