Date: 14th January 2014 at 6:16pm
Written by:

Phew – that Villa game was closer than it needed to be. Two goals in a minute is pretty great but a two goal lead is far from game over territory and when you see players trying flicks and back heels after thirty minutes away from home you do wonder about the mentality of the team. Villa were desperately poor and while we certainly deserved to win there were more than a few negatives in our team performance.

Santi was once again useless and really looks like a player likely to make way should we indeed get Draxler at the end of the season. He hasn`t come close to his form of last season and the excuse of needing games gets a little thinner each week. His stupidity could well have cost us and it was good to see Mert reading him the riot act. Hopefully Santi cops on and ups his performance level but for me a little time spent on the bench would do him no harm. I like Gnarby as a player but felt he was the wrong option last night as Poldi should have started. We don`t really have players who always think of shooting first and against a team that defended deep like Villa Poldi would certainly have had more attempts than Gnarby. Maybe Wenger is trying to make Lucas angry in the hope that he explodes into games with a point to prove. I`m not sure about this tactic but our German looks pretty angry. Ox coming back gives us more options in the middle of the park and I think we`ve missed Ox`s directness at times so he`s a nice option for us.

Jack divides opinion among fans and while some see him as the second coming I see a good footballer who thinks he is already a great one. He seems to think that he has the physical strength to take on any player and while this aspect of his attitude is admirable his insistence of trying to beat one or two players every time he gets the ball is not. Regardless of fighting spirit he`s a small guy and he is too young to have yet developed that upper body strength that, regardless of hours spent in the gym, really only comes towards the mid to late twenties. Jack and Flamini are both about the same build (coming in at a relatively light 66kg) and I`d bet that Jack has the better defined abs and pecs but I know who my money would be on if they both went for the same ball. The amount of time a player of Jack`s ability spends on the ground is worrying, he needs to release the ball quicker and avoid the physical contests more. I think he has it in him and certainly looks a better player in the middle than out on the wing but if we had a fully fit squad I`d struggle to find a starting place for him in it. But while we have injuries he will play and his goal and assist last night showed us what he can do, more of that Jack and less of the other stuff please.

It`s funny to be critical of both our goal scorers last night but despite scoring I felt that Giroud had another poor game. Maybe poor is the wrong phrase here. I think by Giroud`s standards he had an average game but if you compare him to a central striker in a team hoping to win the league he was poor. It`s hard not to like Giroud, he has a tremendous attitude, his work rate is top notch and he really must be a real pain in the arse to defend against in that he never allows the defenders to have a rest. Missed attempts don`t seem to get to him at all and he could have a game where he misses five great chances only to score in injury time. It`s admirable in a way but I do wonder if it`s enough? He had a great chance after five minutes when Sagna whipped in a perfect cross which Giroud met, pretty much unopposed only about seven or so yards out, he headed it about five yards wide. Now thankfully we were playing Villa and they were so poor for seventy odd minutes that you pretty much knew we`d get more chances but against top teams these type of chances come once a game, and Giroud blew it as he has done before against top teams. I know that

he`s not at the same level as Suarez or RVP or Augero but that doesn`t mean that we shouldn`t judge him against these guys. What we`ve been great at doing all season is beating the teams that we should be beating and Giroud is fine in these games as even if he misses one chance another will come his way later on. The problem for us is that both City and Chelsea have upped their game and they too are now beating the teams they should be beating. They, like us, are now consistent. I hope that it doesn`t but it could come down to how the three teams do in the infamous “6 poniters” coming up in February and March. Question is will Giroud be good enough to decide these games? My fear is that he will not.

Ozil did what Ozil does. He moves the ball so well and while he is never going to be a player that will dominate a match what we do have is a player who can win a match with a moment. People who say that he drifts in and out of a game are correct but they also don`t understand what his role in the team is. His role is to be effective in those moments when he “drifts in”. I don`t care if he does nothing for long periods of a game as long as he does something when it matters. Ozil is a match winner, a big game player, and should the league come down to the games against City and Chelsea I`m delighted that he`s playing in red and not blue.

The backline looked good again, they dealt with almost twenty minutes of balls being hoofed towards are penalty area and marking a pretty solidly built individual in Benteke and came out the other side. It wasn`t pretty defending by us and towards the end I would have liked us to keep the ball a bit more but we looked good again at the back, like we have done all season. The fact that I`m less nervous watching us defend a one goal lead this season than I was watching us two up last season say it all. Schzy, a keeper I always felt talked a better game than he played, has been particularly impressive this season, he seems to have matured and has really turned into someone reliable. And the fact that he loves baiting Spurs fans makes me like him even more.

We picked up a few injuries last night with Rocky and Nacho-Man both going off. Rocky`s nose looked pretty broken to me which means a week or two out before he can risk the Phantom of the Opera look. Nacho could be longer term, broken metatarsal is 6-8 weeks which would put him out for the season. We need Gibbs to stay fit as the prospect of our only backup centre back playing left back is a worrying one.

We have 3 more “winnable” games coming up (Fulham home, Soton away and Palace home) before we have a few tricky games in February and then a really tough run in March. I had hoped that we could have built up a bit of a buffer at the top by the end of this month but, thru no fault of our own, that currently doesn`t look likely which is unfortunate. The bar has been raised over the last few games and all three teams have responded. Despite our defeat in Manchester and dropping points at home to Chelsea our point return per game has actually risen from 2.19 to 2.29 and our ending points trend from 83 to 87. This is based from the first 16 games versus where we are today having played 21. The problem is that Chelsea have responded in kind (2.06 to 2.19) and Man City have been awesome (2.00 to 2.24). It`s going to be an incredibly close finish to the season and it looks increasingly likely that if we are going to win it we`ll have to win it the hard way.

The good news is that we have the back line and midfield to meet the challenge. It`s the forward line I`m worried about.