View From The North Bank: Villa 0 Arsenal 0
The benefit of writing these things on a Monday is that you get to approach the game with a clear head. On Saturday evening I was deflated, it felt like we’d been beaten. Come Monday morning and reflecting on an away draw that topped off a week in which we beat our hated rivals and qualified for the latter stages of the Champions League isn’t all that bad. If you’d offered me that return ten days ago, I’d have accepted it gratefully.
Now, before I get accused of accepting mediocrity, I’m not saying for one second that I enjoyed that performance or I thought it didn’t deserve criticism. There was much to scratch your head about and serious questions need to be asked, however whingeing about a point away from home seems slightly odd to me. Yes, all three were there for the taking and we ended up with one. Not exactly inspiring but hardly a disaster either.
The game itself was dire. We looked unable to pass the ball to each other or find any rhythm with which to build a sustained attack on Villa’s goal. We were sloppy and leaden footed; just as we were when we capitulated at Carrow Road. The conditions won’t have helped. As the game ebbed away I became increasing frustrated at the lack of quick interplay and purposeful passing; on reflection the conditions explain that to a degree. Heavy rain and a heavy pitch can be a great leveller.
It was disappointing that we stuck to our usual template when the circumstances would have much better suited spreading the play and looking to feed Giroud in the box. The Frenchman has proved that he’s pretty handy when given decent service yet only 3 of our 523 completed passes were crossed into the box.
It was clear that we needed some drive to drag us out of the doldrums. Whilst many around him laboured I thought Aaron Ramsey worked tirelessly to make something happen. He had a couple of efforts at goal, one which he did well to get off and the other he should have done better with, yet his industry went largely unrewarded. Ramsey himself didn’t achieve a match defining contribution yet he appeared to be at least trying to drag us out of the mire. So much of the game was played at walking pace so it was encouraging to see someone trying to raise the intensity.
Another player who got a bit of stick was Gervinho. His performance on Saturday was clumsy yet, in a game in which we needed someone who might provide a bit of energy would it not have been more strange to leave him on the bench? The game was flat, we had Arshavin and Gervinho warming up, why not sling them on and try to make something different happen? As it happened, the best chance we had to break the deadlock in the second half came from an Arshavin cross that Gervinho couldn’t quite meet.
This is where the frenzied reaction from the media and our own fans begins to grate. The manager has to try to do something to influence the game, we don’t. We just have to sit there and agree that it’s great when it works or say that it’s shit when it doesn’t. We have the luxury of saying who we would have put on or that we would have played a different formation safe in the knowledge that we’ll never actually have to be tested on that.
Much of the game is about opinions and it would be much more dull if we didn’t express those and question the manager on his decisions, yet there are ways of doing that constructively. Accusations flung at Wenger, reportedly from a small band of travelling support and scavenging sections of the media, seem to me to be wide of the mark. There is no doubt that Wenger has a responsibility to the fans but to accuse him of not knowing what he’s doing, in my opinion, just appears silly.
I’m not going to go on a long rant about how much respect I have for Wenger and I’m not going to recite his achievements as a coach, but it would strike me as the rational thing to assume that a man who spends every waking hour watching, coaching, and analysing Football and is armed with first hand experience of his players, might be a touch better qualified to decide which substitutions to make than most of us. There are often things that the coaching staff know that we don’t. It’s also fair to say that there is more than one way to get a result.
The popular opinion says that if you need a goal you put a striker on, there is a logic to that and when that obvious step isn’t taken I think it pays to think a little bit more about why that didn’t happen than to rush to judge that Le Boss has lost it. I don’t doubt that the Giroud for Coquelin sub seemed slightly odd, but the fact that it came shortly after Giroud had had his ankle stamped on and that it afforded us the opportunity to re-jig a clearly stagnant formation was completely lost in the rush to paint Wenger as an eccentric old fool who’s finally lost it.
There is an issue with the depth of quality in our squad, no doubt, and whether or not it would have made an awful lot of difference on Saturday, it is perplexing that we don’t have another out and out striker deemed worthy of a spot on the bench. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to wait until January to fix that, and whilst I sincerely hope we do invest in a proper long term option, I don’t quite buy into the claims of negligence levelled at those who take these decisions. None of us are completely satisfied with our options up front but let’s not forget that earlier in the week many of us were revelling in the fact that our strike force appeared to be hitting their stride. This was a forward line that had collectively notched 12 goals in its previous four games; a drab 90 minutes doesn’t change all that.
As I feel duty bound to state every time I aim to keep a level head, I’m not satisfied with where we are currently but I also don’t think things are all that bad. It’s a big ask to go to Goodison Park and get three points but it’s not out of the question. Should we go there an achieve that feat it will continue what is, on paper at least, a decent upturn in form since our wobble a few weeks back. It’s obvious that we will all have axes to grind should the result not go our way but it would probably also be beneficial to take it in our stride should we return with three more points. Whilst the rush to judgement when things go badly is unseemly, it looks all the more pathetic when we’ve been patting ourselves on the back just days before.
Keep The Faith.