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Monday, 2 September 2013

A Footballing Brain

Theo Walcott's all too fallible decision making has often left me bemoaning the possibility that our turbo-charged winger is found wanting when it comes to the one trait that no amount of training can teach a footballer.

Meanwhile, although it's very hard to fathom how come an Arsenal side packed with so many talented ball players, is seemingly so short on candidates who are capable, or more's the point willing to step up and take a set piece, I'm certainly not moaning about the hunger and enthusiasm that's resulted in Walcott's recent willingness to assume such responsibility.

But I'm sure I'm not alone in emitting an agonising groan, on seeing Theo float yet another feebly struck corner into the penalty area, as meat & drink for the likes of Hugo Lloris to pluck out of the air. Surely you don't need to be a footballing genius to recognise that if you can direct enough corners into the six-yard box, with the ball struck with sufficient pace & power to ensure that such missiles are guaranteed to generate the sort of panic and mayhem that leaves the keeper on the back foot, glued to security of his goalline, the law of averages must prevail with the ball eventually ricocheting into the back of the net, be this inadvertently directed off the backside of an unlucky defender, or intended as a moment of goal poaching genius.

Whatever the case, a fiercely struck corner, whipped into the box with genuine intent, does at least guarantee the excitement of the unexpected, rather than leaving me feeling decidedly unenthused at the award of a corner, as everyone in red & white lumbers up the pitch into the penalty area, with me frustrated by the fairly certain knowledge that it's not about to amount to anything more than a goal kick.

Santi Cazorla demonstrated how to strike a dead ball, as the diminutive Spaniard stoked up the atmosphere in the opening few minutes of this afternoon's encounter, with the set-piece that curled towards the top left-hand corner of the net, forcing Lloris to make a decent save. Judging by Santi's unwillingness to conduct any interviews in English thus far, I very much doubt our midfield maestro was exactly top of his class in school. However on the pitch, you couldn't wish for a more willing student and if you wanted the epitome of an example of a good footballing brain, we witnessed this with the subsequent set-piece, after Dembele had upended Walcott in the D about five minutes in.

Theo hovered over the ball for a moment, perhaps believing that it was his turn, but Santi was having none of it, as he pulled the ball back out of the D, to allow himself sufficient distance to be able to get the ball up and down, over the wall. Who knows whether this was a bluff, so that Lloris should believe he was again aiming for the top corner, or whether it was merely a case of our ingenious midfielder thinking on his feet.

But having seen the previous efforts of Spurs' sizeable wall, to leap up in unison to try and block his shot, Santi demonstrated his opportunistic ability to think on his feet, as he struck the ball along the deck, under the feet of leaping salmon in white shirts. Sadly his effort was inches away from finding the back of the net and Santi walked away shaking his head in dismay at having missed the target, knowing that this was the sort of stroke that wouldn't be worth repeating, since he'd be unlikely to catch Lloris out a second time.

Nevertheless, it was evidence of the ingenuity of a truly intelligent football player, with Santi blessed with the sort of imagination that has made his such a crowd favourite. Mind you, the Gunners didn't have exclusive rights on the inspiration front early on in this match. I had to wait for confirmation from Pat Nevin on my terrace tranny, as it occurred over on the opposite side of the pitch to me, but I have to admit to being impressed by the brazen "chutzpah" of Spurs new right winger, when Chadli left Corporal Jenks for dead, by nutmegging him with a back heel.

Thankfully, after impressing early on and looking like he was going to lead Jenkinson a merry dance all afternoon, Chadli's impact on the proceedings soon began to diminish, along with the other six frontmen in Spurs lineup, of whom only Dembele had previously experienced the hectic nature of a North London derby. With AVB's scattergun approach to transfer targets, perhaps some of his seven new signings will eventually prove to be influential Premiership players.

But with Soldado having thus far only notched from the penalty spot and with the sum total of his contribution against us being the shot that rebounded off Mertesacher (admittedly our German centre-back is a large obstacle to avoid), I've yet to see anything from the Spanish striker to suggest he's likely to prove a huge success. Perhaps he'll find his feet, once he grows accustomed to the frenetic pace of our football and that as a result, he's not going to be afforded the same amount of time on the ball as he's previously been accustomed to playing on the Continent.

