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Saturday, 27 December 2014

Three points for Christmas

The hero and the fool



Three points is all that matters for a good Christmas from an Arsenal point of view. For most of the game yesterday it was accompanied by a very reasonable performance as well. I didn't go to Arsenal yesterday, having managed to sell my seat on the Ticket Exchange - one of Arsenal's better initiatives, even if it grates a little that they take a cut from the sale, thereby profiting twice from the sale of the same ticket. As a result I watched the game on a dodgy stream (or three different ones actually across the 90 minutes) but at least was able to see it despite not being a BT subscriber. Incidentally, playing at 5:30 on Boxing Day is an absolute joke (I don't like playing at all on Boxing Day as it happens).
Arsenal started brightly and QPR seemed in no mood to try and attack, so the familiar pattern developed. Having been awarded a clear penalty things might have opened up a little had Alexis not taken it "Ozil style" and passed the ball back to Robert Green. Once again you have to question the leadership in the side without Mikel Arteta. A few weeks back Alexis won a penalty in a European game against Anderlecht and got quite tetchy when Arteta refused to let him take it himself. For some reason yesterday Cazorla, who has scored two penalties in recent weeks, gave way for the Chilean to step up. We all know that Cazorla is the man on penalties when Arteta isn't in the side, so why didn't Mertesacker step in and deal with it? It was a woeful penalty from our star player.
It's maybe a mark of Alexis' character that missing the penalty didn't affect him at all. The man is a gem of a player. Contrast the way he then decided to take the game by the scruff of the neck, compared to the way Mesut Ozil imploded against Bayern Munich last season. I found it interesting that there was a stat shown on the screen showing 60 passes by Arsenal in the final third, just moments before the opening goal. The reason it was interesting was that we hadn't created a single chance from open play from those 60 passes. That is an indictment, in many ways, on the way Arsenal play their football - there is always too much sideways rubbish across a defence, rather than penetrating forward play.
When the goal did arrive it was finally a great move, with people running beyond the ball and making something happen. Kieran Gibbs got his head up in a wide area for once and picked out an Arsenal player with a lovely cross. Far too often he aimlessly plays the ball straight at the first defender, so I hope he has taken note of the difference it makes. Meanwhile Alexis had come alive in the penalty area at the hint of an opportunity - Traore switched off and the little man scored a nice header past Green. It was a beautiful Arsenal goal and showed that, when they actually play proper football, they can get beyond a defence.
Tomas Rosicky made a massive difference yesterday in midfield. It's no wonder he's been frustrated at not getting a game. The Czech Mozart made his point to Arsene Wenger yesterday, just as Podolski has done on a couple of occasions. Of course, it hasn't done Podolski any favours in terms of getting another game! It was perhaps no surprise that it was TR7 putting the finishing touch to the second goal. Alexis was the man making the difference again with a fine run, committing players and beating them. He and Welbeck drew the defence towards them and gave Rosicky the space to fire in the shot, beating Green via a slight deflection (which actually took it closer to the QPR goalkeeper). It was a fine goal at any time, but with ten men even better.
All of which brings me to Olivier Giroud. What was he doing? You got the feeling it was deliberate, like he fancied a few days off over Christmas so made sure he'd get a ban without doing anything that might actually hurt anyone. This is a man whose usual reaction to being wronged by a  defender is to wave his arms at the referee in protest. Now I'm all for Giroud doing a bit more that might be considered "aggressive" but what he did yesterday was downright stupid. It nearly cost Arsenal the three points and it was refreshing to hear Arsene Wenger publicly admonishing one of his players for a change. What I would like to see now, however, is for the FA to deal with the reactions of a couple of our opponents. Onuoha, the man Giroud pushed his head towards (it wasn't a headbutt by anyone's definition), should be banned for play-acting with the deliberate intention of ensuring Giroud would be sent-off. And then there was Rio Ferdinand grabbing Giroud by the neck. Had Giroud reacted the way Onuoha did then would Ferdinand also have been sent-off? We're forever hearing pundits say "you can't raise your hands" so I trust Ferdinand will be banned in retrospect. No? Of course he won't - he doesn't play for Arsenal.
I cringe at the name of every referee, but Mr Atkinson perhaps inspires more fear than most. The man is beyond incompetent. Having had no choice but to award us a penalty for the foul on Alexis he then refused us one when Welbeck was hauled to the floor. Having red carded Giroud, but ignored Ferdinand, he then booked Hoillett - again he had no choice. But this then saw him go in to fully incompetent mode. Hoillett made a clear foul on Mertesacker that should have seen us get yet another penalty - it was as blatant as Traore's foul on Alexis in the first-half. Of course, he'd have had to send Hoillett off. Less than ten seconds later Hoillett tripped the charging Debuchy and was let off by Atkinson. Something was brewing. And so it was that Hoillett, perfectly well tackled by Debuchy at the other end, went sprawling and the perfectly placed referee chose to give him a penalty. Incompetence? Is it any wonder that I question the honesty of Premier League officials? Put together with Giroud's madness it was a miracle Arsenal held on - especially when Gibbs took out Zamora in the last couple of minutes. It was no surprise to see Match Of The Day show that but ignore our penalties that weren't given.
Given all that had gone on I wouldn't have been blaming Arsene Wenger for once for a capitulation. However, he did manage to give me the option with yet more ridiculous substitutions. He effectively made the same changes that cost us the initiative at Anfield on Sunday (different personnel obviously) but it nearly cost us again yesterday. Why does he do it? Because he is an arrogant old fool who believes he is the only person involved with Arsenal who knows anything about football.
In the end we picked up the three points. Rosicky and Alexis were outstanding, Welbeck never looked like scoring a goal again, and Giroud was an idiot. But, for all of that, a win is a win and that made for an enjoyable Christmas. Now, if we can just work out how Mertesacker is going to play Andy Carroll tomorrow then we might have half a chance.

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