Lucky Arsenal. That’s all you need to know. That and three points. Move along please. You don’t want the details. It’s too dreary.
Another selection surprise. How could any Arenal team survive without the majestic Mustafa. That rock on which our defense is built. Instead we have the newly acquired Pablo Mari. He looks like the child born of Ceballos and Giroud. Nice looking player. Technical and a passer of the ball. But he was out muscled frequently. With him and David Luiz in the center of defense we have two players that read the game well but who lack the physical presence required.
This was Xhakas’ weakest game since MA took over. He gave the ball away too frequently. Literally from our first possession he managed to pass, while just off to the side of our box, to some nameless west ham player. Throughout the game they have numerous opportunities. From corners we looked particularly susceptible. It’s minor miracle that they could not score. Some of that is down to Leno. How Antonio missed so many chances will surely give Moyes nightmares.
Sokratis at right back does not work. All our creativity comes down the left-hand side. The right-side can neither create nor defend. As unlike a left full back as Saka is, West Ham still chose to probe down our right all game long. We could neither stop their crosses nor outrun them. Sokratis could barely win headers. So what’s up with Bellerin? We found out when he did finally come on. Showing the pace that Sokratis lacked he defended one attack and then proceeded, after a corner from them, (along with Nelson) to fail to get rid of the ball only to help set up another chance for them.
Eddie was poor today. His hold up play is not at the level of Cigarette. Combined with our lack of creativity meant he had few chances. And the one he did have Flappyanski saved. As soon as Cigarette came on we seemed to pick it up a notch or two. Of course it all started with Saka and then was finished off by VAR. Ah, how we love VAR. The linesman (ok, lineswomen – oh, ok, the assistant referee) flagged for off-side. I had thought it was for Nelson. Very quickly it was obvious that Ozil finally had an assist and that he was on-side. Five hours later and multiple re-runs we were woken out of our slumber to find out it was a legit goal. To say VAR has some kinks is like saying Elton John is a little gay. But, for once, it worked in our favour.
Of course we did not deserve to win. But not only did we get three points but another clean sheet. So something is working. OK, I know it’s only Newcastle, Everton and West Ham but three wins is more important than anything else at this stage. It won’t continue as the opposition becomes more than mid-table fodder. This Wednesday will remind us how far we have to go. Not that MA will need reminding.
This team has both vital building blocks and fatal flaws. Imagine this team in another 18 months. Who will still be part of the team? Saka for sure. Hopefully Ceballos. Leno likely. Ozil won’t be. Nor will David Luiz or Sokratis nor Mustafa. It’s hard to imagine both Cigarette and Aubameyang staying. Nor Xhaka. Half this team will be gone. We are in for continuous turnover. And watching the game today you could see why. It’s improved, better than the Emery team but still too disjointed. I don’t think Eddie will make the final team. But hopefully Martinelli will.
The only real live wire today was Ceballos. His playing for his place in the Real Madrid team. And today he was the only one driving us forward. Xhaka, as mentioned, was asleep for most of the game. Let’s hope that Dani can stay fit. It’s clear MA does not trust Guendouzi. And Wilock is no Ozil. So, Artetas’ options are limited.
Arteta needs time. And he needs players. Without the attraction of Europe that will prove difficult. He won’t be able to use the Pepe approach. Not that we have the money. But, if you make a number of favourable assumptions, we might still qualify. So if ManCity fail in their appeal and get kicked out of Europe and if either they, Leicester or Chelsea win the F.A. Cup there would be an extra two places available for qualification. Which means we could finished 8th (one place above our current position) and still make the NoHopa Cup. At least something to play for. Winning the F. A. Cup would also help but that’s three games against decent opposition. For instance, I don’t fancy away at Sheffield United.
We saw today and in the previous two games (and in the NoHopa Cup) that there are some exciting elements in our team but the fault lines remain. More reasonable teams will exploit those opportunities. Until we solve our defensive issues and find a true defensive midfield player or resurrect Torreira, the problems will persist. At City they had Fernandinho but now use Rodri. Could we deploy an equivalent plater to Rodri in our team? Not when Ozil is not comparable to Silva or DeBruyne. Until then we need more steel. And a right back who can defend.
Wednesday will be very painful. The last time I enjoyed a trip to Maine Road (ok, I know the name has changed as has the stadium) was when Carzola stole the show by being his exquisite self. How we miss him. Our remaining fixtures have us away at City, Wolves and Sp*rs at home to Liverpool. That’s not a nice run in. And I’m not convinced this team is up for the challenge. The only one I trust now is Arteta. He is the right guy. But as for the rest…..
A final word on Cigarette. That was a fine finish today. I still rate him. Once he comes out of his funk – and he’s starting to – he could be a game changer. He can link up with both Ozil and Aubameyang. And, just maybe, bring Pepe into the game. That would help rejuvenate us.
Strap yourself on now for a rocky ride through the end of the season. Beating average teams that outplay you is an entirely different proposition than playing Wolves and Man City. Get ready for some pain. But have faith in Arteta. We move in the right direction even if it looks like we’re lost in a fog. Be patient and come back in 18 months if you have a weak constitution.
And remember. Today, we won!