Time is not on my side this Bank Holiday weekend, so this will be a shorter than usual collection of observations rather than a full blown match report.
A draw at Everton is a good result
Leaving the performance aside, 2-2 at Goodison is worthy of praise, especially if you’re a club who got hammered in all their away games against the top five last season. This was definitely an improvement. I think most Gooners would’ve taken four points from the first two games, especially as this tough fixture came sandwiched between the crucial Champions League qualifying matches and we have injury and match fitness problems blighting many key players.
The performance was poor again
Having said all that, for the third time in seven days we turned in an under par performance and needed another late show to spare our blushes. We were defensively shocking in the first half and lucky not to go in 3-0 down at the break. There were mitigating circumstances as I pointed out above, although Wenger too must take some of the blame.
Wenger picked the wrong team and tactics
When we were battered 3-0 by Everton in April, Wenger was outwitted by Martinez when the latter fielded Lukaku on the right to run at Monreal. It would require some serious strategic thinking on Wenger’s part to stop that happening again, so what did he do? Nothing. Yet again, he played the same shape and the same formation, making no provision to stop Lukaku and the most attacking right back in the league (Coleman, who scored seven goals from open play last season) ganging up on Monreal. To compound matters, Wenger played the work-shy Ozil wide left, and predictably enough the opening goal came courtesy of Ozil not bothering to track Coleman’s run. The second goal was courtesy of Lukaku’s strength and pace down the right. Martinez 2 Wenger 0.
Disappointingly, Wenger once again showed a lack of tactical awareness. He still doesn’t take the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses into account when picking a team. That’s ok when you have the best players in the league and can tell them to simply go out and play their own game, but this isn’t 1998 – 2004 any more and we don’t have Bergkamp, Vieira, Campbell, Henry, Pires etc.
He also doesn’t seem to consider his own players’ shortcomings, failing to see the danger in having Ozil trying to cope with the attacking runs of Coleman. It was a baffling decision — Ozil is a number 10 and a number 10 only — playing him anywhere else (except maybe as a false 9) just doesn’t work, and it’s downright suicidal to play him there against the best attacking right back we’ll face all season. Square pegs in round holes is a dangerous game, especially when an industrious, fresh Rosicky was sitting on the bench. It’s obvious Rosicky should’ve played on the left for this particular fixture and I’m really alarmed Wenger failed to see that.
Giroud changed the game, but isn’t the answer
With Sanchez looking tired and lost in the central striking role, at least Wenger had the guts to make the change at halftime. Having Giroud on the bench is perfect for games which aren’t going our way. He brings something different to the central forward role, holding the ball up and also giving us the option of playing more direct if required.
The downside of Giroud’s better ball retention and ability to bring our attacking midfielders into play is that his finishing ratio is so poor. He had three excellent chances but only took one of them. A world class striker would take two of those chances and we’d end up winning the game, just like an 80% fit Suarez did to England in the World Cup — bang, bang, you’re dead. Giroud deserves praise for changing the game yesterday, but we MUST have a world class centre forward. Hopefully Wenger will persevere with Alexis because if he’s been signed to play out wide, we may as well forget any title chances right now. I have faith Wenger can work the same magic with Alexis that he did with Henry — fingers crossed that’s his intention.
Chambers is still a youngster learning his trade
Like everyone else I’ve been hugely impressed with Chambers, but his shortcomings were exposed yesterday. He is still raw and inexperienced and was caught out on more than one occasion. I don’t like the idea of him sharing defensive midfield responsibilities this season with Arteta and Flamini, as Wenger has hinted at. We really need to sign a specialist, quality player in that position and there are no excuses not to do it. Ditto a replacement for Vermaelen.
Conclusion — the jury’s out
As I said last week, we can’t really judge this team’s potential until next month when the transfer window will be shut and all our players will be match fit and (hopefully) injury free. So the team’s performances aren’t giving me sleepless nights just yet. What of Wenger’s performances then? Well, going to Goodison and playing the same tactics as April, with square pegs in round holes to boot, doesn’t fill me with confidence, but we’ll see.
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