He Do to Make it Right!
Midweek here and–after the extreme elements have said their piece–gloated, groaned, and given up on the season after one match–the more level headed in the Arsenal world are working to diagnose (and dissect) what went wrong in the opener with an eye to how we can improve things this coming Sunday at Selhurst Park.
We all had hoped the feel-good factor from our perfect pre-season would translate into an easy opener. West Ham United had other ideas and manager Slaven Bilic used their more rigourous efforts in the Europa League qualifiers to craft a perfect strategy to counter our attack. Married that to a day when everything went well for them–and nothing fell our way–and, like a blast from our cannons, Arsenal are staring up at everybody else from the foot of the table.
Beyond the muted calls for a new manager, the louder ones for a new striker and the lols around the mistakes from our lone signing of the season, goalkeeper Petr Cech, analysts are criticizing the narrowness of our attack, our confusion at set pieces and overplaying out of our own box. To be frank, mistakes were made, but our attack also played into the hands of a very solid West Ham central defence. As much as Cech might have blown his chances, Adrian did very well with his. Ogbanno and Reid also were outstanding ahead of the West Ham keeper, helped a bit by another central defender, James Tompkins, filling in for our ineligible loanee, Carl Jenkinson.
To add insult to injury (although I believe we made it through the match with no new injuries, at least…), 16 year old Reece Oxford, a guy even Spurs rejected (!), did a job ahead of the central pairing in a defensive mid-field spot. The best of all the tweets to come out of the match was a joke about things found in a 16 year-olds pocket: chewing gum, cell phone, Mesut Ozil. Good humour always contains an element of truth. In my view it wasn’t so much Oxford containing our playmaker but rather too many of our own guys crowding that central space making us far too narrow in attack.
One of them was our breakout player from last season, Francis Coquelin. Instead of focusing on the basics and moving the ball on quickly then retreating, his passes and runs were far more adventurous–and often misplaced. Personally, I thought his push to the end line and pull-back for Giroud was one of our best moments in attack, but it did seem symptomatic of our rush to get that first goal. That it was Le Coq doing it spoke (to me) of the desperation we were feeling–even at nil-nil. A similar sense of desperation may have caused Coquelin to break back towards goal on their set piece, eliminating any chance for the play to be call back for offsides. At 2-nil the manager sacrificed the player, but our attack looked little improved and too many bodies (too central and too far forward) did not swing the advantage our way.
That match is history and the quicker we can put it behind us the better. Optimists hope that the wake-up call coming early can work to our advantage. Perhaps it will motivate Wenger to get more serious in the transfer market. Maybe it will show the players that they cannot simply show up in the shirt and walk away as winners. I’m not so sure. Confidence has been dented (if not crushed) and now it must be restored. How then, do we do it?
Some suggest that Wenger must ring the changes and come with an all-out attack. Before the West Ham match much of the discussion was on Giroud or Walcott–or why not both? That last tactic was employed at the end of the match but it resulted in little progress. Throwing in Alexis didn’t help either. The Hammers didn’t muster much on the counter, but then again, with a two goal lead, they didn’t need to.
I believe Wenger will not tinker too much. If he thought Alexis was ready for a super-sub cameo after 6 days with the club, my bet is that he’ll believe in him that much more after two weeks. As such, my guess is a reversion to the sort of lineup which was so successful last Spring.
This means moving Santi Cazorla back alongside Coquelin at the rear of our midfield. Alexis takes up his role on the left side of attack with Giroud as the focal point up front. The big question is what happens on the right.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked bright over there, but perhaps less so trying to dribble the ball out of our own box and into the feet of Mauro Zarate who took a touch and then blasted to the near corner to double our deficit. Does he get dropped for the mistake or does he receive the pat on the back (for his direct play going forward) and keep his spot?
Aaron Ramsey, who started many a match in the wide-right role last Spring could be moved there. Like the Ox, his tendency will be to push into central spots, but, even if Wenger would like him to supplant Santi or Le Coq in a DM role, he at least has some familiarity with the wider role. It might also force him to work a bit more with Mathieu Debuchy, whom he looked off while in acres of space, opting to take a daisy-cutter of a shot which rolled wide of goal and out of play instead.
Then there’s Theo. His whole career has been accompanied by the question of whether or not he can play alone up front. With so much time lost to injury he’s normally had to contribute from a wider position and has gotten quite capable in using his pace to push balls out wide and bring them across. Is it a shot or is it a cross? It’s a Theo ‘shot-cross,’ patent pending! While they can cause all sorts of havoc and can go in for goals–just ask those ManU fans who saw one do just that in our match late last season–they don’t have the look of deliberateness and control so many of us crave.
Nobody knows what Wenger is thinking but my hunch is that the question, I believe, is out there on the right side of our attack. That’s just me, of course. What do you guys think Wenger needs to do? It’s probably too early to say that he simply “doesn’t know,” but perhaps losing two-nil at home to the lowly Hammers is two-nil too much. Can we (he) refigure this current group for success or should he send Steve Bould to the touch line while he works on transfer business?
In other words, have at it, and tell us what you think the manager should do. It’s Wednesday, after all, and we need to get this last match in the rear-view and get Palace firmly into the cross-hairs.