Another game, another week of the same questions for Arsenal Football Club. There is a crisis of confidence on the pitch, and the international break could not come at a better time for a team that once looked a real contender in October.
After taking a bit of time to step off the ledge, here are my thoughts from Arsenal’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Tony Pulis’ West Bromwich:
No Ozil again for this match, with word filtering in that he picked up a hamstring injury on Friday in training. Poor Mesut. He may be like Santi, unable to make it back for the rest of the season at this rate. Though unlike Santi, he would probably be chuffed with that.
More experimentation for Arsenal with a 4-3-3 in Ozil’s continued absence. The midfield of Xhaka, Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain certainly does not lack energy. Not the most efficient bunch you will find, but few midfields in football provide such a combination of guaranteed bookings for bettors, hilarious football fail YouTube fodder, or crossover appeal to the Little Mix fan club, respectively.
There were flashes of energy, but too often the three forwards would stay pushed forward rather than coming to the ball to play combinations. The movement was so stagnant at times that Aaron Ramsey would be in line with the forwards, creating a 4-2-4 sort of look. That is the sort of formation Manchester United might have used against West Brom in the late 90s and just steamrolled them. In this match however, I found myself double checking to make sure Arsenal had the ball, with so many players standing still it resembled defensive organization. This was especially odd considering how little of that we saw when the Gunners were defending.
The result may hint at a different story, but there is an element of dynamism to Danny Welbeck that Olivier Giroud cannot match. One of the most important things that Arsenal can do for the rest of the season is try to keep him healthy. He was stopped quite effectively by West Brom’s back eleven (ok maybe a 7-3-0 without the ball..), but those seldom are good odds for a striker when his own midfield has chosen to perform their duties from a standstill.
Theo, Theo, Theo…there was a time in your career I would have called you a talent that lacks the application for greatness. Now it is much the opposite; that lovely can do attitude to put a smile on the face of any erudite Frenchman roaming the touch line, but the technical skills and close control that would have a hard time finding a place in the Barcelona back 4. Still Happy Birthday and all. Another year, another round in the clip for the underachiever argument. What a strike against Lincoln City though eh?
Granit Xhaka, not booked in his first match since, oh I don’t know, the Blair years, actually got to showcase one of those talents he was lauded for upon arrival. The 24-year-old dropped a beauty right on the plate for Alexis to equalise, ensuring the Chilean’s somewhat peaceful substitution later in the match. It is something we need to see more of from him, especially if every shot he has taken since his second long range goal continues to get further and further from the target.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to benefit from being no worse than the best alternative in the center of the park. With Francis Coquelin not contributing in nearly the same way he did the past two seasons next to Santi Cazorla, the Ox’s attacking flair is more advantageous at this point. We will have to see if these rumors surrounding his future bear any fruit, because that probably would not sit well with most.
It appears Hector Bellerin is catching on. Of course, the foul he received for his flying elbow was entirely inconsistent with the goal Alonso received for his concussive blow to the Spanish fullback’s head. Football is a contact sport. No matter which side of the fence you are on (I tend toward both being legal plays) the most important thing should be consistency. Either both are a foul or neither. If you’re only going to pick one though Mr. Referee, sir, maybe go with the one where a player was actually hurt?
There was a concerning moment on the pitch for the Gunners with Petr Cech immediately needing attention and substitution after an awkward kick left him sitting on the Hawthornes turf. These fluky sort of injuries are sometimes alarmingly serious, so here is all hopes for a quick recovery. David Ospina, in for Cech, immediately made sure Arsenal would miss their number one keeper. Always a scramble for the Columbian, and even in clean sheets, never particularly confidence inspiring. Arsenal’s “two #1s” dilemma is looking about as close to the truth as the “overabundance of talent” that led to Jack Wilshere’s loan to the south coast.
Troubling times lie ahead for Arsenal, but also quieter times for the airspace over the Hawthornes. The dualing planes were nice fodder for the commentators to chew on in quiet moments. Finding out that the Pro-Wenger plane may have been hired by a member of the Keswick clan after the fact only serves to heighten embarrassment all around.
And finally, Arsene Wenger has made his decision and it is………..coming to you after we come back from this international break! A wise move considering it gives most Arsenal fans a chance to hate themselves for the struggles of their national team instead of their club. It is times like these that really give people perspective. For instance, it could be worse! Gareth Southgate could be managing our club!
If you really want to be a glass half full kind of optimist, I recommend watching Kylian Mbappe highlight videos, and trying to track down the last time Wenger made such a public advance on a coveted starlet.
Be well Gooners.