Had Mesut Özil scored a goal in the opening minutes of the match, our game against Fulham would have been a walk in the park. After all, to say our opponents are a mediocre side would be an undeserved compliment for them.
They have been poor and I have a feeling that their new manager hasn’t done anything to convince anyone that he was a better choice than Martin Jol.
Their defensive record has been terrible this season and if they go down, they’ll have to address their defending. No other team in the league has passed the 40-goal-mark when it comes to conceded goals while the Cottagers are only two conceded goals away from reaching 50. No other team in the Top 5 European leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain) has conceded more than Fulham.
However, they did give us a nervous first half. Apart from Özil’s chance, we couldn’t find a way to create a clear-cut opportunity. Gnabry’s long shots seemed like the only reasonable way to break the visitors’ parked bus. Giroud couldn’t find too much space against Hangelaand, Özil wasn’t in the mood for assists and Cazorla’s miniatures and dribbling didn’t provide any goals.
At the other end of the pitch, Sidwell’s fine attempt was deflected by Szczesny and our cheeky Pole made another important intervention when he rushed out to pick the ball ahead of Kačaniklić. It was one of the worst half-times we have had this season as our attack was too sterile and lacked mobility. In the second half, our passing improved as well as our movement. We looked more dangerous and Cazorla’s brace put the game to bed.
Here are some key pointers from today’s game.
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1.The biggest star of this team is…the team.
We have won five in a row in the Premiership and each time we have had a different hero. Against West Ham, Theo Walcott’s brace was crucial part of our victory after we had been one goal down. Against Newcastle, it was Olivier Giroud who scored a match-winning header. Cardiff City had a draw in their pocket before Nicklas Bendtner fired the ball into the net in the final minutes. Jack Wilshere scored and created another in the space of just 59 seconds in our 2:1 victory at Villa Park. On Saturday, it was Santi Cazorla who scored twice to give us three points which kept us at the top. Who will wear the super-hero cape against Southampton? Podolski? Özil? Or, maybe, Aaron Ramsey who might return for that match?
This team doesn’t have a world-class striker like Suarez, Agüero or Van Persie. No Arsenal player has yet reached double digits in terms of goals in the Premiership – Olivier Giroud’s 9 goal tally has been good enough for joint 6th place in the list of top goal scorers this term. However, at some point, that makes this Arsenal more consistent and more effective than the one that had depended on Cesc Fabregas or Robin Van Persie before they left London. Even if the opponents find a way to switch Özil off, someone else will step up.
2.We have turned Emirates into a defensive fortress.
OK, we have made some defensive mistakes during our winning streak but members of our back five usually cover for each other. If Monreal can’t come back in time to prevent a counter-attack down his flank, Szczesny will rush out to save things. If Szczesny doesn’t handle the ball well so the opponents’ striker claims it, rounds him and prepares to take a shot, Koscielny will be there to close that striker down so he can’t take a clean shot.
We have conceded two goals in seven matches in the Premiership and FA Cup since our defeat at the Etihad and, what might be even more important, we have conceded just one goal in the last seven games at the Emirates (Deulofeu’s equalizer for Everton).
3.We might need a few no-stress victories ahead of bigger challenges.
Our next match is scheduled for next Friday – we are going to play against Coventry in the FA Cup. We should be good enough to win that match with our second string. Coventry are a third tier side and we should beat them comfortably.
Four days later we play Southampton away and if we manage to beat them, we’ll put serious pressure on Manchester City before they face the Spuds at White Hart Lane. The Saints’ match will be followed by a home game against Crystal Palace. Tony Pulis’ side is one of the worst in the league and we should win that game easily.
Why did I ask for “no-stress victories”? We have had too many nail-biting matches recently and no-stress victories against Coventry, Southampton and Crystal Palace respectively would spare a lot of energy for our players before they face the likes of Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern respectively in February.
4.Wenger will have to rotate.
Wenger played both matches this week with the same starting eleven. Given how many players are either injured (Arteta, Vermaelen, Ramsey, Bendtner, Walcott, Diaby, even Rosicky can be counted here) or in process of regaining match fitness (Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski), it’s not that much of a surprise that Wenger didn’t change the winning formula from Villa Park.
However, a fixture congestion will make him rotate and he’ll have to do it properly. I can see Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting line-up against Coventry alongside players like Jenkinson, Hayden, Eisfeld and maybe even Emiliano Viviano who hasn’t made a single appearance since joining Arsenal on loan. Chu-Young Park might get some playing time as well. Southampton have been the most pleasant surprise in the Premiership so far and that’s why I think we should give a rest to majority of our Best XI against Coventry.
5.It will be easier when Ramsey and Rosicky return.
R’n’R have been among our best players this season. The Welshman has been injured since Boxing Day but should be back soon. His intelligent runs behind the opponents’ defence give another option for Özil’s magical passes. The Little Mozart gives us directness that we missed in the first half of today’s game.
6.Jack Wilshere has had a very fine January.
“Mr Arsenal” had been criticized for the lack of goals and assists in his game before this season but that might be ancient history if he keeps the efficiency he has shown in 2014. He assisted Walcott against Cardiff, scored and assisted to Giroud against Aston Villa and assisted Cazorla for the opener today. His drive and passion for the Arsenal colours have been enriched with a final touch and his contribution can finally be seen on the score-board.
So, we have won five in a row. Our next stop in the Premiership is Southampton but before that we’ll take on Coventry in the FA Cup. It will be played on Friday night and fans haven’t been in the mood for cartwheels of joy because of that.
Anyway, our team should be capable of beating Coventry at any day of the week. I’d like to see rotation in our squad for that match but also a professional approach from those eleven that Wenger will send on the pitch. We should have learned our lesson about complacency against lower-division sides Bradford and Blackburn last season.
Oh, in case I forgot to say:
WE ARE STILL TOP OF THE LEAGUE!