Arsenal made six changes to the team that whipped West Ham 5-1 in midweek and as is to be expected if you change two midfielders, three defenders and a forward, Arsenal sputtered and stuttered to a 3-2 win. Ultimately only getting the win after the first team was subbed on.
The Arsenal back line was almost entirely changed, Vermaelen, Gibbs, and Sagna were all rested and Koscielny, Santos and Jenkinson were given the start. The fact that these players haven’t played together much really showed as Albion seemed to pick them apart with ease.
Similarly in midfield where Diaby and Rosicky were started in place of Wilshere and Cazorla. Both midfielders showed signs of rust as they hit misplaced passes and (at least Diaby) showed some defensive indiscipline at times. The one player who did look fantastic in midfield was Aaron Ramsey. Working from the deep-lying midfielder role, he was given time and space to operate and pulled the strings fantastically. One particularly Pirloesque ball from deep left me collecting my jaw off the floor.
And Ramsey was tenacious in shielding the back four. He picked up a yellow card in the 66th minute but that never stopped him from tackling and trying to win the ball back. Ramsey seems to be growing into a replacement for Arteta in that holding role which is nice to see. My only hesitation in simply handing him that position would be to see the other team apply pressure to him deep like they did against Arteta a few weeks back.
Up front, the Ox really had an anonymous game though that could be a tad unfair as Jenkinson didn’t offer much all day and Arsenal seemed to be getting a lot of joy straight through the middle to Giroud and Podolski. Giroud in particular seems to have settled nicely into the physical side of the English game. At the start of the game against Albion he was constantly being pushed and pulled but he gave back as much as he got. His first goal was all guile, shaping the shot around the defender. But the second was really just a wonderful strike and showed what Giroud is all about: the touch to take down Diaby’s chip, the strength to create the yard of space needed to get the shot off and the desire to get the shot as he had to really reach for it. All just magnificent.
Meanwhile, at the back, Andre Santos is 29 years old, with over 270 appearances in his career, and he still tries to dribble out of defense and into the heart of the midfield. Not only that, but the first time a player is dispossessed doing something that basically stupid they tend to remember “oh yeah, don’t do that.” Andre Santos tried that dribble no less than three times, each time he was dispossessed. Once led to a goal which was flagged for offside. It was a lucky break, but did Santos stop dribbling? Nope.
Ultimately, I would still forgive him being out of position, doing stupid things, making basic defensive errors, if I felt he gave everything for the cause. I didn’t see that same effort from Santos as from Giroud.
Rosicky is a good example of what I’m talking about. It was his first appearance in over a month and his first start since scoring against Olympiakos on December 4th. His passes were rusty, his tackles were all slightly late, and overall he looked like a Mozart being forced to conduct with one arm tied behind his back. But Rosicky gave everything on the pitch and it was his quick turn of pace on the throw in from Szczesny which got Arsenal the first goal.
Roskicy picked up the throw, ran at the Albion defense and crossed to Podolski who dropped for Giroud. And the big Frenchman used the body of the defender to block the shape of his shot, making it unsavable. All of that was started though by Rosicky’s run and he did that for the full 67 minutes. He never stopped trying make a tackle or a run forward. Rusty, yes, but given a run of games will be back to form.
For those wondering “what happened to Santos?” the answer is simple: teams have found him out. He had a honeymoon period with Arsenal at the start of his career but right before he picked up that injury teams had already worked out that if they target the fullback they will get joy. Since making his return, the opposition have picked up right where they left off. Doesn’t matter who we play against, they all know, if Santos is on the pitch, attack that side. Don’t forget, Arsene hooked Santos and played Vermaelen on the left after his dreadful match against Man U.
So credit to Gus Poyet. He did his homework and attacked Arsenal down the right (our left) getting both goals as a result and possibly unlucky not to get more. Credit also to Poyet for building a nice looking team who play some proper football. They started out route one and put in some spicy challenges, but quickly settled and started passing from the back. So much so that they looked quite like Swansea. That’s a compliment, in case you’re confused.
In the end, the difference was that Arsene had Gibbs, Wilshere, and Theo Walcott on the bench. Gibbbs came on and immediately the defense looked more assured and the forwards had width down the left. Wilshere also helped keep the midfield composed and I really like the pairing of Wilshere and Ramsey. And of course, Theo Walcott scored the winning goal. Deflected, sure, but talk about game-changing substitutions!
When people complain about the team lacking depth and needing to spend in this transfer window, this substitution is exactly what they are complaining about. Against Albion, Arsenal had Walcott and Wilshere in reserve. That’s a great bench and they can (and did) come on and win the game for you. Against Liverpool in midweek there will be no such luxury. Wilshere and Walcott will surely start leaving little powder dry on the bench.
But it’s all academic and I’ll probably be accused of a number of crimes against humanity for pointing out that depth in reserve won the game and is exactly the kind of thing Arsenal should be spending the £153m in cash reserves on. No matter what I say I draw criticism, maybe I didn’t give enough credit to a player, maybe I ripped Santos too much, but in the end, for me, it was the bench that made all the difference. And it’s the bench that will continue to make the difference between now and the end of the season as to where Arsenal finish in the two Leagues and how far we go in the FA Cup.