(Or… Ozil Invisible Again!!)
As Gooners face difficult results we search for coping mechanisms. In descending order of how I rate them…
1) Wenger Out. Spend some damn money!
2) Wenger Out. He doesn’t know tactics AND he doesn’t play my favourite players and he sticks with HIS favourites, the f**king git!
3) Wenger Out. The team has no heart and plays like lady-parts! It’s his team so it’s his fault!
4-6) The exact same, but we blame the owner (4), the injuries (or maybe the physio) (5) or maybe it’s the players themselves who lack heart or are Cs or Ps (6)..
7) The ref cost us the points…
8) The result is bad (very bad) but I see some bright spots…
With a late draw and (very late chances for a win) AND with an injury riddled squad AND a ref who decided to leave his whistle at home, we are left without any REAL satisfaction. Those who would prefer to blame the manager will still find a way, but the obvious narratives (we should’ve bought another CB…or we ought to trust our young players…or the manager should be able to motivate his team…) don’t quite work given the way the opponent’s goals came and the ways our did and didn’t. (We can’t even blame this one on Mesut Ozil–Argh!!!)
As such, in light of lacking total satisfaction–in both the result AND the narratives–we’re left to actually discuss the events. Here’s my take.
We started brightly with aggressive first touches from those we’d expect to make them: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere. Hector Bellerin looked assured and very pacy at Right Back and Nacho Monreal OK at CB. Early on we were able to keep Hull pinned in their own half even if shots were getting blocked at the point of attack or mishit.
In the 13th minute the reward came through Alexis. Our Captain on the day, Per Mertesacker, did well to keep the ball in their half, played it to the Chilean out on the wide right who carried it forward, danced around a defender, and took the shot on himself from a difficult angle. Harper covered his near post like a blanket but was exposed at the far corner and the shot was well-measured. A very assured goal on a great individual effort but it had been coming. It augured well for more.
More goals did arrive but from the wrong team. In a solo effort Mohammed Diame (linked with Arsenal a couple of January’s ago) got on the end of an average pass, jumped easily around stranded Monreal but still had lots to do and only one way to do it–by clearing a path to goal by hauling down Flamini. Szczesny charged out of goal to cut the angle but (maybe) went to ground a little early allowing for a deft chipped finish. 1-1.
It WAS a ridiculous no-call but one which suggested physicality would be permitted. Unfortunately, with such a small Arsenal team out there, it was a refereeing stance which most certainly favoured the visitors. Nonetheless the game was young and the Hull goal was completely against the run of play.
Unfortunately, our early goal may have seen us lose our initiative, perhaps in the hope that (for once) we might seal the (much needed) 3 points before squeaky-bum time. After their equalizer we continued to push forward, especially with aggressive first touches and solid running. The ability to press Hull into their own territory, however, waned, as their time wasting, having restored a perfectly satisfactory score-line for them, increased. Despite 3 minutes of injury time, we headed to the dressing room even.
The team talk must’ve focused on our offensive game because, almost directly from the kickoff, our lack of defensive focus was punished. Without an Arsenal touch (but plenty of very slow chasing of shadows) a wide ball to Huddlestone was lazily closed down by Wilshere. Mertesacker extended his head towards the cross but was easily beaten to it by Abel Hernandez who buried it from 7 yards out. Szczesny almost got a hand to it, but by such margins goals are scored.
Now down a goal, the patterns of the match deepened. Arsenal, huffing and puffing, but with an eye for not getting beaten on the break, kept pushing. Combinations continued to be off, especially amongst some of the English guys who’d played together during the international break, but Arsenal were still the better club. Needing a focus in the middle of the pitch, Wilshere seemed as likely as Cazorla to be the spark. Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose abilities in receiving the ball are as good as anybody at the club, also seemed bothered by basics. Although the initiative seemed strong, passes were either too hard to feet or poorly weighted into space. With Hull working minute by minute (time wasting) to hold the result, frustration and referee appeals came more steadily. Scoring chances did not.
Urgency was required, and Wenger went to his (threadbare) bench at just past the hour mark, pulling Flamini for Aaron Ramsey. Of course Ramsey was coming off another pulled hamstring and didn’t appear his fittest. Was it too many Cornish pies or merely the black boots? Were we risking another long spell out or was 3 weeks (instead of the originally diagnosed 6) enough to resurrect the Welsh Jesus? Either way, even if he brought a more offensive element, he looked unlikely to pop up in the box or belt one from distance.
Our offensive players, perhaps with the exception of Alexis and Welbeck, continued to cut forlorn figures. Oxlade-Chamberlain, in particular, though bright with initial touches was poor with ideas for finishing his moves although one nice run and pull back, even if slightly behind Cazorla, might’ve been better controlled or shot first time.
Wilshere, who took a knee to the back earlier on top of many unrewarded falls to the pitch, seemed increasing petulant as the referee continued to allow contact after contact. On 67 minutes another unwhistled foul was followed by a touch of red mist and an unwise attempt to regain the ball. A clash of knees and a Giroud-esque shaking of the fingers (the universal gesture of “I’m really gonna fake injury on this one or I might be seriously hurt…) seemed worrisome indeed. He took a yellow for his trouble but seemed to leave the pitch walking well. Joel Campbell was up quickly (woken from his nap?) and placed in a wide right position.
