If you give a Theo some room
Theo Walcott is one of the best players on this Arsenal side and we saw that again on Saturday as he set up the Mertesacker header with a delightful chip, kept constant pressure down Tottenham’s right, and eventually got the goal all his hard work deserved. Possibly because of that performance everyone has suddenly done an about face on Theo Walcott and he’s gone from a player who was rubbished by most to a player who is now one of the most important players in red and white.
He’s the same old Theo though. And as I have pointed out in various places these last few weeks, Theo is Arsenal’s most experienced Arsenal player, he’s now the season’s leading scorer with 9 goals, he also leads the team in assists with 7, and he has as many goals in his North London Derby career as Thierry Henry.
Against Spurs, Theo was given room to run and showed what he will do to teams that give him space. It was a huge surprise to see Andres Villas-Boas telling Spurs to press high up the pitch but the result was that in the first half Theo simply abused Kyle Naughton who couldn’t even get close enough to attempt a tackle. This was Walcott in his most comfortable role as a footballer: the wide provider.
AVB slowed Theo down a little in the second half with his switch to a 3-5-1 but Wenger simply moved Theo more centrally and without the ball Walcott was free to run into pockets of space all over the Spurs defense, eventually latching onto an Ox cross for the goal he so richly deserved.
I think what frustrates people is that performance you saw against Spurs is not replicated week in and week out because most teams have figured out that Theo is not a dribbler. But just because he doesn’t dribble constantly doesn’t make him rubbish. Against West Ham he hit the Hammers on the counter for Arsenal’s second goal and he provided an assist through sheer perseverance to seal the win. Those are the qualities that he adds to the team and judging by the early numbers this season, he’s adding quite nicely.
I’ve always held that it’s a shame that Theo was born in this era of the super ego. He’s the kind of player who should be happy to start against teams that will give him space and be a super-sub against teams that sit back and defend. But there are literally no players of Theo’s talent level that are willing to do that at this time because they see it as an affront to this corporate entity that is the player. Theo Walcott as “TW14″ or whatever branding they are doing now.
Both the fans and the player need to learn how to forgive “Walcott” for what he isn’t and accept him for what he is. If Wenger’s words are to be believed, then Theo will be with Arsenal, at least until the end of the season.
Lu lu lu Lukas Podolski!
1 touch, 1 shot, 1 goal.
1 touch, 1 pass, 1 assist.
4 tackles attempted, 4 tackles made.
The thing I love about Podolski is that he has to be Arsenal’s most clinical performer all over the pitch. Think about it. How does it even seem possible that Podolski had both a goal and an assist from that Spurs game? How many touches do you remember him getting? Shots? Key passes?
But when I saw him slipped into space down the left and then look up and see Cazorla bombing forward I just knew that was going to be a goal. And the amazing thing is that his cross was perfectly placed and weighted for Cazorla to finish. I know Cazorla gets all the credit for scoring because, well, I don’t know why but really, watch that pass again (the bitesize is free on the dot com), it’s superb. In fact, I bet Cazorla misses the goal if he gets any other ball than that one, because for all his qualities he’s just not a natural finisher.
Podolski is such an anti-Arsene signing that he seems almost out of place in the pantheon of the last 7 years. Arsene is more likely to sign a Hleb or a Gervinho who want to kiss the ball all night than a Podolski who will skip any foreplay at all and go straight up the duff. For example, so far this season Poldi has 4 league goals and 3 assists off just 18 shots and 15 key passes compared to 4 goals and 3 assists for Cazorla who has taken 41 shots and made 38 key passes.
He’s our efficient little German and I’d like to see what happens to his numbers and Arsenal’s fortunes if he’s given more service than he’s been getting lately.
The Handbrake was off but only sorta
You ever driven a car with the handbrake on? It can be done but only if you’re so oblivious that you don’t notice the smell of the brakes burning up or the fact that your engine is struggling. I once knew a guy who drove 30 miles with the handbrake on. Ruined the brakes on that car.
I think Arsenal played “with a bit the handbrake on” in the first 20 minutes against Spurs. Arsenal took no shots, they allowed Spurs four shots, Arteta was marked out of the game (again), and Spurs could have easily been 2-0 up in that period.
That said, some people confuse “the handbrake” with those little mental lapses that I have come to the conclusion that all players suffer. Watch any of the goals conceded by any of the top teams this weekend and you will see someone switching off. I’m not sure how other fans view their team but “switching off” is something that ruins Arsenal careers among the Arsenal twitterati and it happened to Arsenal twice against Spurs.
For Spurs’ first goal you saw Mertesacker switch off (in the middle of the handbrake period, compounding the error) and actually step up rather than back which gave Defoe the room to get in his shot. And for the second goal I could see it develop the whole way: Sagna switched off and let Bale get the jump on him down the wing and once Bale had a step it was only a matter of seconds before he was in a dangerous area.
Those are Arsenal’s two best defenders, two most experienced players, and two most positionally aware players on the team and yet they switched off. It’s something that happens, even to good players, and something we all have to accept. Just like the fact that teams are going to score goals off corners regardless of whether you use man-marking or zonal defense.
The key question is what do those players do about it after they realized they switched off? Both Mertesacker and Sagna thumped home headers in a North London Derby to get their team back into the game. That’s how you make up for the mistake.
Stepping up like that is critical to the team because as we saw after that goal, Arsenal’s handbrake was off.
An Adebayor can’t change his spots
I really don’t know what goes through the mind of a player like Adebayor but I am certain that whatever he thinks it can’t be trusted to stay consistent for more than a few minutes. I mentioned before the game that Webb had sent Adebayor off twice already in his career and as soon as I saw his lunge on Cazorla I knew what color the card would be.
I can say that while arguing that both of Adebayor’s previous red cards were very harsh, watch: Adebayor’s first ever red card from Webb was in the League Cup final for a “foul” that Eboue actually committed and the second red card was a second yellow for shielding the ball with what Webb called a “high boot” but was a fairly routine step over.
But this one as a Spurs player against Arsenal was no doubt a red card. Surely everyone at Tottenham knew about Adebayor’s past with Arsenal? That whole run to the other end of the stadium and celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans when he was playing for City? The stamp on van Persie’s face in the same match? If you didn’t know about Adebayor’s ill-tempered past, I can assure you that Howard Webb did. That’s why he sent him off: it was a dangerous lunge from a player with a history of trying to injure his former teammates. If a referee is ever going to have the leeway to intuit intent, that would be the one time.
You (if you’re one of the complainers) can complain all you like about how the red card changed the game. Personally, I would say that Tottenham signing him, Villas-Boas pumping him up before the game, and Adebayor just being mental are what changed the game.
I’ve stopped worrying
When Bale’s goal went in and made the score 4-2 the announcers went nuts saying that this would get Spurs back into the game. And to be honest, I had a brief moment where I thought about the 4-4 result from a few years back and my imagination picked up the scenario from the moment that Bale ran at Szczesny trying to get the ball back to a big celebration at the end of the game culminating with Spurs fans charging the pitch.
Then my mind went to twitter and the shit-storm that would follow that result. 10 men Spurs come back 4-4. Nightmare fuel.
So, as soon as the net stopped rippling I should have been on pins and needles but I wasn’t and for the first time as an Arsenal fan, I gave myself over to the game. I let it wash over me like I was a rock in a creek bed.
Now today I look at the League Table and see that Arsenal are just 9 points off Man City at the top. Moreover, Arsenal are just 5 points adrift of Chelsea. The Chelsea team that was going to run away with the League a few weeks ago, remember? Plenty of time to get back into this.
And I’m just going to let it happen.