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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Next Year In Jerusalem....Next Week Would Be Better!

At 2-0 down with only 7 minutes left on the clock at Goodison on Saturday, the travelling Gooner faithful were facing an utterly miserable schlep back home from Merseyside. Perhaps a mere point in this instance, but mercifully, for the second successive week we were extremely fortunate to salvage anything from the ashes of another lamentably lethargic display.

Mainly thanks to the home side knocking off early, Giroud’s glorious 90th minute equalizer resulted in an explosion of redemptive euphoria, over another smash & grab comeback. In typically fickle fashion, we were left unabashedly lauding Monreal’s pinpoint assist and the Spaniard’s doggedly determined retrieval of Ramsey’s infuriatingly wayward cross, where only moments prior we’d been castigating our full-back as a defensive liability and clutching at conciliatory straws, in the feint hope that such a blatant failure in our first big test of this campaign, might at least stir our manager, convincing Arsène of the urgent need for some last-minute transfer action.

Despite the meritorious resilience evident in pulling a potentially crucial iron from the fire of another shoddy performance, this doesn’t disguise the fact that our woeful form leaves all that pre-season optimism looking somewhat misguided at present. Here’s hoping it’s not 13th time unlucky, but perhaps the Gunners are a little too accustomed to cruising through our annual Champions League qualifiers?

There was a frustrating absence of intensity in Istanbul in midweek, aside from the overly zealous endeavours of Alexis and the injection of energy from his replacement, with the Ox producing the single only effort that came anywhere close to fruition. This encounter was more akin to a friendly, than potentially the most significant outing of the season.

Yet as a result, I was quite excited when Saturday’s starting XI was revealed and I realized that Arsène had somehow found a way of including Özil, Alexis and the Ox. That was until it dawned on me that this was to the exclusion of any other strikers. I adore Alexis’ wholehearted attitude and his willingness to graft like a Trojan, but neither he nor Özil are the sort of natural wide-men capable of occupying the likes of Coleman and Baines sufficiently, out on the flanks, to prevent the Everton full-backs from rampaging forward all game long (or to track them whenever they do!).

I was delighted at the prospect of seeing the Chilean get an opportunity to impose himself across the width of the penalty area at Goodison. But sadly, operating on his own, Sanchez was starved of the ball and struggled to make an impact. The consensus seems to believe he’s most effective alongside another striker in the no. 10 role, but sadly, in recent years, the inclusion of a pair of strikers appears to have been completely eradicated from le Prof’s purview.

Following the gut-wrenching disappointment of conceding a second only moments before the break, my unconfined joy at seeing le Gaffer react (instead of waiting until the last fifteen) was soon dampened, upon discovering he was substituting Giroud for Sanchez. Arsène needed to be bolder and with Wilshere watching his third successive game drift by, we’d have been better off if he’d taken Jack off and gone for it, giving the Toffees defence more to think about by playing 4-4-2.

Wenger might feel vindicated by the fact that we managed to rescue a result, but truth be told, with Giroud needing three efforts before finally working Howard in goal, for the vast majority of the second half if felt as if the home side was far more likely to put the match to bed with a third than we were of turning this game on it’s head.

With Koscielny already struggling with an Achilles problem, I fear that our reliance on Chambers will inevitably prove costly at some stage. It’s been suggested to me that Callum’s reading of the game and his timely interventions are reminiscent of Bobby Moore. There’s no doubt about his promise but it’s a massive ask to expect him to produce the necessary level of consistency, over the course of a marathon season and I’d be devastated to see his confidence wrecked by costly errors.

Whether it was due to fitness, or his unfamiliarity on the left, Mertesacker appeared uncomfortable on Saturday. Despite the inclusion of his lanky presence, with Giroud left on the bench, this only highlighted the Gunners physical shortcomings.

Watching Chelsea’s powerful performances thus far, it’s hard to imagine us lining up in the tunnel and no longer being intimidated by our London rivals. Although Fabregas wouldn’t have offered us more muscle, he has the sort of world-class aura, which left me fearing that even if it was just to prevent him pulling the strings in Mourinho’s midfield, passing on our option to bring him back might prove the costliest mistake of the summer. I can’t help but wonder if Wenger let his personal feelings take precedence over his customary pragmatism in this instance.

Although the Gunners are still struggling to get bodies in the box, at least our late goals have staved off the mood of despondency that would’ve undoubtedly enshrouded us by now, without them. But never fear, if we can overcome Beksitas tomorrow and add a significant signing (or two) before the week is out, we Gooners will be back on top of the world.

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