Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Gunners are stuttering but the damage isn't terminal, yet

With only two points from the last available nine, and having been level on points at the top of the league prior to that run of form, the fact that Arsenal are still only two points off the Premier League summit should be cause for optimism at a time when it feels like the club needs a bit of positivity. It does also make the dropped points frustrating, but despite a dodgy 1-1 draw with Norwich on Sunday, and the plethora of injuries suffered by Arsene Wenger’s team, Arsenal are very much in the title shake up at the moment.
The concern is that, to stay in that shake-up, Arsenal could do with more players being available. The loss of Laurent Koscielny, Santi Cazorla and Alexis Sanchez could be more costly than the two points dropped in the game itself should Arsenal not start picking up wins again in the league, and there’s the Champions League decider with Olympiacos also on the horizon. Initial reports suggest Koscielny’s hip problem isn’t too serious, Alexis will miss at least three weeks and Cazorla’s knee problem is more of an unknown quantity.
Up until the injury to Francis Coquelin, while there were a lot of players on the treatment table, the core of the starting XI remained mainly intact, but now that is being heavily disrupted. Losing Alexis Sanchez is obviously the biggest worry, and has caused the most discussion because of the sheer amount of football he has played this year. With the main options to replace Alexis all out injured, Arsene Wenger was in a difficult position against Norwich, and if the medical team and the player suggest he is fit to play, then I not blame the boss for picking him. As it was, the game was in the balance when the Chilean went off, and you’d rather have him on the field to try and make a difference in a tight game.
Where Wenger could be criticised though is for leaving Alexis on for the full 90 minutes of recent games that were virtually dead before match had finished, and 20/25 minutes rest at the end of a game could have made a difference. It’s impossible to know in hindsight if that would have changed things, and had the likes of Walcott, Welbeck, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Rosicky been available, I’m sure we wouldn’t have had to run Alexis into the ground, mainly out of necessity rather than choice. For those criticising Arsene Wenger for starting Alexis, you only have to see how less effective Arsenal looked going forward when Joel Campbell came on to know why the boss picked his Chilean superstar from the start.
Alexis could have gone off injured earlier than he did had a cameraman not broken his fall when Ryan Bennett shoved him towards the crowd when the ball was already out of play. It was disgraceful and cowardly from Bennett, and a deliberate attempt to injure an opposing player. The FA won’t do anything about it, but such acts need to be punished. Mathieu Debuchy dislocated his shoulder in a similar a situation last season, and in those such moments, you see a nasty side of players that should be stamped out of the game. When the ball is out, you don’t shove a player towards the advertising hoarding, simple.
Arsenal’s left winger couldn’t stay out of the game before his injury as he grabbed the assist for Mesut Ozil to give Arsenal the lead in the first-half. Pouncing on a poor clearance from John Ruddy, Alexis slid a perfect pass through to Ozil, who delightfully clipped the ball over the onrushing goalkeeper for his second goal in a week, keeping his excellent run of form going.
Things felt very similar to West Brom in the previous round of league matches when Arsenal went ahead and then conceded a soft goal. On this occasion, Gabriel wasn’t strong enough and got caught out in his own box, allowing someone with the worst beard in football to equalise. Had Wes Hoolahan been able to keep a shot down at the back post just before half time, Arsenal would have been 2-1 down at break.
After Alexis went off in the second half, Arsenal really struggled to create any real clear chances. It was a pretty average performance, and one that could have seen Arsenal lose but for Petr Cech’s superb save after the ball flicked off Gabriel following a set-piece.
Arsenal have to pick up the pace to avoid this slight dip in form becoming terminal for the title hopes. Despite the negativity, every other team has unresolved issues that are stopping them from running away from others in the league table.
One way Arsenal could improve is by never wearing that utterly ridiculous black third kit again. It’s just a kit so probably shouldn’t annoy me so much, but it’s not an Arsenal kit and just looks dreadful. Why Arsenal didn’t wear red and white is beyond me. Sorry Puma, don’t give us all the modern/classy marketing bullsh*t, just never make Arsenal wear something that isn’t Arsenal. The team are yet to win in the kit in three attempts, and its’ next outing is likely to be the must-win game with Olympiacos. Might as well prepare for the Europa League now.