Saturday, September 12, 2015

Strikers score and Arsenal win but questions will still be asked

After not seeing Arsenal score a goal in the first two games at the Emirates this season, I’d have happily taken another own goal just to open the Gunners’ account at home for the campaign. So to have both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud, Arsenal’s much talked-about strikers, both find the net, and Arsenal keep a third clean sheet in a row, was very satisfying.
Unfortunately, questions will still be asked a about Arsenal’s two centre-forwards as Arsenal could, and should, have won the game much more comfortably than 2-0. A combination of some poor finishing from both Walcott and Giroud, along with some excellent saves from Jack Butland in the Stoke goal, meant the Gunners had to work harder for the victory than they should have done.
Until the Danny Welbeck injury news, I was absolutely fine with Arsene Wenger not adding a striker to the squad. After that injury, it was frustrating that another forward didn’t arrive at the club, but it does seem like it wasn’t for a lack of effort from the manager. I’m sure Arsene Wenger was on the look-out, but the right player didn’t become available, and it wasn’t worth signing a player just to make up the numbers and not be an improvement on those already in the squad.
It didn’t cost Arsenal against Stoke, but the sort of slack finishing seen on Saturday could, and already has, cost points this season, but I find it difficult to be too frustrated at Arsene Wenger when the players everyone was hoping for weren’t available in the market.
Against Stoke, both Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud didn’t give any clues as to which one is Arsene Wenger’s first choice player up front as the goals they scored were quite stereotypical for the types of players they are. Walcott latched onto a fantastic pass from Mesut Ozil by running in behind the defence, controlled the ball well and slid the ball past the advancing goalkeeper. Giroud found the net by meeting Santi Cazorla’s late free-kick with an excellent guided headed to beat Butland at the keeper’s near post.
Seeing the two players score such good goals makes the misses all the more frustrating. Both Walcott and Giroud have the quality, it’s just the consistency that is lacking. As with all strikers, both players need confidence to be at their best, so hopefully finding the net against Stoke will be the spark to find form in front of goal.
Apart from the profligacy in front of goal, Arsenal were generally very good against Stoke City, with the fluency that’s been missing for most of the season so far showing signs of returning. The Gunners got off to a fast start and imposed themselves on the match as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil controlled proceedings in midfield. Although deployed on the right of midfield again, Aaron Ramsey seemed to hold his position to give the team a more balanced look, rather than constantly coming inside and limiting Arsenal to attacks down the left.
In Arsenal’s last home game, Petr Cech was required to make several brilliant saves to keep Liverpool out, but he had a much easier game against the Potters. Despite Mark Hughes being keen to point out that Stoke have changed their style and are capable of playing more attractive attacking football, they rarely had the chance to exhibit that on Saturday. Cech pushed away a few long range shots, but otherwise had a comfortable afternoon.
Cech’s easy afternoon was mainly down to the work of those in front of him as the back four impressed. Francis Coquelin also had an excellent afternoon shielding the defence, and it was his superb crunching challenge that allowed Ozil to work his magic and set up Theo Walcott for the opening goal.
With all the doom-mongering around about transfers and jokes about own goal being the top scorer this season, even though the Gunners haven’t set the world on fire, Arsenal still find themselves in third and are building a run of clean sheets. Questions will still be asked about the strikers, but Arsenal are improving and both Walcott and Giroud scored. Things aren’t as bad as some are making it seem.