Arsenal returned from Wales with three very impressive points. The game was tighter than the final scoreline would suggest, which, of course, reinforces the quality of Arsenal’s performance.
Recently, I’ve felt that the whole team is playing well and almost all players are pulling their weight or even exceeding expectations. This game wasn’t much different with Szczesny making that big save, Özil providing two excellent assists, Ramsey doing his thing, while Arteta and the defenders worked well to control the attacks.
One player who hasn’t been in the limelight is Cazorla. His contribution has been lacking in terms of the obvious decisive moments like assists and goals but I’ve felt that he offers something very important to the team. He’s there when teammates need him in any part of the pitch and he helps Arsenal raise their technical level. It’s not an easily noticeable trait at times and a lot of his efforts won’t add to the number of eye-catching compilations on YouTube, but I’m positive his teammates appreciate what he’s doing. Hopefully, the Spaniard himself won’t be too distraught with this phase away from the spotlight after being the main man for most of last season.
One aspect of Arsenal’s play vital to success in Cardiff was their ability to limit the number of opportunities created inside the box. Admittedly, the hosts did create four or five good chances and on another day they might have scored a goal, but I doubt that would have affected the result. Arsenal have conceded a goal against the likes of Sunderland and Stoke earlier in the season only to go on and settle the game with late goals of their own.
This ability to score goals even when the team is predominantly in the defensive mode has been central to the Gunners’ form this season and nicely complements the team’s defensive qualities. It was only a question of when they scored the second, not if. And if we were counting chances, the visitors certainly created enough to win this game by a couple of goals. In a way, one could argue that a second goal a little earlier in the game would have been extremely helpful to settle the nerves in the Gooner ranks and in countering the buoyancy of the opponents in the second period. Getting the second and third goals in earlier in a few games would certainly go some ways in bringing the fear factor back.
While the team defended well, Wenger and Bould will want better from the individuals, particularly on set-pieces. Indeed, they’d even want the side to concede few free-kicks in dangerous areas against such opponents. That remains an area of improvement and it only reminds us that even though Arsenal are playing very well right now and getting desired results, they have the ability to do better and there is an even higher level of play that they can aim for. Minimizing the impact of luck in the clean sheets is the only way to ensure long term sustainability of defensive solidity.
Next up for the Gunners is Hull City. Steve Bruce is back in the Premier League and has given the Tigers a fighting chance of survival this season. The former United defender has managed mid-table finishes with the likes of Birmingham, Wigan, and Sunderland in the past decade and his teams were often a tough nut to crack.
A key to his success is his ability to get his teams mirroring his own playing style. Lacking in flair or skill they may be at times, but it’s more than compensated by desire, determination, courage, and work ethic. He’s a quintessentially British manager you might say, and the Gunners face another typical English opponent for the Gunners straight after Cardiff. That’s no longer as common as it once was with many of the smaller teams slowly learning and incorporating technical and tactical traits from various continental styles.
Organization, numbers, commitment, and physicality (although probably not in its ugly form) will define Hull’s defensive approach. The formation might vary on paper but it’s basically going to be 8-9 players behind the ball if not more. This works well at home but isn’t always effective on the road, especially against the big sides.
Hull are 10th in the League right now, which is a commendable achievement, but they have only three points from six away games. The solitary win at Newcastle stands out as an aberration as Bruce’s sides aren’t known for their form on the road. In fairness to the Tigers, all their away games thus far have come against teams above them in the League.
The Gunners have to play pretty much the same way they did against Cardiff but they’ll have to be more dominant as they’re at home and this is virtually a must-win game. Converting more than one of the few chances they are likely to create in the first half will help.
The challenge for Wenger here is to find a way to rest some of his players while having a team out there that’s cohesive enough to get a result with a positive performance. Starting this weekend against Everton, Arsenal enter into a run of fixtures that could prove decisive to their title hopes. Spreading the workload over his squad is something the Arsenal manager has to achieve.
Sagna is likely to miss this game through injury so Jenkinson could offer one pair of fresh legs. Hopefully the youngster will be conservative with his choices and leave the attacking space to his more gifted colleagues instead of bombing forward at every opportunity. Focussing his energies on defending will help him and the team. The likes of Monreal, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Flamini and even Gnabry have reasonable claims for a starting spot. Of course, picking them all at once could unbalance the rhythm that is so reliant on continuity, but a couple of those players could come in.
I’m finding it hard to decide who should play and who deserves a breather. Thankfully, it’s not my job. Cazorla, Wilshere, and Arteta have had some breaks this season, Ramsey and Özil less so. One of the latter two could be left out, but they’re so important to the way the team plays that it’s virtually impossible to imagine Wenger resting either of his decisive stars.
We might see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
That said, I do hope for more than one change to the starting line up. There are enough players fit now to make three or four changes and still get a good result.
Every game in the League remains a testing fixture. Hull’s victory over Liverpool serves as a good reminder that Arsenal need to sustain their high standards. A lot of people don’t believe in this side yet and it would seem that the only way to change their minds is by repeating performances and results on a consistent basis. Top of the League after 13 games is excellent but it’s only a third of the way to the end and even a five percent drop in quality could render all the good work done thus far futile.
This is a must-win game, the squad is capable of winning it and fairly convincingly at that, but we still have to see what happens on the pitch.Follow @goonerdesi