"Why didn't you give me a chance Arsene?"
This is the first blog post of 2015 and it isn't a particularly happy one. The two performances on the pitch since the turn of the year have basically summed up this team - totally outplayed and utterly disinterested (bar the obvious exception of a certain player from Chile) against a decent opponent, followed by a dominant and comfortable display against an abysmal Hull City side. People used to say that the Arsenal team of last season were flat track bullies. Compared to this lot they were World beaters.
If there is a positive to come from the Southampton game it may well be that Wojciech Szczesny has finally been found out by his Manager. His performance, and his behaviour after the match (Arsenal haven't denied anything written in the newspapers) ought to mean that he is no longer first choice. Following a good game at West Ham we really should have known he would mess it all up at Southampton. I don't think any player I've ever seen quite believes his own hype in the way that Szczesny does. And that's not to say that Ospina is the answer - I'm not a fan of short goalkeepers, he is yet to prove he can stay fit for more than five minutes, and he is to kicking a football what I am to running marathons. However, as an experienced international player he can't be expected to sit on the bench behind a goalkeeper who has not improved since he came in to the first team a few years ago. Let's be honest here, Szczesny isn't really any better than Almunia, Fabianski and Mannone. He certainly isn't good enough to play for a team that has any genuine designs on winning the major trophies on a regular basis.
Of course there is one thing that has really, really annoyed me in the last week and that is the departure of Lukas Podolski. I can't blame the German for wanting out as it was becoming more and more obvious with each passing week that Wenger didn't want him at Arsenal. When we signed Lukas Podolski I wrote a piece on this site saying how excited I was about it. For me it was the biggest signing we'd made since Sol Campbell - a World Class striker had signed for Arsenal, a man with a quite incredible record in front of goal. He was set to be paired with Robin Van Persie and Arsenal were going places! And then we sold Van Persie. Podolski found himself as the lone striker for the first game of the season and it was a pointless exercise. That very day Arsene Wenger seemed to decide he didn't really want Poldi. He was shunted out to the left, while Giroud came in to play as the man alone up front. It was obvious to everyone that Podolski wasn't suited to the role on the wing as tracking back isn't his game. At the same time Giroud was crying out for support through the middle. In short, we had the chance to play two up front and make the best of the players we had. Wenger chose not to. And has kept choosing not to throughout Podolski's time at Arsenal - with two notable exceptions; in the semi-final and final of the FA Cup last year he took off Podolski in order to put on Sanogo to support Giroud. In fairness the move had the desired effect in both matches, but surely putting your best finisher (Wenger's own words just two days before the Wigan game, lest we forget) at centre-forward might have been an idea, would it not?
I am gutted to see Podolski leave Arsenal. He never had the chance to play properly for us, and now he has been forced out. This is a player with 31 goals in 82 appearances, which actually equates to a goal every 150 minutes spent on the pitch. Almost all of those goals were scored while playing out of position. Can a team like Arsenal really afford to lose that sort of potency? Can we really afford not to have adapted the system to make the best out of him?
The counter to all of that is to say that Wenger shouldn't be changing the way the team plays just to suit one player. But that wouldn't be the case. Every single striker in the Arsenal squad would benefit from playing two up front (even Sanogo). Arsene named a load of forwards on Sunday when questioned about Podolski, and said he has a number of "solutions" up front. Nonsense. He has many options, but not a single solution all the time we play only one striker. He even had the brass neck to mention Joel Campbell, a man yet to play as a striker at Arsenal and who he didn't even bring on at 2-0 down last Thursday, while not talking about Chuba Akpom who did! Solutions? Do me a favour.
Of all the forwards in the Arsenal squad there is only one who has anything approaching the ability to play as a lone striker and that is Giroud. Welbeck needs support, Alexis needs support, Theo Walcott simply can't play there, Sanogo is as far removed from a Premier League player as it's possible to be, Campbell might not be physical enough (though I must say I thought he had a good game on Sunday) and Akpom is big and strong but has no experience. Even Giroud is reliant on Ramsey or Cazorla or Ozil getting around him when the ball is played forward. The fact is that any talk of "solutions" coming from within is nonsense, unless we change the game we play. And surely anyone can see that Arsenal would be far better served to make best use of what they have, rather than constantly putting square pegs in round holes. It's a madness that has already cost us Lukas Podolski, while Giroud has not exactly covered himself in glory lately, incurring a very rare public dressing down from Arsene Wenger. So where are we going, apart from further backwards?