Before I start I would like to wish all my fellow Gooners a Happy New Year and good fortune in the coming year. Hopefully that good fortune will also include Arsenal winning the Champions League as every media outlet in England's collective skulls explode like in “Scanners” because the overwhelming shock of Arsenal doing well is just too much for them to take.
It has been a few weeks since my last post and the Christmas period was as busy for me as it was for the Arsenal. My computer also was not cooperating, but I have since rectified that issue and am back in front of the keyboard ready to rant and rave about our beloved Arsenal. A lot has happened over the Christmas period and we have quite a bit to discuss.
The results have been mixed. A 2-2 draw at Liverpool, a 2-1 win over QPR at home, a 2-1 win over West Ham, a horribly disappointing loss to Southampton on New Years day and a 2-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. Seven points out of twelve out of four league matches isn't terrible but the manner of the dropped points is concerning as it has been all season. Not every match was disappointing but the dropped points are what matters as we continue to stagnate.
The match against Liverpool saw us leading the game with a few minutes left to play. The outrageous amount of stoppage time saw Liverpool get the header they needed as they drew level. It wasn't a game that we necessarily deserved to be leading in or even win, but it is the type of match that Arsenal need to close out to show improvement. This season has been like that though. We lead the game or go down a goal early, only to take the lead but lose it late on. Wenger always uses the same rhetoric about mental strength and confidence building but after it happens so many times in one season, it begins to fall on deaf ears. We are so far off the pace this season it is sickening. You can cite so many reasons for the poor performances this season but all of the excuses do not matter to the fans. All that matters is that we keep losing and drawing games and continue to stumble behind the top four.
The wins were deserved ones, no doubt in that. Both West Ham and QPR gave us a few problems but we had the goals and a relatively stable defense to see out the wins in those matches, but they are matches that we should be winning regardless. The talking point in the QPR matches was the Olivier Giroud red card that he stupidly received. I use the term stupidly to describe it for two reasons: the reaction by Giroud was completely unnecessary, and the QPR player made the most out of the contact and flopped on the ground like a fish. Contact was made but Giroud did not headbutt the player like the commentators would have you think. He simply pressed his forehead to the QPR man in anger and once the contact was made he fell down in a heap like a pile of boiled spaghetti. Giroud should never have put himself in the position to have the ref make that call in the first place. At that point in the game, the tables were tilting toward Arsenal and we were applying pressure trying to put the game away. Giroud's red card put us on the back foot for the remainder of the game. This meant a full effort on defense, which is cause for concern. Anytime we are forced to defend, I end up pacing in front of the TV for the remainder of the match. I have a rut being formed in my living room carpeting.
The low point of the Christmas period was the New Years Day loss to Southampton. I will not take anything away from Southampton because they were clearly up for the match on the day but Arsenal were abjectly awful. Arsenal gave us a way to stop the New Years Eve hangover by making every Gooner around the globe pick up a drink and continue where they left off. Arsenal's threadbare squad is the talking point as we continue to see players injured and taking stupid red cards. The defense still doesn't look like it is up to the task. Per has played in almost every single match and the rest of the defense is mostly a selection slot machine filled with whomever is healthy on the day. Even our midfield and attack is starting to dwindle in numbers. Coquelin is starting matches now after being recalled from his loan. He is actually filling the role rather comfortably, given the task asked of him. I am not hard on young players who are asked to start during difficult matches or periods of the season because it is not their fault that they are in this position. Every one of them wants to impress and do well but sometimes the climb is difficult. Instead of getting on their backs we need to ask why they are asked to start in the first place. In Coquelin's case it is because both Arteta and Flamini are injured and it leaves us with no DM option. Wenger could play any of the other midfielders there but they too are filling roles by absent players.
Our main concern for this season, as it is for many seasons, is the lack of rotation and depth due to injury. The Arsenal squad is routinely reduced to the squad and fringe players because our main starters are injured. Luckily for us, Walcott is getting minutes and Ozil is nearing full fitness. We need these players back asap in order to give the current starters a break every once in a while. Alexis plays our of his skin week in and week out, so eventually this will take a toll on the Chilean and if we lose him to injury we are screwed on offense. Alexis continues to be the catalyst for goals, both in scoring and setting up plays. His tireless work rate and speed, coupled with his natural finishing make him a terror just as Suarez was for Liverpool (albeit without the cannibalism). With Giroud out to injury for most of the season and Ramsey falling short of his goal scoring record we saw last season and now Podolski being sent on loan (also the speculation of Sanogo going out on loan) we are running the risk of over-playing Alexis and diminishing our attacking options. I like what Welbeck has brought to the table but his finishing is not quite there, but the talent and ability are present, it just needs a bit of finesse. Campbell doesn't seem to have the faith of the manager, like Podolski, he will only see a few minutes at the end of the match, but never truly be expected to do anything with it in such short time. This leaves the injury prone Giroud and Walcott to take up the scoring for us. Should any combination of Walcott, Giroud or Alexis go down for weeks and it is curtains for us.
These injury worries and the over-reliance on Alexis makes me wonder what the manager is thinking when it comes to Podolski. He was clearly a clinical finisher and could also set up a goal with a well placed cross but he was criticized most heavily for not being up to the task defensively. I understand the need to be adept at both ends of the pitch but I fear we were overly concerned with the defensive aspect of our attackers game. It is not up to just the attackers to defend, but the entire team as a collective. Arsenal have problems defending as a unit and blaming Podolski for not defending is like blaming Mertesacker for not scoring enough 30 yard bombs. Podolski was not managed properly by Wenger. He had his shortcomings for sure, but he was good for a goal when he got more than 10 minutes of playing time. I will miss him at Arsenal, he was a good ambassador to the fans and a public representative of the club but he signed on at the wrong time and was a victim of Wenger's enigmatic selection process and tactical blunders. He will most certainly be gone for good at the end of the season and it is not a surprise, I just hope that we aren't going to regret not having that left-footed shot in the box during an important game. He wanted more playing time, something that wasn't going to be given and I am positive this move was started by him. He is a talented 29 year old attacker and deserves his shot. I just wish it was still with the Gunners. No use crying over spilled milk as what is done is done. I know he creates a lot of division within the ranks of Gooners and this debate may rage on through the remainder of the season.
Moving on to our next match against the orcs as they invade North London from Mordor, I mean Stoke City. Arsenal need to get a win against those foul-heavy neanderthals ( I apologize to any neanderthals as this comparison is harsh on them). Stoke will most likely be ready to embarrass us again and we have to do anything to stop it. The horror of going 3-0 down to lose 3-2 will still be fresh in all of our minds and it doesn't take a doctorate in sports psychology to see the effect it will have on moral to lose to them again. I am not going to even remotely guess at our starting lineup but I will assume Alexis, Mertesacker and Coquelin will be starting. All I want is a win, whether it comes in the form of a 1-0 nail biter or a 5-0 slaughter, makes no difference, but I want it to be comfortable as my floor cannot take any more pacing.
So Happy New Year Gooners and lets hope for a strong finish to the season.
Side note: Let's hope Szcznesy got his bizarre match blunders out of him against Southampton, I can't take watching garbage goals scored against us because our keeper is committing howlers.