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Thursday, 13 March 2014

Far from disappointed

Cazorla can easily replace Ozil at this time

I thought Arsenal were pretty damn good in the Allianz Arena on Tuesday evening. We held it tight to half-time and stayed very much in the tie. The plan was clearly to open up a bit more after the interval. Sadly we were quickly a goal further behind thereafter and seemingly out of it. However, when Lukas Podolski rammed home the equaliser (how hard can this man hit a football?) you could see Bayern visibly wobbling. A better pass here and there and Arsenal would have not only won the game, but would have seriously threatened to take the tie. A 1-1 draw away to the best side in the World is not to be sniffed at. The damage had been done back in London. I just wonder how much of a classic European Cup tie might have ensued had the referee not sent off Szczesny. Arsenal proved on Tuesday that they could once again get a result against Bayern, even if they were just lacking a bit of depth in what was on the bench the other night. Imagine if we'd had Walcott or Ramsey or a top striker to be bringing on. 
I was annoyed with Ian Wright and Lee Dixon both during and after the game. At half-time Wright was moaning about how Arsenal weren't doing enough to score a goal and all that. Dixon was also saying we should have been going forward more. Given that Dixon actually played at Anfield in 1989 I found it bizarre. The score being 0-0 at half-time was just fine. We'd soaked up plenty of pressure, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was far too good for their midfield throughout. Quite how one or two Bayern players weren't booked for fouls on The Ox is a mystery. Vermaelen had Robben well scouted throughout, Sagna had Ribery in his pocket, and Koscielny and Mertesacker were mopping up just about everything that went near Mandzukic. For all Bayern's passing and pressing they hadn't threatened too much. To hear Wright and Dixon hammering the Arsenal approach made me sick. After the game they moaned that Arsenal hadn't gone for broke after getting the equaliser. As I said above, I thought we had Bayern rocking and there was a stage when we looked certain to score another goal sooner or later. Rosicky, Podolski, Arteta, Giroud, Cazorla and Gnabry were all guilty of wasting great opportunities to either create or score a goal. That's my only regret from Tuesday, that we didn't take advantage of the pressure we put them under in the last 30 minutes. To say we didn't go for it was ridiculous. I expect better from ex-Arsenal players when they're talking about a Club they still refer to as "we". I wonder what George Graham would make of the way they criticise Arsenal given that they were taught to close ranks and "be The Arsenal" as players under him.
Of course we lost Ozil at half-time. I wasn't sure he was ever really out there to be honest. He had played a better game on Saturday than we'd seen in a long time from him. He wasn't outstanding, just better. On Tuesday he was poor. It seems now that he had injured his hamstring early in the game. Did he communicate that to the bench? We looked so much better when Rosicky came on. We were quicker and more combative. Ozil had already not started the game in the centre which is perhaps an admission by Arsene Wenger that the key man at Arsenal at the moment is back to being Santi Cazorla. I read a prominent blogger this morning who tells us that anyone seeing Ozil's injury as a possible blessing is some kind of idiot. Take it from someone that goes to matches that we are far better off with Cazorla at the moment than we are with Ozil. The contention is that we will be without one of our best players but that's not really the case. The Mesut Ozil that first arrived would be a miss to the Arsenal team. The Mesut Ozil we've had since November is someone we can get by without. It should mean more playing time for Rosicky and Gnabry and Podolski, whose second-half display in Munich was probably his best Arsenal performance. Ozil being injured means that Cazorla will play in the centre more often than not and be able to dictate the play. We went in to overdrive at this stage last season with Cazorla playing behind Giroud. With Oxlade-Chamberlain potentially playing the Walcott role (or the Ramsey role as necessary) there is not a lot to be sad about with Ozil's injury. And anyway, didn't people keep on telling us he needed a mid-season break?
One final comment on the punditry from Tuesday and it concerns John Hartson, another ex-Arsenal player, who was on Radio 5. Hartson said after the game that Arsenal had been "humiliated" by Bayern Munich on Tuesday and a major overhaul of our squad was required if we were ever to compete. Considering that Hartson watched the game you would think he might have noticed that the final score was 1-1. If drawing 1-1 at the home of the European Champions is the stuff of humiliation then I wouldn't mind a bit more of it, thanks very much. Barcelona lost 7-0 to Bayern over two legs last season. That's humiliation. Losing 3-1 on aggregate having played most of the home leg with ten men is far from humiliating. Hartson should be ashamed and embarrassed at talking such nonsense and he should never work on the BBC ever again. It's as bad as anything the likes of Savage and Claridge have ever come out with.
It was important to not get hammered in Munich. In the same way that winning there last season proved the spark that got us through to the end on a high I was concerned that a beating this year would have the opposite effect. As it is, having been disgraceful at Stoke, these players have been outstanding against Everton and excellent in Munich. It's good that we played on Tuesday as it gives an extra day for recovery from all the tremendously hard work before going to Spurs on Sunday. The next few weeks are going to be ridiculously hard but, if the players perform how they have in the last two matches, we could still be very handily placed for a tilt at the Double this season.

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