To use the football king of cliches, this was a game of two halves. What can we say about the first one? It was dire, the worst half of Arsenal football I have seen in a long while. We were disjointed throughout the team and collectively we had no fighting spirit whatsoever. Wenger left the normal leaders at home for various reasons but there were plenty of players on the pitch who should have stood up and be counted: the likes of Ramsey, Ox, Giroud and Monreal were all not setting the example and were an insult to the shirt during those nasty first 45 minutes.
All our football pairs were not working as one, most notably the CB-pairing of Mustafi and Gabriel: it looked like they had never played together before and left our defence all over the place. The CB-FB pairings did not look much better and Ainsley had very little support from our right winger throughout the game. And then the midfield pairing of Rambo and Xhaka was disjointed, failing to dominate proceedings anywhere on the pitch. The Welsh wizzard had left his magic wand at home and the Swiss time master looked lost on the Deepdale pitch. Up-front, Ollie was isolated and our wingers, hard working Perez and day dreamer Ox, were not working close enough to him or provide him with the required service to hurt the Lilywhites. Iwobi looked lost like a jaguar on a float and all together we played absolute pants.
I was looking for leadership on the pitch: the one to three players in the spine who take initiative and set the tempo. Nobody did this but it was luckily very different in the second half, after Wenger no doubt will have injected peppered carrots in 11 well-deserving Arsenals.
We were only one goal to the bad as a result of some woeful defending, but we all knew we were lucky not to be 2-0 or 3-0 behind. Preston had played with a high tempo and played some good football and they will be feeling quite sick to not have earned a replay at least.
With a higher tempo and a clear instruction for the midfielders to push up and dominate the opponents deep into their own half, the game changed immensely in the second half. We came out like a possessed team – the carrots had an immediate effect – and within a minute we scored the equaliser. Some very composed work by Iwobi around Preston’s ‘D’ led to a shooting opportunity for Ramsey just outside the box. The Welshman did not snatch at it but allowed himself to have a very soft touch in order to then unleash the venom in his right foot with devastating effect. It was a beautiful and powerful shot which left the keeper with no chance – Ramsey’s first goal of the season and boy did he, and we, need it.
After that, we kept up the tempo and played much more like a team. We did not create too many good chances but we also kept our opponents from causing us any danger. And then the Lilywhites started wilting and the Gunners came into the golden last ten minutes of the game phase – as Lewis Hamilton would call it: Hammer Time.
The boys increased the tempo and the attackers were now working with and for Giroud to give us the breakthrough. It was wonderful to see Welbeck joining the attack during this period and I reckon he made a difference straightaway. Rambo pumped one into the box and Ollie managed to direct the ball to Perez. Lucas was crowded out by defenders with his back towards the goal near the byline, but he managed to find his new mate Ollie with the deftest of back-heels. Ollie smelled his chance and a very, very powerful left leg got the ball over defender and goalkeeper by sheer willpower to win the match.
Giroud knows how much the away supporters love him and he scored that goal right in front of 6000 warm and happy Gunners. The goal meant so much to him and this time he did not celebrate with the copy of his scorpion kick but by thumping his Arsenal-logo-embroidered heart with the force of an insane Manowar warlord. He may not have the slickness and athleticism of our Gunner-Gods of Henry or Bergkamp, but what Ollie has done for us in the last few weeks is simply outstanding. For me he is very close to playing himself into my favourite Gunners team of all time. Beauty of spirit goes a long way.
Ospina: 8 – calm, focussed, safe pair of hands.
Ainsley MN: 7 – too many times unsupported, but oozed calm and control for his age
Mustafi: 6 – more willpower than experience on show, not calm enough
Gabriel: 6 – same as Mustafi
Nacho: 6 – same as Mustafi
Rambo: 5 – fist half 2, second half 8 average = 5. Time to become a Manowar warrior…
Xhaka: 5 – looked lost but better second half. Not sure whether Rambo partnership works
Iwobi: 8 – never gave up trying, much better 2nd half due to Wenger’s team adjustments. MOTM
Ox: 4 – no more excuses for Alex
Perez: 7 – struggled at times but better 2nd half and what an assist!
Giroud: 8 – see above.