Thursday, 4 January 2018

Arsenal - The Gift That Keeps On Giving

What can you say about last night’s 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea that hasn’t been said about this Arsenal team already. The game epitomised so much of what is wrong with us and yet so much of what is right with us too. In a game where we really had to win we did our very best to throw it away after leading, only to equalise at the death before almost blowing it again.

We invited Chelsea to the Emirates with Christmas well and truly over, but we felt it wasn’t too late to hand out some gifts. Thankfully most of those gifts were offered to Alvaro Morata and he couldn’t hit the proverbial barn door. It simply doesn’t matter what the line up is as our perpensity to shoot ourselves in the foot happens game after game.

Arsene Wenger brought Rob Holding in for the injured Laurent Koscielny and Ainsley Maitland-Niles for the injured Sead Kolasinac while Mesut Ozil returned from injury at the expense of Alex Iwobi. Holding did no worse than any of the other defenders and he was probably better than both Calum Chambers and Hector Bellerin who were at fault for much of what went wrong in our defence. AMN was impressive yet again despite being done by Zapacosta for their second goal and I long for the day we get to see him play in midfield.

We took the lead through a great Jack Wilshere strike, but he might have been sent off before that when taking a dive when he was already on a yellow card. In true Arsenal fashion we were pegged back almost immediately when Bellerin was adjudged to have fouled Eden Hazard in the box and Hazard put the penalty past a keeper who hasn’t saved one since 2011 with ease. There wasn’t a huge amount of contact from Bellerin  and Hazard made a meal of it, but it still looked like a penalty to me.

The chances came and went at both ends after that, but those missed by Morata were the best of them without doubt. He had three one on ones with Petr Cech and he made a mess of each of them. The issue for me was how hard we hard to work and how well we had to play to make a chance, but we just handed Chelsea chance after chance.

With just six minutes to go Chelsea took the lead when AMN was turned inside out and Marcus Alonso got on the end of the ball into the box to break Arsenal bearts. Alonso was lost by Bellerin as he made his way into the box and then he ghosted past a stationary Shkodran Mustafi. It looked all over for Arsenal, but they kept pressing and got their reward when Bellerin finished beautifully in added time.

It was that man Alonso who headed it into his path and the finish from Bellerin went some way to making up for a poor night from him. It was also a little bit of payback for the incident at Stamford Bridge last season when Alonso almost knocked him unconscious because “he wanted it more”. That incident still rankles with me and Bellerin’s goal would have been even better if it had gone in off Alonso while sending him flying.

I was still celebrating that goal in my living room when I suddenly realised that man Morata was through on goal again, but Cech saved his shot before Zapacosta hit the bar with the rebound. I’m still trying to figure out how we allowed them straight in on goal from the kick off, but nothing about Arsenal’s defending surprises me any more. It wasn’t just down to one player though and not just the defenders either as other players continued to lose possession in ridiculous positions throughout the game.

Almost everything good we did in the game went through Ozil and we just cannot afford to let him go when his contract ends this summer. He is a joy to watch and I think he is benefiting from the occasional breaks he is getting this season whether they are really down to injury and illness or not. He was ably supported by Alex Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette who both did their best, but couldn’t quite get on the scoresheet.

Alexis came so close, but he was prevented by a fingertip save by Courtois which then hit both posts and somehow managed to stay out. Lacazette had a couple of decent chances too, but he just can’t buy a goal at the moment and he probably needs only one to go on a roll. The three of them combine very well when they’re on their game and we need to see the three of them together in the team as often as possible.

The end result is we’re drifting further away from the top four and we’re facing into a very busy month. We have at least three and maybe four cup games before the month is over as well as three league games. The manager is going to have to rotate in the cup games, but his options are limited and he can’t risk too much against Forest at the weekend never mind in the Carabao Cup semi final over two legs against Chelsea.

He needs to make sure we can put out our best team in the three league games against Bournemouth, Palace and Swansea because we have dropped far too many points against teams towards the lower end of the table recently. Most of all we have to be at our very best against Palace in a couple of weeks when I’ll be at the game with some friends to raise a glass in memory of a very good friend, and Arsenal nut, who we lost in tragic circumstances late last year. Since the first time I went with Darren about six or seven years ago he has been to any game I have gone to and a heck of a lot more besides. He’ll be sadly missed by all of us and we will raise more than one glass in the Tollington in his honour.

That’s it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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