Don't mix it with this guy
With the Champions League group stage starting this week we can truly say the football season is getting going. The long slog from weekend to weekend without Arsenal playing is something I hate about the start and end of any season. We all know we're unlikely to win the European Cup but I'd rather be inside the tent than out, while the very fact we have a game in Zagreb this week means there's something to look forward to, even before we think about the trip to Chelsea on Saturday.
Before we get on to thinking properly about the game in Croatia I have to put some thoughts down from Saturday's encounter with Stoke. I couldn't make the game as I was on a late shift at work, while my eldest (who usually has my ticket when I can't go) was playing in a tournament so he was absent also. That being the case I'd like to thank the Japanese man who took the seat from Ticket Exchange and filled the gap next to my Dad - I trust he enjoyed the Arsenal win.
I've watched the game back in full on Arsenal Player, having seen the highlights on Match Of The Day. It's fair to say that 2-0 was not a true reflection of the balance of the game. Arsenal dominated from the off with Alexis showing that his luck is not changing just yet in front of goal - he, at least, manages to beat the goalkeeper but has hit the woodwork three times already this season. Theo once again, having been given the nod over Giroud, failed to put away a series of chances. His first miss was almost a carbon-copy of the one he put over the bar at Newcastle from about six yards out, while the miss from his header (perfect cross from Bellerin) was close to unforgiveable. Theo, however, is nothing if not an enigma, and put away his hardest chance of the day. It was a fine pass by Ozil but Theo's touch to control the ball as it dropped over his shoulder was excellent, and the finish perfect. Typically he then went on to miss at least another two straightforward chances before Giroud came on for him and missed one himself! A combination of Arsenal's woeful finishing and Butland's excellence kept it a tight game until Giroud nodded in a superb Santi Cazorla free-kick late on. Three points, a pretty dominant display, but serious alarm bells yet again in front of goal.
Arsene no doubt believes that Theo and Giroud getting on the score sheet justifies his decision not to add a striker to the squad. However, the nature of those missed chances should have us all worried. It's not the first time, either. We won't get that number of chances in Zagreb, or at Stamford Bridge. Do we really have the quality finishers in our team that will be able to nick the winner from the only chance that might come their way against other top teams? Giroud has proven so often in the past that he isn't really capable of it. Theo will simply find himself dominated by Chelsea's defensive players if he starts on Saturday. I read on the BBC website a quote from Jermaine Jenas on Saturday saying (roughly) this:
"If Arsenal fans can't be happy after that performance then I don't know what they want. They missed a few chances, but they created so many."
Such a statement misses the point as to why Arsenal fans might be frustrated. Creating chances has rarely been the problem for us, but actually putting them in the net is a different matter - even in the FA Cup Final we'd missed a hatful of opportunities before Theo made the breakthrough. Missing chances is a costly business and a bit more quality up top would have negated that.
At the other end of the pitch it was relatively quiet for our players, but one incident in the second-half really warmed the heart. Arnautovic, who was the cowardly thug that sent Mathieu Debuchy's Arsenal career in to reverse by injuring him last season, clearly fancies himself as bit of a tough customer. His decision to elbow Gabriel was probably not one of his best as the Brazillian just smashed him straight back in the mooey. I have no doubt that Gabriel will now find himself subject to a retrospectively applied red card and face a three match suspension. However, it was great to see one of our players not just accepting being assaulted by a sly opponent. I loved that bit of nastiness. Most of the top players have something of that about their game. Gabriel sent out the message that he isn't to be messed with. It seems we finally have a genuine hard man in the side for the first time since Keown, Lauren and Vieira were at Arsenal. I imagine Keown was looking on proudly at the incident and smiling at the fact that maybe, just maybe, he has finally been replaced by a kindred spirit. A bit of that fight might just translate to a few of the others as Gabriel begins to, hopefully, cement his place in the team.
More tomorrow, I hope, with some team news etc ahead of the game in Zagreb.