Sunday, 14 April 2013

Friends Reunited

You can tell we that are at the business end of the season can't you? A range of emotions were on display at both The Hawthorne's and The Emirates. Both games could and should have been straight forward but that's simply not the way we do things around here anymore. Anxiety got the better of me towards the end of our game at West Brom, I was actually shaking as efforts from Long and Lukaku were fired towards our goal. In the end we got there but even in a game we were comfortable in for a good sixty nine minutes resulted in twenty one minutes of chaos. Then Norwich arrive, I wanted to be confident but I didn't feel it. I didn't think we'd lose but there was an air of the unexpected to a degree. Everything began in a clumsy fashion, Giroud's too was anonymous, Gervinho was back to the player we loathe, Jack was playing like John Jenson and we had a centre back paring that had failed to keep a clean sheet in four previous Premier League games this season.

When Norwich were incorrectly awarded a free kick in the 56th minute, you just knew that they were going to score. There was no cohesion throughout the back line, they didn't want to command the area, they wanted to react. In the end - Koscielny was found wanting as Norwich ran a screen like play and Turner had the simplest of tasks but it proved to be a decisive moment for Wenger. Unlike many match days he went with his gut. He made a double substitution. Off went Jack and Gervinho - easily our two worst players on the day and on came Walcott and more importantly Lukas Podolski. The latter  is a player who for whatever reason hasn't started a Premier League game since 31st January in a 2-2 draw with Liverpool. Wenger was quick to quell any rumours of a possible exit in his post match interview

"Look how he played when he came on. As soon as you have a player who doesn't play for three games, the papers get a story like that. But he looks very happy to be here."
Wenger has since added:

"I work a lot with him as a central striker at the moment. He is a quality player and when he comes on you can see that straight away. You don’t get 100 caps by luck. Honestly he has a great attitude. He never moans, he never has a bad phase, he is always positive."
He certainly does look happy. He gave us his guided tour of London, he's been full of smiles on the bench and he seems to have a good rapport with his team mates. That said the most important part of his job is his contribution to the side and he links brilliantly with Giroud. Is it any surprise that the big Frenchman is made to look poor when he gets isolated when he has Gervinho hugging touchlines and Santi desperate to drop a bit deeper in order to get his foot on the ball? When Giroud has Walcott and Podolski either side of him he provides the perfect axis for our wingers to contribute. Just look Podolski's effort that was brilliantly tipped onto the bar by Mark Bunn. Giroud does love a one touch lay off and Podolski reads him well and you simply can't defend against that sort of link up. They have that sixth sense upfront and it's no surprise that they all played a part in our comeback as our front three packed a punch once again.

Here's some statistics on "The Front Three"

  • Norwich was our 47th match this season and they have scored in 23 games - 48% of games
  • They have scored a total of 48 goals of our 97 goals this season - 49% of our total goals.
  • They have assisted 19 of their 48 goals - 38% of the goals scored.

Now, I think the above stats above are very impressive (mainly because I researched them myself) but you have to factor in that they haven't always played together. Walcott was benched for the early part of the season, Giroud was dropped for most of December and Podolski has been on the naughty step for about two months. Then you factor in that two of the three are new to this side and they have already have an instant understanding. One of the main reasons behind their success is that they fill the box and that allows the creators led by Santi Cazorla to weave their magic.

Wenger does have some big decisions to make in terms of selection for upcoming games. He accommodated Santi and Jack by moving Cazorla wide, which for me just doesn't work. Jack was dreadful on Saturday and I'm pretty annoyed Wenger risked him (his words)

"I would not have pushed him in, maybe, had Rosicky been available."
Pushing Wilshere isn't acceptable. You simply play Podolski on the left and move Santi to the front of the midfield three. I just don't see the need to risk it but after Tuesday Wenger will have to decide how to reintroduce Wilshere to the side as he will be needed for our game against United on the 28th. The player causing the biggest selection headache at present is Aaron Ramsey. His form has been superb for the last couple of months. His application cannot be faulted, he drove us on yesterday, even at times when we weren't creating. Players just weren't offering themselves for passes but he didn't shy away from the task at hand. The question is, how can you drop him? I know he isn't everyones cup of tea but even the Emirates faithful have warmed to him lately and if wasn't for his endeavour we wouldn't have got the corner that led to the penalty.

Wenger has instilled a never say die attitude throughout the whole squad and I think he needs to keep his team selection simplistic. More often than not we beat ourselves and the real truth is the reason everyone is so anxious about this side is because nobody truly trusts them. I asked myself if I felt such a nervous wreck when were a part of title races and the truth is I wasn't, because I trusted the teams ability and discipline to win a game but this current crop will make even the most comfortable afternoon incredibly difficult and days like those against Reading recently seem few and between. This is who we are but we should have enough to hold onto our much craved 4th place and even 3rd if we play our cards right. Our next two games will shape our run in, if we get six points then Wenger might even be on the verge of his first Manager of the Month award in April in eleven years and we'll all be able to breathe a hell of a lot easier. I certainly need it.

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