Saturday, December 27, 2014

Arsenal survive despite Giroud's moment of madness

I’m a big fan of Olivier Giroud. Too often he gets criticised for being too slow or making bad decisions, but it’s been no coincidence that Arsenal have looked more dangerous going forward since his return from injury. His link-up play is good and his finishing is improving. Yet what he did on Boxing Day against QPR was indefensible and put Arsenal under needless pressure.
At the point in the second half when Giroud put his head into the face of Nedum Onuoha, Arsenal were cruising, and it looked like a matter of time before a second goal would come. What was annoying was how ‘Arsenal’ it suddenly felt. The doubts crept in as the negative narrative to an easy game suddenly appeared. Playing a team without a point away from home all season, miss a penalty, finally score, control the game, then throw it away after a brainless red card. Thank goodness, then, for Alexis Sanchez and Tomas Rosicky.
In his first Premier League start of the season, Rosicky showed why many fans have been questioning his lack of game-time. Despite an injury for the last month, there were plenty of matches earlier in the season when the Czech’s turn of pace and control of the ball could have been invaluable during some patchy team performances. Thrust back into action on Boxing Day with a plethora of midfield injuries, Rosicky helped Arsenal control and game and scored the vital goal as things were threatening to take a turn for the worst. As others may have panicked around him, Rosicky’s experience came to the fore as he timed his run forward perfectly to finish off a mazy run from Alexis Sanchez, giving Arsenal the breathing space of a 2-0 lead.
Other midfielders will be returning from injury soon, but I hope Rosicky is used more as, despite being 34, he can still turn a game and inject pace into a move from midfield.
It was fitting that Alexis Sanchez bagged an excellent assist for Rosicky’s goal as the Chilean was the main threat again for the Gunners. He will need resting at some point, and I thought the game with QPR could have been the ideal opportunity as the trip to West Ham will kick off less than 48 hours after the game with the Hoops, but Alexis is invaluable at the moment. Even with ten men, Arsenal carried a threat going forward because of Alexis.
It seems one of the only things missing from his game is penalty taking. After winning the early spot kick, Alexis took it himself and couldn’t beat Robert Green with a weak shot that wasn’t right in the corner. After scoring two penalties this month, Santi Cazorla should have pulled rank on Alexis, despite the Chilean being awesome at almost everything else. There was a similar situation earlier in the season against Anderlecht when Alexis wanted to take the penalty, but Mikel Arteta strode forward and scored as the designated taker.
But, if not observing the order of penalty takers is the only main criticism of Alexis Sanchez, that’s something that is easily changed. The missed penalty only served as further motivation to Alexis as he continued to terrorise Armand Traore before ghosting in behind the full-back to head in the opening goal.
There were plenty of other positive performances around the pitch for Arsenal as Santi Cazorla played well alongside Rosicky, while the back four did well under pressure at the end of the game. Nacho Monreal acquitted himself well alongside Per Mertesacker, and but for an absolutely ridiculous penalty decision against Mathieu Debuchy, the Gunners would probably have kept a clean sheet, even with ten men.
There were understandable nerves at the end of the game, especially considering how a 2-1 lead was thrown away at Anfield last Sunday, but there were signs that lessons had been learnt. Players threw themselves at shots to make blocks, and there was even a brilliantly cynical foul from Francis Coquelin in injury time to stop a dangerous attack.
It was still all much harder work than it should have been though, and that is mainly because of Giroud’s moment of madness putting the team under pressure. At a time of the season when a manager needs as many players available as possible to rotate with matches bunched together, being with the Frenchman for three games will be incredibly frustrating for Arsene Wenger. Closing out the win will raise spirits, but Wenger needs to rally the troops for tomorrow’s trip to West Ham, check who is fit enough and hope the likes of Alexis can cope with the demands of back-to-back festive games.
The win was most welcome, but hopefully Giroud’s stupidity doesn’t cost Arsenal in the next two league games, as away wins over West Ham and Southampton should move the Gunners back into the top four.