“Lies, damn lies and statistics.” That immortal sentence can hardly be disputed. For instance, if you take a brief look at the results we had achieved this week, you will see this:
Arsenal-Swansea 2:2 (0:1),
Arsenal-Manchester City 1:1 (0:1).
Then again, those two matches couldn’t be more different. Sure, there were similar elements – a not so great first half from our side, falling behind in the early stage of the match, inability to make a clear cut chance – but that’s where it stops. If we had beaten the Swans, that victory would have left a sour taste due to our poor performance. If we had lost to Citizens, that defeat would have leave us with pride due to the spirit shown by our players. The ultimate victory for our players was the substitution Manuel Pellegrini made at 1:1 – Samir Nasri, who got a fair share of boos yesterday, was replaced with Javi Garcia. The free-scoring media darlings from Manchester wanted to preserve a single point against an injury-stricken Arsenal.
Here are the key pointers from the game against the Citizens:
1.We can forget about the title.
Six matches to go, we are seven points behind leaders Liverpool. It’s not impossible to catch them but to catch all three teams that are ahead of us will be tough… Our title bid was ruined with a preposterous series of injuries, tough fixtures and a lack of initiative of our manager during both transfer windows.
2.Szczesny might need a break.
Our cheeky Pole hasn’t been in form lately. He has kept only one clean sheet since that blunder (harmless in terms of points though) against Sunderland and he can thank Koscielny for that one against the Spuds as the Frenchman bailed him out. Szczesny did stop Yaya Toure’s shot at the end and finger-tipped an excellent Fernandinho strike over the bar but he nearly gave away a second goal to City just a minute before Flamini leveled the score. We still have Fabianski in the team and perhaps he might get a chance for the decisive match of the league against Everton next week.
3.Can Mertesacker and Vermaelen form a solid short-term partnership?
Given that Koscielny’s calf has ruled him out for the forthcoming challenges in the Premiership against Everton and FA Cup tie against Wigan, we’ll need the Mertesacker-Vermaelen axis at the highest level. Their matches so far haven’t been the rock solid performances but you might have seen an improvement on Saturday. We sat deeper against City and with more disciplined full-backs it was a different story than it was last week against Chelsea. Granted, City are more about possession than counter-attacks but they know how to strike from the counter-attack. After all, their only goal of the game after the counter-attack.
Vermaelen hasn’t featured in too many games this season and most of the time he has been used as a cover for either Mertesacker or Koscielny. That’s why he looks rusty at times. Furthermore, either due to poor rotation or our bad luck, Vermaelen has been mostly introduced in big matches and we haven’t done very well in those this season which has probably affected his self-confidence (he replaced Mertesacker just before the game against Manchester United at Old Trafford, replaced Koscielny after we had conceded the second goal against City in the reverse fixture, replaced Podolski after Kieran Gibbs’ absurd red card against Chelsea…). However, with Koscielny out, Vermaelen must step up and show why he was chosen by Wenger for team captain after Robin van Persie left.
4.Has Wenger found the winning formula for the Flamini-Arteta partnership?
The absence of Wilshere and, especially, Ramsey has had a devastating effect on our midfield – our game has been too slow, powerless, lethargic and pale. Still, if there was something encouraging yesterday, it was the way Mathieu Flamini found his feet in a more advanced role than usual. The French enforcer scored the equalizer and had one more goal chalked off for offside. He allowed Cazorla and Rosicky to create space in the Manchester City half and was more or less everywhere.
Arteta made some sloppy passes but did his role to protect our back-line well. Perhaps it’s the key for success until Ramsey, Wilshere and Özil return. Arteta might have formed a similar connection with Flamini like he had with Alex Song during 2011-12. Arteta was perfect cover for Song when the Cameroonian went forward.
