After the very disappointing defeat in the derby, we were all desperate for a five-star performance against bottom club Leicester City at the home of football.
The combination of a good overall run of games, the 5-0 trashing of the Villains recently and the narrow loss against the Spuds, made us all feel extra positive about last night’s game. So expectations were high, even though we knew that Leicester are not a bad team and have managed to (semi)scalp a few top-four contenders in recent months. They also had nothing to lose and a manager who has the support of the team and yet is under enormous pressure: a combination that makes a team want to fight.
We have to applaud the Foxes for not sitting back and making it a cup-tie sort of game. They never gave up and played some fine football throughout the match.
Many on Bergkampesque know that I am a big believer in the need for Giroud in our current team. He is not the world best Centre Forward, but I cannot think of a better all-round holding striker in the EPL. He is also our attacking pivot around whom we build our play. I have to say I was surprised not to see him on the team sheet. With Sanogo on loan, we do not have a like for like player and it showed.
We basically played six at the back – Ospina, Bellerin, BFG, Koz, Monreal and Le Coq – and five attacking midfielders. There was lots of movement and the ball was passed well at times, but we also lacked understanding and automatism between the players to a large extent. We dominated play in the first half but did not create many clear cut chances without Giroud being there to bounce the ball off; the sumptuous throughball by Ozil to Theo in the box being the highlight of the first half.
But for all the criticism we can sling at the team, we are good at scoring goals at the moment: eight goals in the last three encounters gives an average of 2.67 a game, and this is what is saving us currently. And once again, Ozil delivered the bread and butter stuff, with two fine assists this time round. I really don’t get the criticism on BK and other blogs about our fabulous German maestro. He was bought to add invention, attacking intent, assists and goals and he is delivering big style, yet many focus on his perceived lack of effort. I say perceived as his stats always show he puts in tons of efforts, often not visible on the screen. What is visible to everyone, though, is his goals and assists tally since he has returned, and we should bless our cotton socks he is fully fit again.
So, although our attacking efforts lacked structure and cutting edge, we got away with it by scoring from a corner and on the rebound from a speculative, yet fierce, Ozil long-distance shot. Koz took his chance very calmly and Theo was decisive and lethal when he had his second good chance of the match.
I am not saying we cannot play without Giroud in the centre, but it is obvious to me that every time we do not play him we miss shape and purpose and it will take time for the team to learn to play without him. Do I want us to practice this at this stage of the season? Non merci!
Leicester had actually created the better chances from playing good football and were unlucky to be behind at the break by two goals. They were playing with freedom and enthusiasm and we gave them far too much space, especially on our right hand side (as we did against the Spuds as well).
And this brings me to the biggest issues we are facing currently: general shape of the team and, in particular, our struggle with dominating midfield and controlling the flow between defence and attack. We are lacking connection between our attackers and defenders and this is the biggest challenge for Wenger to resolve.
Many seem to underestimate how difficult this is, as the risk of getting our defence exposed too much is always there. The modern game is all about the battle in midfield and to win it we need a good mix of skills and a great understanding between the players; we also need the attackers to chip in when we need to defend as a team, and our defenders to support the midfield when we need to put pressure on the opposition.
It is great to have more and more players back but there is also a price to pay. It takes time to fit the likes of Theo and Ozil, Ospina and Bellerin and Coquelin into the team. On top of that, Ramsey, who in the b2b role is one of our most important players, has not hit full form as yet. And now it looks like he will be out for a long period once again. Coquelin has been a revelation since he started to play as our deep DM, but also he is not faultless of course.
It is clear to me that Arsene is looking hard to find the balance in midfield and with Ramsey out he will have to face another challenge. Some want more physical power in midfield but I am not convinced this is the main factor. Le Coq has definitely added a lot in this respect. What we are lacking is the ability to hold on to the ball in tight spaces and make darting runs forward. An inform Ramsey is good at this, and a fully fit Wilshere is even better at it. Wilshere also has a strong need to own the midfield and fight for dominance, and his forward link-up play from deep in midfield is very good. But it remains to be seen whether he can play an important role for us this season, as his fitness remains a big issue.
Rosicky and Santi should be good alternatives for the odd game or two, but it looks like they cannot do this for the team on a regular basis. Rosa looks more effective in the hole or in a free role and Santi is struggling with the physical demands of playing so deep most of the time.
If Wenger can fix this particularly area – and how he would wish either Jack or Diaby were fit right now – we will see this team hitting the heights once more; and we are closer to this than many think.
Positives from the game:
- Not one…;
- Not two….;
- But three points, and that three days after an epic battle with the Spuds;
The Spuds dropped three points and let’s see how many points fellow competitors drop tonight.
Sometimes we should just be a bit more happy with the ugly gift horses we get and not complain as much about how we got them. Arsene never promised us a rose garden… and beauty is for the Spring anyway . 😉