Date: 25th January 2015 at 9:01pm
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If the FA cup still holds drama then we got that this weekend. Most of the best teams in the Premier League came undone or struggled to earn a replay and Spurs went out as well. ManU’s draw at League 2 side Cambridge City had LvG demonstrating that complaints about pitches and refereeing decisions aren’t unique to any manager and having lost a 2 goal lead to concede 4 goals to League 1’s Bradford I guess Mourinho must be considered tactically clueless if superficial analysis is universally applied.

As a prelude to our tie away to Brighton it was all pretty much the overture we might have composed for ourselves. We even allowed our own Little Mozart to conduct our performance and he did a pretty good job of it too. He set up Ozil beautifully for our second goal and scored the third, a sumptuous volley with the outside of his right foot, to restore a two goal cushion after we’d allowed Brighton to peg us back early in the second half. Tomas has a great ability to control the ball, turn away from his man and drive forward 4 or 5 metres all in one movement to open up space and he did so all game. At 34 years old you would expect him to flag late in the game but if he did he didn’t show it and even created a great chance for Ramsey late in the game after we’d been pegged back yet again.

But it wasn’t all about Rosicky as Ramsey ran himself ragged making 104 passes with good accuracy and seeing more of the ball than any other player as the box to box runner dropped back alongside Flamini when we didn’t have the ball and looked to support the attack when we did. Surprisingly for some perhaps, Ozil even though he left the pitch 15 minutes before the end of the game, wasn’t far behind Ramsey in number of passes or touches, in fact on time played he was slightly ahead, though with notably greater accuracy. He also scored a neat goal and created 3 other chances.

There’s no doubt that the early goal helped us control the first half particularly and Theo will have gained confidence from a good finish. It encouraged us as much as it seemed to deflate Brighton. It’s as well that we started quickly and positively having made a number of changes. Perhaps not so much in midfield and attack because the players we put out would have been familiar in their roles to a greater extent than our back four would have been. I think this might have been the tenth different defensive permutation we have tried this season.

Worryingly for me Kos and Monreal have similar strengths as centre backs and probably similar weaknesses too. Playing off Mertesacker and taking their positioning from him either player reads the play quite well and looks to intercept expecting Mertesacker to cover them in the central areas. As yet, not surprisingly I suppose that understanding didn’t seem to exist between today’s pairing. When there’s uncertainty between centre backs about their positioning that uncertainty transmits itself to the full backs too. At times in the second half as Brighton applied more pressure that uncertainty was exposed and the contest made a lot closer than it should have been as defensive hesitancy conceded two poor goals. It’s not a permutation we should be tempted to try too quickly against stronger teams.

According to Arsene Wenger support is on the way in the form of the young Brazilian Gabriel Paulista from Villareal. I’m not sure that he isn’t a similar defender to Koscielny from the little I’ve seen of him but if Koscielny’s tender tendons are still giving him gyp then that’ll do nicely. Chances are though we’re more likely to see him playing right back before he plays centre back if Mertesacker and Kos remain fit.

Taking Walcott and Giroud off made some sense in that Walcott is still in a recovery phase and Giroud, at least until Welbeck is fit, is our most favoured front man so protecting him was a pragmatic move while giving Akpom a taste of first team football. Whether Sanchez was quite the right choice when perhaps we needed to control the ball more is not a question that I would expect to be taken too seriously given his prodigious work rate and capacity to create or score a goal at any time but nevertheless, more in the way of idle chin stroking than any strongly held view, I do wonder whether Cazorla might have taken a little more pressure off of our midfield.

As Walcott sensibly judged after the game we were good in patches but, in the wake of 3 consecutive clean sheets we need to look closely at the two goals we conceded. Nonetheless with a good number falling at the fourth hurdle it has been a good round for us. There are still some good runners left in the field and there’s always a surprise runner but providing we draw a decent starting gate it’s a race we can win if our tactics aren’t without clues and pitch conditions and refereeing decisions don’t confound us.