Oh, so we do know how to defend. Imagine that. What a novel concept. Who would have thought we could keep a clean sheet at the Politburo? Maybe we should play Bournemouth and Chelski each week. They obviously have reverse kryptonite. They manage to turn us into a functioning team.
When I saw Ob1 on the team sheet I feared the worst. I checked that we had Cigarette and the Tank. Fearing we’d have gone instead for Theo and The Ox – given that he’s not played at Anfield and that AW might have forgotten about the £35m burning a hole in his pocket. But thankfully they were both in the lineup. For the first 15 minutes the Russians played a high tempo, one touch and fast interplaying game that threatened to tear us apart. I figured the mad Italian must have read the riot act pre-game. Jumping up and down while simultaneously combing his hair in order to maintain that suave, debonair image.
But in time we worked our way into the game. A fine move down the right hand side set up Mr. Goalscoring machine DW23. But, rather than commeth the man cometh the goal instead we had the predictable. When we need that goal he is the right man to spurn the opportunity. Deciding to use his head not shoulders he still found a way to miss the target. Yet more memories of Anfield came flooding back. But rather than capitulate we started to dominate the game. Cigarette had a (tough) chance care of our Ob1 and Bellend interplay. And then Ramsey went on a mazyrun to only hit the post and see Cigarette stumble the ball over the bar. I still have a lot of time for our new Frenchmen. This was a hard chance that he should have taken but I’ll, at this point, be grateful, he was, at least, in the (nearly) right position.
The second half started like the first but this time we never really got back into the game. The Crimea team had more possession but hardly drew a save from Cech. There were periods where we had some nice possession but our right side dominance disappeared as they made adjustments. Daylight was created as David Louis tried to murder The Tank and rightfully got a straight red. But that left too little time for us to snatch a winner.
So we learned that Arsenal do actually know how to play the game, remain organized and take a disciplined approach to an away game. Which, of course, begs the question what the fuck happened at Anfield. The fear is that because of that spanking we adopted this more pragmatic approach. But, now we’ve had this display my money is on reverting back to type in the next big away game.
Today Monreal was immense. Rarely beaten down his side and dominant in the air. On the right Koz was solid and stabilizing. And in the middle we had our mad Kraut. Morata was pretty impressive today. A number of times he turned the Kraut and made some great runs. Most other teams won’t keep him from scoring. Someone needs to injure him quickly. Mustafa tried but was too slow. And again, some of his long fields distribution was awful.
Both AR8 and Xhaka dropped deeper to pick up the ball from the defense which removed some pressure from the backline. I suspect this was mainly due to our more conservative approach. That is, we were just sitting deeper more generally. Xhaka was, as ever, a little careless with his passing but Ramsey was quite impressive today. Without the skillful German ahead of him we was able to break into the space ahead of him on a number of occasions. He’s passing was intelligent and his forward play propelled the team. And he should have scored. But he occupied Konti and put him under pressure quickly. The problem is that too often he and Xhaka play the same position. Literally. There was a time in the first half when they were stumbling into each other. Defensively they don’t exude confidence. But with Ob1 and DW23 working hard on defense we were more solid on the wings but just vulnerable through the middle. If only we had a Konti…..
With this new found stability we also sacrificed our creativity. I’m still not sure why we had Ob1 rather than Alexis in the starting 11. Sure Ob1 worked hard – a la DW23 – but you can’t rationally argue that there is anyone on planet earth you’d select Ob1 over Alexis. With DW23 incurring his usual injury it looks like he’ll be out for a while and therefore this “choice” won’t come up again for a while. Of course, it also means that it’s Ramseys turn next for his regular hamstring injury. The question becomes, would we have had this defensive work rate and cover if little Mesut had been able to play? We’d have been more threatening but at what cost? Without him we should have been 2-0 before half-time. But with him would we have kept a clean sheet?
Cech is the one player who has been consistently reliable this year. His save from Pedro was pivotal. If we had let one in then who knows how our mental psyche would have handled that.
It’s hard to enjoy watching this team as you think you’re one errant Xhaka pass away from implosion. But today we turned up. But to be a team challenging for the league (or even the top 4) the bar should not be so low that we are grateful that we come away from Red Square without being embarrassed. The Commies will have better days – you could see the impetus that Hazard provided. And today we had our chance to actually win there. But our collective confidence is so low we all end up being relieved to come away with a point. At some point we have to demonstrate the organization and discipline over a 10 match period to restore both our credibility and nerves. The agony of waiting for and then recovering from the next fiasco requires too much therapy. And it’s not even March yet.
So onto the tough encounter with Doncaster Rovers in the who-the-fuck-knows-what-cup-its-called. More opportunity for the BFG and Nelson to impress. And the onto the return of Gibbs. Then back to the NoHopa Cup. Many chances then for the other squad players to shine. And for us to relax and not worry so much about the outcome