Both outstanding against Southampton
I'm writing this at just past 1am on the Sunday morning after the win over Southampton. The reasons for this are many. First of all I got back from the game and spent some time with the family. Secondly I watched Match Of The Day while listening to the boxing. Thirdly I won't get a chance to write anything else before we play Marseille. And finally because I'm watching the cricket as I write and England have decided that November 2013 is the time to take people of my age back to our formative years in the 90s when tours to Australia, and everywhere else for that matter, were unutterably crap.
Another three points are safely in the bank this evening. Arsenal were far from their fluent best, with a few players under performing. At times Southampton were on top in terms of possession, and looked threatening on occasion. Wojciech Szczesny had a very good game again and made saves when necessary, as well as coming for one or two crosses and making good decisions on the catch/punch front. Overall the back four were pretty good, with both full-backs shining yet again. It was the midfield that largely disappointed, with the notable exception of Jack Wilshere, more of which below.
Mikel Arteta had his worst game for some time in my view. He seemed unable to keep pace as Southampton came forward. Schneiderlin had too much for him on more than one occasion. The injury he went off with looked a recurrence of the calf problems he has suffered with for the last six months (he seemed to hurt himself making a sliding tackle on Wanyama for which he lucky not to be booked). We could be in trouble without Arteta as Flamini is no stranger to injury either. Elsewhere in midfield Aaron Ramsey had a fairly average game, save for one moment of genius when he was so unlucky to see his back-flick come off the post. Santi Cazorla was finally getting in to the game just as he was hauled off and replaced by Walcott, though he worked much harder today. Mesut Ozil was the real disappointment again. He was maybe unlucky to be flagged offside when scoring brilliantly just after half-time (I haven't seen a replay) but other than that he was uninterested and lacked bottle. His play is lacklustre and generally unacceptable at the moment. I was glad when he was finally substituted. I have plenty of faith that a player of his class will soon adjust and get going again, but a little bit of effort wouldn't go amiss. His jumping out of challenges and avoiding physical contact is becoming tiresome. You can have all the ability in the World to go with your £45m price tag, but you need heart as well. Perhaps he could do with a Keown on the training ground to toughen him up - Thierry Henry is on record as saying that's what happened to him and he was grateful for it.
We were saved today, apart from Boruc thinking he was Johann Cruyff, by the play of Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud. Like Ramsey, Jack was very unlucky to see a sublime effort hit the post in the first-half. Considering he was playing off the right wing I thought he was excellent. In the second-half Arsene Wenger swapped him with Ozil and Jack simply began to dominate the game. We had been under the cosh in the ten minutes after half-time, but after Jack switched to the centre we were well on top. Wilshere looked fitter than he has in a long time, and there was no sign of him collapsing in a heap clutching his ankle every time he was tackled. He is tough as well. He was taken out by a Wanyama body-check/forearm in the face in the first-half (the Kenyan makes a lot of Alex Song style fouls, but seems to avoid the Alex Song style yellow cards for them) but got up and got on with it - he didn't even get awarded the free-kick on that occasion, nor plenty of others. It was by far the best display Jack has put on this season. I don't want to see him out wide, especially with Walcott, Gnabry and Rosicky sitting on the bench, but I do want to see him playing like that more and more.
Giroud perhaps put in his best shift yet. I said to my Dad at half-time that he really was playing up front on his own, such was the lack of support he was getting from Ozil. His strength, aerial ability, and touch on the ball was a joy to behold on the day. Southampton's centre-backs had no answer to any part of his game. He thoroughly deserved his two goals, however they may have come about. He should also have been awarded another penalty, earlier in the second-half, when he was put in some sort of half-nelson trying to turn a Sagna cross in to the net with his head. Such a display can make you think that we don't need anyone else to play up front. However, it can also make you realise that we can not afford to lose him to injury without signing someone else of quality. Sadly Nicklas Bendtner's attitude, and the perception many fans have of him, means he is inadequate cover for Giroud. Bendtner, whether by lack of effort, or lack of the same sort of ability (I actually think Bendtner has at least as much ability as a footballer as Giroud) could not do what the Frenchman is doing week in, week out in this Arsenal team. Arsene simply must bring in another striker early in January to cover Giroud, and to give him a rest on occasion.
Tuesday brings another big challenge in the shape of Marseille. I think that a lot of people have written this one off as being in the bag. It most certainly isn't. Anything less than a win and we are in danger of playing Thursday night football. The win today (yesterday) has meant that the Man Utd result is history. The players can go in to the game against Marseille with renewed confidence. If Giroud can be as physically dominant as he was against Southampton, and get some support from our star player, then we can win comfortably. Hard work all across the pitch is a must.
One final thing for today is to mention that I met Robert Pires before the game as you can see below (I'm the one on the right). If Ozil wants an example of someone who got to grips with the pace and physicality of the Premier League after an initial struggle then he could do far worse than speak to the Great Man.