Well, Xmas is over, the new year is in and we are fifth in the table. Spurs are ahead of us on merit and Man United are on our coat tails. Cazorla is still out and Welbeck has still not appeared over the horizon.
I have deliberately avoided blogging as it was after all, that time of year and I didn`t want to spoil anyone`s Xmas. We had a run of five games to come in which I fully expected us to reap 15 points. We started well and had our revenge on Swansea and Watford but then we had to perform heroics to rescue us from a defeat at Bournemouth so now our highest possible yield is 13 instead of 15. Two points dropped already in the third game.
I decided to look up Gunners Town to see if there was anything there to cheer me up and I came across Andrea Rossetti who paid me the compliment of using most of his very readable blog to counter my critique of Wenger. As Andrea says, we disagree on Wenger but I appreciate his reasoned approach. I can`t agree with his reasoning on the points I made. For instance, our defensive frailties are back. Bournemouth`s wingers chased our full backs all over the place and they looked as if they would score every time they came forward. Mustafi, Bellerin and Monreal made frequent mistakes and you only had to look at Spurs and Chelsea last night to see what a tight defence looks like. The CBs on both teams are never far apart and Rose (even though I detest him) bombs forward just as much as Bellerin but he also defends and you never see him leave thirty yards of space behind him for someone to attack. Monreal is rarely in shouting distance of Kos and he is becoming embarrassing when he is faced by a fast and tricky winger. I don`t suggest that Rose is better than Bellerin unless you count diving in which case Rose should be in the next Olympic team as he is world class at that. Our young Spaniard has HUGE talent but it needs to be harnessed and that is down to the coaches.
The midfield’s of both teams rely on their wing backs running back when they lose the ball and cover the wings so that there is always a solid defence and a tactical plan on view which involves filling the midfield and breaking at speed. In contrast, we have Coquelin and Xhaka on their own, with Kos behind them, also on his own. Kos has managed to look like the best centre back in the league despite having to cover for the absences of his full backs but he needs an equally committed partner with him. Mustafi did not cover himself in glory against Bournemouth as he left his post to venture forward leaving Kos exposed especially with the afore mentioned Bellerin spending too much time up-field. There is far too much space between Mustafi and Kos. Xhaka looked as if he was going to be a super star when he arrived at first but once again carelessness caused him to give away another penalty. Apart from that lapse, he did not really influence the game at all. Ramsey is trying to work his way back into a midfield which has changed drastically since his last injury. He has no natural partner to play with and simply uses his stamina and running ability to try to cope where there is no apparent cohesion in midfield.
Giroud has hit a purple patch during which time every goal he scores seems to be a match changer. In those circumstances anyone would play him and move Sanchez to the left wing where he is providing loads of assists and still scoring goals. I`m afraid that I can’t see how Iwobi is regarded as a top player so far. He is a very promising youngster who unfortunately lacks confidence. He makes some beautiful moves with the ball but does not have the end product to finish them off. It is too soon to rely heavily on a young lad who is still learning his trade. In summary the team is riddled with players trying to play themselves out of trouble or to mount attacks on their own. The commentators mentioned more than once that Chelsea and Spurs hunted in groups of three who stayed close to each other and had obviously worked out a scheme of playing which is familiar on the continent. They know each other`s game and where to play a pass or where they need to be to cover a gap if it occurs. We are picked off because we don`t have any counter tactic.
That brings me to Ozil. Andrea eulogises about him and says that if you don`t get his game now you never will. I have said before that I would pay the admission money just to watch him when he is on his game. Unfortunately, in the Everton and Man City games he suffered from the lack of cohesion which I have described above which meant that he was being deprived of the ball by lack of service. He is not a man who would try to take on a team on his own. Give him players around him and he will open defences with a surgeon’s touch, but he needs someone to provide the ball to. I am afraid that we played so badly in both of the above games that he became demoralised and simply went into his shell. I am so relieved that Sanchez refuses to be demoralised and fights to the end but even he looked absolutely dejected after the Bournemouth game. Make no mistake, it was a fantastic come back but we expect to have that performance for 90 minutes. We are capable of it. and someone like Sanchez would expect to have that quality around him. This looks like being a very very hard battle for the top 4 and we simply can`t afford to drop points in games like these.
If you are happy to pay top money and turn up to watch your team play as badly as they did in these matches, then you will be happy whatever the outcome as long as Arsene is happy and his team shows great character, great resolve, great spirit and great skill. I think a lot of them must have had a bit too much Xmas spirit.
With the possible exception of City, I think the teams ahead of us now are there on merit, so we may even face a fight with United and City for one place. Until we get a coach who understands the modern game we will continue to play the occasional wondrous football while getting beaten by teams with less talent, less resources but more resolve and managed by someone who knows exactly how to beat Arsenal.
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.