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Tuesday 26 November 2013

Who Ever Said Xmas Only Comes Once A Year?

Only just realised I neglected to post this on Sunday and thought I'd better get it up before tonights events make it completely irrelevant.

The constraints of the Examiner's requirements didn't allow me enough room to mention that I've been impressed with Wanyama, ever since seeing some of his impressive displays for Celtic last season (although I'm yet to be convinced that he produces it consistently enough for Southampton) and although he got the better of Aaron Ramsey on various occasions on Saturday, I absolutely loved the fact that Aaron was so willing to mix it with him and it's extremely encouraging to witness evidence of this more tigre-ish aspect to our midfield.

Although on the downside, there was also further signs against Southampton that, as willing a grafter as Mikel Arteta may be, he increasingly appears to be prone to the effects of fatigue in the latter stages of matches, where he ends up struggling to get goalside and inevitably incurring free-kicks as he's forced to stretch to tackle from behind.

Nuff of my waffle

Despite the distractions of the O’Neill & Keane win-double act, during the past fortnight of yet another comparatively tedious Interlull, it was a blessed relief to return to the real business of competitive domestic footie. In fact, after savouring the scintillating drama of the Scouse derby on the box, I was positively salivating as I headed out the door, at the prospect of enjoying more of the same, from two of the Premiership’s most entertaining outfits.

Sadly our hosting of Pochettino’s high-flying Saints didn’t quite live up to the hors d’ouevres. Aside from the odd sporadic burst of attacking flair, our match never quite caught fire in the manner I’d expected, considering the large number of in-form combatants involved.

Not that you’ll catch me complaining, after a clean sheet triumph that ensures we remain ensconced at the top of the table for another week. Moreover, Walcott might’ve only returned to the fray for a late 20-minute cameo, but even if Theo takes time to rediscover some form, after spending two months out injured, just the threat of having him available should prove a real fillip.

We’ve achieved and maintained our pitch on this lofty perch thus far, largely by means of a one-dimensional attack, almost totally devoid of any real pace in the absence of Theo, the Ox and Podolski. While most opposition defences have struggled to contain Plan A, despite their industrious efforts to condense the space available in the middle of the park, it should prove even harder, now they also have to worry about Walcott bursting onto the ball over the top and it will be a great relief to have this much missed, essential string restored to the Gunners bow.

However, I hope the eventual return of this triumvirate from the treatment room to the bench, doesn’t reduce the pressure on Le Prof to pull his finger (and the chequebook!) out in January. When you consider the array of striking options available to the likes of Pellegrini, it’s downright ridiculous that a club of our stature is reduced to a single viable centre-forward.

You could hear the sound of 57,000 Gooners collectively holding their breath, every time Olivier Giroud hit the deck on Saturday and our foppish French striker appears only too aware of our utter reliance on his continued fitness, playing to his adoring faithful when massaging life back into his muscles with every dead leg and each thwack in the back. But so long as Giroud maintains his consistent work and strike rates and remains on stage, rather than in the wings, the Arsenal’s own “Larry” Olivier can act out all he likes.

You certainly wouldn’t have banked on Giroud bearing down on Boruc with sufficient vitesse, to pressure the Southampton goalie into the sort of brainstorm that gifted us the opening goal in this game. In fact, if I’d been putting a bet on a Polish keeper being culpable for such a farcical cock-up, my money would’ve been on our own more immature goal minder.

Up until this point, with first Wilshere and then Ramsey hitting the woodwork (with a backheel that might’ve been a shoe-in for another goal of the month award if it had found the back of the net), it was beginning to feel as if it might be one of those days when fate failed to smile upon London N5.  Considering how badly we needed to bounce back, after the break, from our defeat at Old Trafford, Boruc’s benefaction was welcomed like manna from heaven and we spent the remainder of the afternoon sarcastically expressing our gratitude.

However it was somewhat disconcerting that the Gunners failed to press home this advantage. I spent much of the remaining 70 minutes on the edge of my seat, expecting the Saints to produce a sting in the tale, until the penalty area tug of our BFG’s shirt, eased our mounting anxiety, as the unflappable Giroud despatched the resulting spot-kick.

I was looking at a representation of the total miles travelled and the minutes played by each of the top flight’s myriad of International representatives and perhaps fatigue was responsible for the Gunners sitting on our slender single goal lead. But I wonder why they can’t conjure up the same intensity that would’ve been demanded of them if we had been a goal behind.

It took a couple of smart saves from Sczczny to maintain our lead on Saturday and while this might’ve been the sort of contest where the Gunners would’ve let the three points slip through our fingers in the past, I can’t help but worry that we’re going to need more of the sort of killer instinct necessary to put opponents properly to the sword, in order to prevent such mishaps in the future.

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