5.Giroud can’t score in big matches…
It’s a well-known fact, I’m afraid. The Frenchman has featured in twelve matches in English competitions against both Manchester clubs and Chelsea since he had joined from Montpellier in 2012 and hasn’t scored a single goal against the aforementioned opponents. If we add the five matches against Liverpool into the equation, his percentage gets only slightly better than zero – he has scored one in seventeen. It’s not the level one of the biggest clubs in the world should strive for. However…
6….he might make amends against Everton next week.
During our brilliant run-in last term, we played against Everton at home. It ended 0:0 and Olivier Giroud didn’t have his shooting boots on. In December, Giroud failed to find the net again with his wonderful volley denied by the cross-bar in the final seconds of the match.
Still, if there is a big match in which Giroud should score a goal, it’s the one against Everton. The Frenchman scored two against the same opponents in the FA Cup quarterfinals this month and that should be a good omen. The Toffees have been tremendous this season and our victory over them in FA Cup helped them in a way that it gave them the possibility to focus solely on the Premiership and fight for a Champions’ League place.
7.We have won three matches out of the last ten.
We can feel positive with our performance against Manchester City but here is a really annoying fact: we have won just three out of the last ten matches – Crystal Palace (2:0), Spuds (1:0), Sunderland (4:1). We have lost three (Liverpool 5:1, Stoke 1:0, Chelsea 6:0) and drawn four (Southampton 2:2, Manchester United 0:0, Swansea 2:2, Manchester City 1:1). As you can see, we have kept a clean sheet on just two occasions in that period and have a negative goal-difference. That doesn’t sound convincing so we must get a grip and get a good result at Goodison Park. Even a draw wouldn’t be a bad result but with three points we would probably secure fourth place.
8.The two next matches are the most important of the season so far.
Some people say that it’s only the next game that matters. And it makes sense because you can only think about one game at the time. However, given that we’ll play two heavy matches and that our squad is injury-depleted, it’s not wrong to think in advance. For instance, Mathieu Flamini is one yellow card away from a two-match-suspension. Everton play a possession-based football with the ability to launch dangerous counter-attack like Barkley and Mirallas have demonstrated this season which might require so-called smart fouls. Flamini is the guy for those but that would mean he misses the FA Cup semifinal against Wigan and the one against West Ham that will take place only three days later.
Two victories in the next two matches would get us very close to the completion of a very successful season. After the first of the three goals I’ve mentioned a month ago (a treble over Spuds) being achieved, there are two more to go – a fourth-place-trophy in the Premiership and FA Cup victory. Teams that stand in our way haven’t spent hundreds of millions on players and an instant success. Actually, both Everton and Wigan have something important in common – Roberto Martinez has over-achieved with both of them and – unlike, say, David Moyes – Martinez has beaten much bigger clubs during his career and is capable of creating troubles for us. We are four points ahead of Everton but The Toffees have a game in hand.
Wigan have beaten Manchester City already and have the experience of winning the FA Cup. Nobody expected that they would come this close to repeat that feat but with only two games away from defending the trophy and with confidence injected by the victory over Manchester City at Etihad they won’t be push-overs.
That’s why Arsene Wenger should make a lot of good calls in the forthcoming weeks and earn himself a new contract with Arsenal.
9.Time for Akpom?
Chuba Akpom had been with our first team before he had relatively unsuccessful loan spells at Brentford and Coventry. Although his performances in League One didn’t leave an impression that Akpom would indeed become a new Alan Shearer (unless they meant “a poor MOTD pundit”), he has qualities that he had shown during preseason and for Arsenal U21.
Now, Wenger doesn’t want to place a heavy burden on youngsters – Gnabry’s playing time has been limited and even Oxlade-Chamberlain was dropped to bench for the Manchester City match. Akpom – who made his debut in the Premiership already – can hardly win any of the remaining games on his own but he might be useful at least as much as Yaya Sanogo is.
We are entering April, the penultimate month of the season. If we go through our next two challenges successfully, we might have a very happy May.