Date: 29th November 2014 at 8:43pm
Written by:

Giroud’s return to fitness provided yet another forward/midfield permutation to try out in this as yet still unsettled season. Alexis started wide right with Welbeck wide left and Giroud in the centre though all interchanged very well. With Ramsey and Cazorla playing in the centre and Flamini sitting deeper you might have imagined Aaron would be the one to sit alongside Flamini but Santi could often be found playing even deeper.

I have expressed doubts about Santi as a playmaker previously but the extra room he had playing Wilshere’s role, as in the game against Dortmund, seemed to suit him well. He was able to spray passes around with left or right foot with great accuracy, 94% finding their intended target while playing passes over a greater distance than his usual range. In the process he created 3 chances, including the assist for Welbeck’s goal and had 4 shots himself, all on target and mainly from outside the area as he backed up the attack. He might have had another goal attempt and possibly a goal to his credit had he been an inch taller as his unsuccessful jump still couldn’t get him high enough to reach Gibb’s cross in the second half. But his magic feet and acceleration saw him get to the byline and cross into the box as Welbeck not only leapt but hung in the air to power his header home.

With the restoration of Koscielny our starting back four seemed to have a more physically robust feel about it as Monreal was preferred to the more attacking Gibbs but ironically the Spanish left back come centre back, praised by Wenger during the week for his ability to read the game well in adapting well to the centre back role, came off injured halfway through the first half. That Gibbs was available from the bench is one of those occasions when you feel a substitution is unlikely to disrupt our game plan.

Over the course of the game this was one where our defence was kept quite busy, at least in the second half as West Brom launched the ball into the area trying to get something out of the game. Having conceded points from winning positions rather too often this season our midfield and forwards dropped deep to add to the numbers in defence determined as they were not to let this one slip away. Partly as a result of this all four defenders, who normally dominate such stats, as they focussed on clearing their lines, produced worse pass completion figures than any of the midfielders or forwards. As the midfield line, with Alexis and Welbeck joining them, wasn’t much in advance of the defensive line most clearances just found empty spaces.

With Chamberlain on in place of Giroud there looked to be a real opportunity to counter but apparently not quite the confidence to risk committing resources to do so. In the end the result was the right one so the decision was justified I guess.

Two consecutive wins and two consecutive clean sheets were what was needed to quell the negative noise that all too easily envelops us when things aren’t going to plan. Last weekend the talk was of the worst 12 game start to a season for 30 plus years. I doubt that anyone will bother to tell us that this is now only the worst 13 game start to a season since the season before last! No longer negative enough to be news worthy I suppose.

At the moment we’re still struggling to find a format that works well enough to be confident in our own game and if anything we’re spoilt for choice even without enforced changes brought about by injury. Ox might have felt unlucky to have been dropped in favour of playing Welbeck in a wide position but he has learned that role well and provides better defensive nous and decision making than Ox who is almost 3 years his junior in both age and experience. Despite Welbeck playing more often centrally for both England and Arsenal of late he has also now recently been used by both club and country in a wide role. One of his real assets is that he provides just that flexibility and providing he can interchange as successfully as he did in this match he needn’t feel too concerned about his starting position whether as lone forward, a pair in a 4-4-2 or anywhere in a 4-3-3 set up.

It was as a forward trio that Giroud, Sanchez and Welbeck worked well today and might have gained an early reward if the foul on Giroud, which must surely be given every time if outside the box, was seen by the referee in the same way when inside the box. It seems these things have many convenient interpretations including, there’s contact but not enough contact and Giroud had played the ball before he was fouled!

At least this was a game that we exercised control over for the full 90 minutes, cautiously finding our rhythm in the first 20 minutes before dominating the next 40 minutes and then seeing out the final 30. We found a formula that worked this time but we’re likely to see a few more tweaks and changes yet before we find a pattern and permutation we’re happy with. Too many choices seem to have their challenges as well as too few.