The reverse fixture and the reverse result. In the first half we created chances and took them. In the second half we were pedestrian and somehow managed to miss our chances.
Southampton were not so bad actually; they started brightly and then faded as the game went on. Their high pressure tactics were effective to an extent but yet yielded us chances. Our left hand side was where most of the creativity originated. Did I ever mention what a wonderful player Ob1 is? He set up the first goal and the second and was the able to make defense splitting passes. His final cross is still a little misguided – indecision is one of his weaknesses – but today is not the day to criticize him (there will be plenty of those to come). He linked up well with Kolinsac and dominated that side of the field.
OneEye got the selection right today. A better balance to our midfield. He restored, finally, the Torreira and Xhaka axis. It allows Xhaka more freedom even if he’s playing deeper than our Uruguayan. Some of Xhakas’ cross field passes in the first half were fantastic. There was one played from just inside the right half way line he played right across the field behind their right back to Ob1 which was perfect. In that first half even MIckeytarrien looked like a reasonable player. He linked up well with old man Licthensteinbergstein. They moved the ball quickly and pulled Southampton all over the place.
Of course we gave them chances. Why would we not? We are the Salvation army of chances. Especially to teams who are too shit to accept them. This time Leno was up to the task. A couple of good saves even if he seems a little casual on the ball at times. Our defense is so much better with Sokratis in it even if we did still play Mustafi. He was not at his worse today and did seem to attempt to stay on his feet rather than hurl himself into tackles. But give me the Greek over the German any day.
That half-time team talk must have been a real snoozer because as we again proved ourselves as a team of two half’s. But this time we reversed the ordering. As smooth as we looked in the first half and as crisp as our passing was, in the second half we were slow and unable to retain possession. We gave it away cheaply. As energetic and involved as Ramsey was in the first half he was a quiet in the second. But you could see why he’d been picked. He worked hard his entire allotted time to close down and compete for the ball. We will miss him next year.
As much as Southampton controlled the second half they were unable to generate any real chances. In fact, amazingly, we kept a clean sheet. Unlike, in the fixture at their place where we capitulated under pressure, today they threatened but did not really test us. Partly that was through solid defending and partly through ineptitude on their part. After bringing on the ugly Austin they then proceeded to ignore him. He was able to get one header off to our goal. But they seemed to forget how to cross the ball to him. That’s one of the reasons they will sink into that relegation zone. They are not as poor as Huddersfield or Fulham but they have to have more desire. They should have been throwing the kitchen sink at us in the second half but preferred to play the ball around without any incisiveness.
Ozil is back. Finally. A nice cameo from him for 20 minutes. As disappointed as Ramsey was to be removed it’s a pleasure to have Ozil back on the pitch. His vision is unparalleled. That one little flick on to Aubameyang by the half way line set up another chance. As smooth as Ozil is he still, after 10+ years in the professional leagues, can’t seem to challenge in a tackle or jump to head the ball. This is just one of the reasons OneEye won’t pick him. But when the ball is at his feet he opens up the entire field for us.
Realistically we should have won by 3 or 4 goals today. As reactive and opportunistic as Cigarettes’ goal was today it’s mind-blowing how he missed his other chance in the first half. After more Ob1 inspired interplay and Kolinsac driving into the box to see Cigarette blast it over from such close range seemed to drain his confidence in front of goal. He works so hard and links up the play so well. But today he missed too many chances. But maybe Aubameyang was an even worse culprit. Given the limited amount of time on the field he could and should have scored a brace. On too many occasions when he broke with the ball he dithered in front of goal and made the wrong choice. It seemed like his love affair with Cigarette clouded his judgement. I’m sure if he’d have been the lone striker he would have shot at goal. Or at least had conviction. But today he made the wrong choices and barely threatened their goalie. Hopefully he’s saving his goals for when they matter – in particular the game after next. But against a better team we’d have been punished for these misses.
Against these lower table teams – and especially at home – we have found the way to three points. In the waning Wenger years we would struggle in these games. So today, and hopefully against Bournemouth, we’ll earn those 3 points. The issue is how does this team figure out a way to compete against the better teams. And, unfortunately, Sp*rs are a better team. After 20 or 30 years of complete domination, their time has come. Not sufficiently for them to actually win any trophies. But enough for them to maul us and crush us at their rented place. Because our team is a solid 5th or 6th place team – depending on how much money Chelski want to spend, prior to being banned from any signings. We are an A- team with a, possibly, B+ manager. We’ve added a couple of talented players – Torreira and Guendouzi – but we need more. It’s unlikely we’ll make it to the Champions League this year. With the Ole resurgent Mancs looking likely to grab that spot and the quality of the teams left in the NoHopaCup, our chances are sorely limited. Though this will impact our ability to attract players so will the lack of money at our disposal. But, as others have shown, money is not everything. It is at the level of Man City but for others it’s an intelligent scouting and recruitment framework. Again, look at our recent two summer signings.
Offset that against our prior January signings. I know Aubameyang scores more goals than he misses (just) and he’s been vital for us this season. But the amount of money we splashed on him and Mickeytarrien so late in their careers was a sign of desperation not of a strategic plan to improve our team. The crux of the issue for Arsenal is that we need to be able to assess the manager. I know others want to give him a couple of years to prove himself. But live does not wait that long. If he’s the right guy with the wrong players then he warrants all the time we can give him. But if he’s not the right guy then we should bite the bullet and look to move on and progress. At this stage of the season I’m still unconvinced. And that’s not a great indication. There are so many times when he can’t seem to make the right selections and neither can he manage our more creative (and frustrating) player. Between now and the end of the season that is what I’m looking for. Some sign that this is the right guy. That this is AW mark II and not Moyes mark I. We know and understand our team. We can all identify the weaknesses and the required changes. More than half way into the season we are very unlikely to learn anything more about the players in our team. We’ve seen enough to judge and understand them. However, for our manager, the time through the rest of the season will hopefully answer that most important question of whether we have the right manager required for our future. We should not be too clouded by the three points today. It’s against the rented boys and then ManU that we’ll see the gulf in class and then judge whether OneEye is helping us or not. Not that I believe the senior management at Arsenal have the appetite for any management change. They will give OneEye at least two years if not three. Let’s just hope that does not result in mediocrity for Arsenal for the next three years.
I’d hoped to have been a little more upbeat today. We got three points along with some creative play (minus the missed opportunities). But it’s not the short-term that worries me so much now that we’ve overcome the mighty Bate. It’s how we’re positioned for the upcoming years. So, bring on Bournemouth but keep your eye open for our longer-term future. Oh, and, come you Burnley!