Now Oxlade-Chamberlain moved central and though time was still available, nervousness in the stadium seemed the tone. Online, where all is easier, doom and personal agendas, if not outright hate, seemed the order of the moment. Knives sharpened, narratives prepared, everybody was hoping for a win…for one team or the other…
Alas, ’twas not to be. Finally, with the same pressure at which we began the match and throwing caution to the wind by leaving Mertesacker (and Monreal) forward for long periods after set pieces, we forced our way back. At times it was desperate defending to avoid a 3rd Hull goal, but good pitch running from everybody showed belief in the project. Welbeck and Campbell made especially key interventions hustling back from their forward spots. Beyond those very occasional breaks, time wasting, led by former Tottenham Captain Michael Dawson, was Hull’s only tactic. Just as the 4th official lifted the number 6 (signaling extra time) the equalizer went in. Again, individual effort from Alexis and a well weighted close range pass to a very cool left-footed finish by Welbeck and one of the three points was regained.
There was still time for a winner, but a worthy team effort resulted in good pressure but no genuine clear-cut chances. With the final kick of the match, Nacho Monreal had a chance at a close range volley. The finish was that of a true center-back–nothing but air…
And that’s what we’ve got as well–Nothing but air left to fill now that another draw is in the books. 8 league matches, 2 wins, the loss at Stamford bridge and, now, 5 draws. We sit firmly mid-table on the same 11 points by which we trail the league leaders. It’s a long season, and only getting longer… The result is bad indeed, though getting the three points might’ve only papered over the extremely threadbare nature of the squad and the difficulties of the matches (coming thick and fast now) which lie ahead.
For whatever reason, this match seems a good one for player ratings. Of the original narratives on offer up above, the “Wenger Outs” and “Whenever we fail we must be lady-parts” don’t carry a ton of weight. (Ozil WAS invisible in this one, again, but, perhaps, has an excuse…) In my opinion, they would only apply to today’s match if you didn’t actually see it and only read the scoreline. My hunch, however, is that player evaluations will spark PLENTY of debate amongst actual observers… Here goes.
Szczesny: 6 Made no saves and hard to fault for either goal. May have stayed larger on the first, but only the most jaundiced observer would believe he should have come for the cross on the 2nd, which he also nearly saved.
Mertesacker: 6 Beaten far too easily for the 2nd goal but a real leader in pushing forward and continuing the fight. Somehow he intercepts a lot of balls from those positions high up the pitch. I believe he’d be more effective at set pieces if he wasn’t the only red shirted player taller than 6 feet…
Monreal: 6 Caught in no man’s land for the first goal but other defenders (or the ref) were well positioned behind him. Otherwise untroubled as a CB. His air kick at the end will overshadow an audacious cross to Alexis which was just tipped over by the keeper.
Bellerin: 6 Pacy and full of skills and got a mix of both dangerous and very poor crosses in towards goal. Diagonal runs at goal might be a real threat as well. Moving him forward (and Flamini out to RB) when Ramsey came on, might’ve been a thought.
Flamini: 6 People may fault him for not being beast enough to avoid Diame’s pull down but that seems a very harsh judgment. Otherwise kept play ticking over at DM. Ramsey’s introduction, even coming back early from injury, was not a backward move in terms of physical presence.
Wilshere: 5.5 Played with his usual verve but allowed frustration to the get the better of him. He looked as if he wanted to put the team on his back but just couldn’t find the touches nor get the whistles needed. I believe our chances to pull back the two goals would’ve been served better had he stayed on. Instead, he risked an unnecessary challenge and was taken off injured, which, if serious, could be a real blow to his and the club’s chances this season.
Cazorla: 6.5 Played with more aggression than usual (maybe trying to fill the shoes of Ozil) and showed good fitness to stay at it for the full ninety minutes plus injury time. Blocked a few times at the point of his shot but forcing the issue. I believe he needs to use Gibbs out wide for one-twos at times rather than forcing the play central. Blew the one decent final ball the Ox produced, but was regularly in very promising positions.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: 5 With so much imagination, power and skill on the first touch it is a real shame that those qualities seem so lacking if he takes more than one. As the match wore on the pressure to do even more with initial touches seemed to make them even worse. Additionally, at this stage in his career (and packing that huge chest of his) I’m beginning to worry that he seems unable to muster a composed physical and mental performance over the full duration of a match.
Alexis: 8.5 Responsible for both goals and clearly the class player on the pitch, both in skill and attitude. Still some giveaways but the relentless, never-say-die attitude, including keeping his head down in dealing with a ref who would not blow, probably saved us the point.
Welbeck: 7.0 After watching a composed, world-class finisher in the early match (Kun Aguero) it’s hard not to believe we are a step light in this area. The effort cannot be faulted and he ran several pitch-lengths to help keep the match at 1-2. The hold up play is good, but not at the level Giroud brings, nor is the sheer size and bother the bigger Frenchman presents at set-pieces.
Subs: Ramsey 6.5 Not looking fit but a definite lift in class and determination once on the pitch. Hopefully he can play a bigger role in upcoming matches.
Campbell: 6 Also not looking fit but a player with good ball skills who can maybe be a solid hold-up forward at a lower level or in future seasons. In English football, with a ref who won’t call fouls, even attempting to use him in this capacity seems foolish. (Where’s Yaya these days? And Poldolski was held out due to illness?…) As such, it’s all about the final ball but he was unable to create any chances–for himself at any rate. He did well on the one ball over the top in laying it off to Cazorla and should be credited for avoiding an offside call on that one.
So there you go. Those are just my opinions and ratings. (What do they say, Opinions are like Arseholes, everybody has one…) Pick your favorite poison, i.e., narrative or player(s) and scream it to the skies. Or contribute here, perhaps in calmer tones, if possible…
A trip to see the Trappists (Anderlecht) on Wednesday…
Written by: 17HighburyTerrace