Well that was far more like it, wasn’t it? In a match marred equally by the usual ugly problems, Arsenal showed an increased sense of fight. Unlike the West Brom match, in which many of the more sympathetic Gunners faithful expected to see a spirited response and were left disappointed, the team gave a much better effort. This looked far more like the team that has publicly backed its manager in recent months, and less like a club hoping for a new boss. In the end, a 2-2 draw did little good to either team in their bid for top four “success” but, may have laid the foundation for a strong run to the season close for Arsenal. As a club potentially facing big changes this offseason, the performances put in by these players for the rest of the campaign may have a huge effect on which will still don the red and white in North London next term.
Without further ado, my thoughts from the match on Sunday at the Emirates.
Referee Andre Marriner had an inconsistent day. Providing some stern waves in the face of some dubious cries for penalties, he was able to keep himself away from affecting the result too severely. However, it still seems that too many referees have a different set of standards for booking Arsenal players versus their opponents. I thought that a couple of early reckless challenges could have spelt an early night for Jesus Navas.
On the subject of Navas, the genius (and I do believe that) that is Pep Guardiola still has not quite grasped the Premier League. Starting the winger at the back could have backfired for the Catalan manager, especially since Arsenal were able to see a good bit of the ball (not to mention his brush with almost being sent off). The art of protecting the lead by running up the score may work if you are Barcelona playing in La Liga or Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga, but the Premier League is too strong to play so wide open.
Shkodran Mustafi continues to be one of the most love him this second/hate him the next players in recent memory. One second, he is sprinting 20 yards too far forward and leaving his team exposed, the next assisting on a much-needed goal. 5 minutes after that, he is once again too busy telling teammates what to do to remember that he must also play football himself, and yet sometime after that he rises above the pack to smash home the point sealing header. Still young, and with all the tools needed to succeed, there is much room for him to grow as a player and leader, but spending £35 million to add yet more uncertainty and inconsistency to the back line was probably not what the club had in mind.
Gabriel had a solid half. Writing that sentence was hard to do, but then I remembered that the Gabriel effect sometimes takes a full 90 minutes to become apparent. Here is hoping that Laurent Koscielny recovers quickly from an apparent Achilles knock, or in lieu of that, Rob Holding apologises for chatting up Wenger’s ex, or whatever else he has done to not get in the squad ahead of Gabriel.
Nacho Monreal is not a pacey lad.
I thought it should have been Welbeck coming off for Giroud instead of Walcott. I get that Wenger wanted two aerial threats on the pitch, but he had been walking (perhaps a little gingerly, if I may be so bold) for a few minutes, and contributed little after Giroud came on.
On Walcott, when did Wenger decide he was incapable of putting in a full shift? You can almost see his intensity pick up again as the substitute prepares to enter on the touchline. As if to say “I know what you’re trying to do, but look Boss, I’m not tired! See!” Theo has a tendency to disappear in some matches, his perplexing lack of awareness in link-up play forces him into a more one-dimensional role. This year, however, he has looked fitter and more determined, often finding himself scoring pivotal goals in some big spots. I would have liked to see his pace on at the end of the match.
After spending what felt like an eternity out of the squad, Mesut Ozil returned, looking far better than when last we found him gracing the pitch for Arsenal. It appears his illness is now behind him, and, though perhaps this is wishful thinking, I thought he looked like he has been strengthening back to preseason levels. Also interesting to note was his defensive contribution. Ozil showed up numerous times in his own half, defending as part of a midfield three at times, as well as providing support to his teammates defending in wider positions. His costly turnover that led to a Manchester City goal, as well as a thorough raking through the coals by a totally non-biased (cough) Neville brother will give plenty of ammunition to his detractors, but overall I felt it was a much better display of effort from the German playmaker. Now we just need him to, you know, make plays. Good start though.
David Ospina belongs in the same category as Shkodran Mustafi, minus the major upside. Though his instincts and quickness are impressive, he is physically the wrong keeper to succeed in the Premier League. His propensity for turning routine saves into cardiac events for the Emirates faithful is running short on support. Petr Cech may be beyond his best, but the stoic Czech keeper is a calming presence at the back, and almost certainly would not have let at least one of the Manchester City goals happen with his superior positioning and command of his box. And yet, the best keeper under contract at Arsenal may be Wojciech Szczesny, who presumably left for Roma in search of vowels to add to his name. Or was that playing time? Either way, the one-time butt of jokes for the Arsenal faithful is starting to look like a priority to bring back.
Hector Bellerin may have to actually cut his hair, if for no other reason than to keep fans from blaming it for his recent struggles. In my opinion, he hasn’t looked right since his ankle injury earlier in the season, and his weaknesses in the air are becoming problematic for a club having trouble preventing goals. Though far from in danger of not fulfilling his promise, it just goes to show how quickly one can go from unknown to indispensable to a liability in some minds. Like most of the squad, Hector is probably amidst a small crisis of confidence right now, but the young Spaniard has the right character and work ethic to keep me firmly in the “not worried” camp.
Another week, another yellow for Granit Xhaka. Shocking, I know.
And finally, our dear, dear fan favorite Francis Coquelin was back in the starting XI, and only one half of that statement is false. After once again proving that he has lost most of his defensive dynamism this season without adding one iota of attacking skill, he did himself no favours in the team selection process for the future. With Aaron Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both missing the match due to injury, his place in the side over Mohamed Elneny continues to perplex. Certainly this isn’t the same club that sent its former golden boy off to the south coast in search of minutes due to an overabundance of talent in the centre of the park.
A point is better than a loss, but Arsenal need to get serious about coming away with three points in every match possible for the rest of the season if they are to finish in the top four. And as for St. Totteringham…