And yet, based solely on the evidence of today's showing, Soldado made Olivier Giroud look like a positive bargain, with the Frenchman costing less than half the price of this particular one of Spurs three record signings and it's very hard to imagine that Soldado is capable of providing twice the return on their investment by way of goals.

I've been harsh on Giroud in the past, perhaps with me being influenced by the pre-conceptions that came with a price tag that suggested our French striker was some way short of being a top shelf acquisition. But then it wouldn't have mattered who Wenger had purchased at that time, they were bound to struggle to impress because they were stepping into the massive shoes of our best player and RVP was always likely to prove an impossible act to follow.

Sadly, no amount of settling in time and Olivier's improved understanding with his teammates and increased familiarity with his new surroundings, is going to lend our lumbering frontman that crucial acceleration necessary, to evade the attentions of an opposition defender over those vital first few yards. And like every other Gooner, I'd love to see us sign a genuine superstar striker, blessed with the required burst of natural speed.

Nevertheless, you can't help but warm to the dapper Frenchman and not just because of a run of goal scoring form - even though his single match-winning strike in today's derby has guaranteed him a permanent place in Gooner hearts. Above all, I admire the selfless honesty Giroud displays in his willingness to graft like a Trojan for the Arsenal's cause and I'm increasingly impressed by his acclimatisation to the Premiership, with his muscular efforts to do an effective job, in a largely ungratifying and unglamorous role as a traditional no. 9, shielding and holding up the ball.

Moreover, with the run to the near post that resulted in him getting his foot to the ball before Dawson and making the perfectly timed contact necessary to clip it past Lloris with the outside of his foot, Giroud demonstrated the sort of instinctive intelligence that enables him to overcome the limitations of his pace with the benefits of his experience.

Admittedly the Gunners were guilty of carelessly gifting away possession towards the latter stages this afternoon. Nevertheless, after enjoying the sight of our midfield tirelessly pressing to recover the ball and then the likes of Ramsey and Rosicky rapidly turning defence into attack with incisive runs and forward passes, contrast this with a Man Utd performance that in the absence of Wayne Rooney was positively anaemic by comparison.

In fact watching Utd's somewhat feeble efforts to achieve a first victory for David Moyes at Anfield, their incessant sideways and backwards passing reminded me of some of the Gunners more frustrating performances from our recent past. Much like in the their bore draw with Chelsea last Monday night, Van Persie barely had a sniff of the ball the entire game, aside from a brief sight of goal that the Dutchman failed to convert in the 86th minute.

If Gareth Bale is worth 100 million Euros, then surely we should've secured at least twice this figure for Van Persie's services, considering he was almost singlehandedly responsible for sending Fergie off into the sunset with another title to add to his collection. Yet it will be the ultimate irony if after only one season, the trophy hunger striker ends up playing for a Man Utd side that's unable to offer him the service necessary to win matches (I suppose Robin can always find some solace counting his wages instead of medals!).

Meanwhile with the TV cameras showing Victor Moses (supposedly arriving at Liverpool on loan from Chelsea) plotted up at Anfield alongside two other impending new arrivals (who's names were no more familiar to me than any of the myriad of foreign players linked to Premiership clubs this past summer) and with none of the three main contenders firing on all cylinders so far this season, after this afternoon's triumph I found myself struggling to contain those fatal "if only" thoughts about what might be, should Arsène secure the signatures of the two or three crucial players who might prove the catalyst, as the flour to bind some of the tasty ingredients of our existing squad into a genuine contenders cake.

In his post match interview on Sky, Wenger suggested he might surprise us all tomorrow and then when Jonathan Pearce raised the inevitable transfer question on MOTD2, le Gaffer invited his interrogator to end his interview abruptly, thereby allowing him to get on with the first order of business in the next 24 hours.

Here's hoping our chef de partie is cooking up a Michelin starred storm! Get that apron on mate
Come on you Reds