It’s always good to have one of these relatively easier games in the mix when the team isn’t playing at its best. With respect to Coventry, this was a game Arsenal were expected to win comfortably and they did just that. It’s the kind of fixture that you enjoy and forget so I don’t want to dwell on it too much. Here are a few thoughts that stayed with me after the game,
The visitors looked better in the second half. Part of it was certainly related to their willingness to work harder in pressing higher up the pitch. It could be that they were simply overwhelmed by the occasion in the first half because Steven Pressley was constantly gesturing for his player to push forward. They just couldn’t execute it.
If I were an opposing manager against this season’s Arsenal side, I’d certainly want my team to play as high as possible. The Gunners have produced some breathtaking moves on the counter-attack in some games but they also seem their most vulnerable when teams have a go at them and disrupt the passing rhythm from the back. Losing with diffidence is hardly the way to go.
Anyway, there is no point in being too harsh on the Coventry players. I’m sure they’ve gone back thinking they could have done better.
Wenger’s team selection was interesting as the manager picked a very attacking line up with many senior players starting. The central midfield offered practically no protection in front of the defence but the visitors just didn’t have, first, the mentality to attack, and then, the quality in the final third to make a difference. Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain might one day play together at the heart of England’s midfield according to Wenger but I doubt we will see that combination again in the Arsenal midfield any time soon.
When the Coventry fans put up that ‘Why?’ banner in the first half, for a moment I thought it was an impromptu gesture from some Gooners wondering about Özil’s inclusion in the starting line-up. Equally baffling was the introduction of Santi and Giroud at the end, although I doubt either will complain with a goal against their names. Perhaps Wenger just thought the game was getting away from the players on the pitch and he needed to show he was serious.
On a more positive note, it was good to be reminded of Podolski’s finishing qualities even if most of us haven’t actually forgotten them. Özil and Mertesacker picked up the assists for those two goals and with Zelalem’s bubbling potential also visible later in the game, this might just be the night when Wenger’s officially become German.
Fabianski had another decent outing. If football had room for über-specialists, Jenkinson would become a wanted man for his kick-chase-cross prowess.
As I said, just a comfortable outing with very little to take seriously.
Southampton – Warming up to the tough times
As discussed before the last game, the win against Fulham put the Gunners one point ahead on points when compared to corresponding fixtures from last season. The importance of this comparison will become even more obvious from the following table,
I have substituted Crystal Palace for Reading and Hull for Wigan, not ideal but should suffice for the purpose of this discussion. LYR = Last year’s results. PTS = Points from corresponding fixture.
Arsenal picked up only 23 points from these 16 games which include 5 defeats and 5 draws. The exact same results – practically impossible – will see Wenger’s side end with 74 points. 87 points is the average tally of the winners over the last 10 years and the Gunners need to gain 13 points from these fixtures to hit that mark. Not impossible by any means but working out how such a target can be hit – and exploring other possibilities for the final winner’s tally – is an interesting exercise. There are many games where points can be gained and some where they could even be lost. I’ll leave you to play with various permutations while focusing the rest of this article on the next game.
The Saints proved a tough nut to crack when the Gunners visited St. Mary’s Stadium last year. It was Arsenal’s first game in the impressive 2013 calendar year and Nigel Adkins was still the manager there. How things change!?
But they also remain the same. The Gunners are likely to face a very stern test once again despite the home side’s pretty average showing against the top 10 thus far. Pochettino’s side has one win in 10 games, with none in the 4 at home, against teams in the top half of the table. You could also say that defeat to Arsenal derailed their season in some ways. Flying high in third position before that, the Saints lost three straight and only picked up 5 points from their next 9 games.
Many thought their defeat at the Emirates was unfortunate but I did get the distinct feeling that the quality of their pressing was not at the level required for their form to last. Furthermore, their possession play is also a work in progress.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to belittle the fantastic work done by Pochettino or the quality of his players. It’d be great for the league if many other clubs with limited resources could produce such teams. It’s just that they are a little bit below the top eight in terms of quality and consistency even if well clear of the remaining eleven teams. That reflects nicely in their island-like position in the table over the last few weeks.
Southampton’s best hope from this game, and one that isn’t too unrealistic, would be that their pressing works better than it did in the reverse fixture. They need greater cohesion and quicker starts to the press but that alone might not be enough as they’ll have to rely on technical and/or tactical mistakes from the Gunners. It’s possible given the lacklustre form we’ve seen in the not too distant past and the fact that some players will be returning to the starting line up after injury layoffs means coordination amongst the visitors might not be ideal.
Wenger’s choices in midfield will also, obviously, have an influence on the patterns of play. Wilshere is likely to be out of contention as is Walcott. Arteta and Ramsey could be back. I don’t know if Rosicky is available or not.
I’d think Arteta, Özil, Santi, and Giroud are certainties for the front six. Wenger could pick between Ramsey and Flamini based on fitness or he could start both if he wants an extra midfielder in the side. The Frenchman does that sometimes in tricky away games and it tends to slow the game down but it also increases the likelihood of ball-retention and defensive stability.
Ramsey’s return to the side, and hopefully to form, could be vital to the team’s chances as he has the energy to join up in attacks on a consistent basis.
The defence will also have their work cut out. It won’t be the one-dimensional long-ball approach like Villa had, Lambert won’t cut an isolated, disinterested figure like Berbatov, and their players have the quality in the final third to convert the chances that Coventry squandered. They are strong in the air, can score from distance, and make clever runs/combinations if given space in the final third. Arsenal have to get their unified defence back and working without glitches. The Gunners won’t create too many chances in this game so the distribution of points could very well depend on how solid the defence is.
We might see,
Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Flamini – Ramsey, Giroud, Cazorla.
Some fans don’t like Arteta and Flamini in the same midfield. I don’t have a problem with that selection as long as there are other attacking ideas being executed. It’s definitely not a bad combination in a game where the team could end up defending deep.
That said, Rosicky on the right with Ramsey replacing Flamini in midfield would be better. Little Mozart has a nose for sniffing out offensive opportunities but it might need some mending!
There is a possibility that Wenger picks Monreal ahead of Gibbs. Both are very good.
Many fans probably want to see Oxlade-Chamberlain in the staring eleven. I’m not convinced he does enough on the pitch to get a start in a game like this. Wenger, if he has enough faith in the rest of his starting line-up, could pick the youngster to further his development. On the job training is often a necessary tool in the final stages of polishing a raw talent.
A more adventurous front six would be – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey – Özil, Giroud, Podolski. Full backs would provide the width, Podolski the fire power, Giroud the anchor, while Özil and Santi pull the strings. It could work well if the defensive midfielders show positional discipline and concentration. I don’t see Wenger going for it though.
This is an opportunity for the team to pick up two more points over last season but they’ll have to raise the performance above the quality levels we saw against the likes of Villa and Fulham in order to return with three points.Follow @goonerdesi