Undefeated in two games. Two wins in a row. We’ll be challenging for 5th place before you know it. Thank you, Cardiff. Can we play you next week? Who knew the Welsh could be so hospitable?
It’s all about selection. While surprisingly attacking we finally got to see Cigarette and Aubamayeng start the game together. And while both scored wonderful games the overall contribution of Cigarette was outstanding. The best player on the pitch. He was alive and active the entire game. And he scored a wonderful goal that earned us the three points we tried so desperately to throw away.
What a wankey way to start the game though. Cech is being put in the position of looking like an old age pensioner in a 100 meter sprint. It’s embarrassing. And against a half way competent team we’d have been 1-0 down within the first 5 minutes. Luckily Arter is only good for thuggish tackling and has no other talent. When you’re not good enough for Bournemouth you can only end up at Cardiff.
Cardiff predictably pressured our defense when we had possession and, most of the time, we seemed to handle that except when poor old Cech was involved. He just looks so uncomfortable. It’s really a microcosm of how the game has changed. When he first started playing professionaly he was a trend-setter. A young goalie at Chelski that changed what was expected in terms of the way he imposed himself and dominated games. But that was all about shot topping and owning the penalty box. Now, care of Pep, we demand that our goalkeeper is as comfortable on the ball as the other defenders. It’s all the rage. Look at Allison at Liverpool. Cech is not the only who’s finding it nearly impossible to adapt. It will though be the end of him. It will sap his confidence and undermine the skills he so clearly still possesses. In the meantime, we’re on a knives edge playing out from the back.
We’re not helped by the continued lack on imbalance in midfield. If we’re going to play out of the back we need midfielders making themselves available to receive the ball from the defenders. It happened when Torreira came on. But, in the first half, Ozil and Ramsey rarely showed for the ball. It was though good to see both of them play together. Ramsey was more impactful in the first half but continually found space to operate on the left. Ozil started to impose himself in the second half. There were times we started to feel like a team.
However, we still conspired to give up two goals to a club that is destined to return to the Championship within one season. If you could be relegated half way through a season then Cardiff and West Ham would prime candidates. Both of their goals were essentially unforced errors. The first one was inexplicable except that it was our friend Xhaka at his best. There you are, an international, experienced player with your team 1-0 away from home within a couple of minutes of half-time and you decide to play an under hit, lazy cross-field ball that exposes the team to a counter-attack. You then dawdle back into the center of defense to offer a weak attempt to win a header. Thereafter the ball fortunately drops to their striker to score. A goal out of nothing. And the second goal? After watching a handful of free-kicks all being payed the same way – onto the head of Morrison their lumbering giant of an unskilled footballer. What does the collective brain trust of Arsenal decide to do? They have Ramsey mark him; a clearly well thought out strategy. Shocking the giant won the header over the Welshmen and they scored. Where are the brains on this team?
Thankfully, interspersed between these cock-ups, we controlled the game and dominated. The interplay was better as was our movement. We hit the post, had a number of good corners – at least Xhaka can take corners – and frequently got behind their defense.
While our defense was not too tested (unless when giving the ball away) Mustafa scored a thunderbolt header and could have had a couple more. They had no answer to him. And then our new pairing of Cigarette and Aubamyang (CigAyang) combined with Ozil to contrast a beautiful goal that got Obang off the mark. And then Cigarette grabbed the three points for us.
So, of my usual pet hates, Mustafa only made one mistake today – he’s usual one per game – in the second half when he got caught on the ball when he tried to chest it under control that lead to yet another breakaway chance for them. His play out the back is much improved – I’ll credit Emery with being a positive influence – but the mental concentration remains an issue. Sokratis was reasonably solid. I still have yet to figure him out. He seems stable if underwhelming and he needs a goalkeeper who can handle the possession game. Both full backs had plenty of opportunity to drive our attack today as Cardiff played so narrow. But neither is getting that much protection in front of them. Ramsey and Obang both left them exposed. Against better teams – which is anyone other team in this league – we won’t be able to be so attacking.
But what to do with Xhaka? Does he have pictures of Emery and a goat? Does Xhaka have Emery’s children locked up in his cellar? What does Xhaka have to do in order to get dropped? If Xhaka was dead, lying in a morgue or buried six foot underground would Emery still select him? If Xhaka lost both arms and legs in a gardening accident would Emery still have him on the bench? While Emery finally got it right today with CigAyang he now needs to solve our midfield. We need to see Guendoza and Torreira alongside each other. We know they are both inexperienced but it’s not clear that Xhaka’s experience is anything other than counter productive. TorrDoza is the future backbone of this team and they need to be given their chance. Now we have a couple of wins under our belt and we’re away from the relegation zone (for the moment) we need to have them play alongside each other. I know Guendoza is new to the game and tires later in the game. But when he’s on the pitch he’s the only one making himself available for the ball, who’s aggressive in the tackle. We need to help him with Torreira. Everytime this kid comes on the pitch we play better. He created the winning goal. He is tidy in possession. He is a fierce tackler. Basically everything that Xhaka is not.
Though we’ve only just started the season we’re already into our first irritating break for Internationals. Hopefully Xhaka can play 180 minutes for the Cheesemen; maybe he’ll pick up an injury. When they all return I fear we’ll still have to wait for Emery to figure out the right starting eleven (i.e. not picking Xhaka). It’s a long season and we’ve barely started. Today we saw a few more green shoots of what this team might evolve into. There was one sublime move in the second half on the right hand side that was all one touch passing that resulted in Bellerin crossing the ball that just eluded Ramsey in the box. At our best we still look like the AW team at it’s best and at our worst our defense still looks like the defense AW created. But it feels like we have a few players who can take us to a better level. They just have to be on the pitch to influence the game. We started with one ½ of the combination we needed – CigAyang but we also need TorrDoza.
So progress today – even if painful at times. We demonstrated that we could recover from (self-inflicted) setbacks; twice. We created chances and we somehow did all this without Ob1 on the pitch. That’s progress.