I made myself French toast for breakfast. I had an egg, some day-old brioche, and some half and half leftover from making crème fraîche* and the idea of French toast just struck me. I suffered greatly while eating that I can tell you. It started very well, was a bit dry in the middle but went down well with a giant cup of coffee. I just had to make do with what I had and it turned out pretty good.
There was a similar feel to the QPR v. Arsenal match yesterday. Arsenal got off to a great start, Theo Walcott scoring in the first 21 seconds, but then spent the next 60 minutes in an exercise of playing with the handbrake on. Which they followed up with 30 minutes of trying to increase the scoreline but just falling short. In the end though, they scored early, tried to get some more goals at the end of the match and kept the clean sheet through a combination of great play in the outfield and by the finger-tips of Szczesny. But in the end, they made due with what they had and it turned out pretty good.
We can’t underestimate the change in the way that Arsenal have played football with Giroud this season. The Big Gallic Galoot has attempted 231 aerial duels this season, which is 136 more than Robin van Persie attempted last season. In fact, Arsenal’s total aerial duels attempted is up from 765 last season to 1118 this season, 39% of that increase is accounted for just with the difference between Giroud’s attempts and van Persie’s last season. That is in a season, I should mention, in which all aerial duels are up mostly because Stoke have attempted 75% more aerials this season than last. I’m serious, Stoke have tried 746 more aerials this season than last. That’s 21 more aerial duels per game from Stoke. They try 50 a game. FIFTY.
Regardless of Stoke’s Hail Mary tactics, Podolski is no Giroud. In the last two games, Arsenal have kept trying to play the same style of football that they worked on under Giroud but unlike Giroud, who is 56% in the air, Podolski has only won 5 of 17 attempts. Podolski is passing the ball better than Giroud but he’s not creating anything for anyone. Against Norwich, Giroud had one of his best games of the season, scoring a goal, and setting up 4 chances for teammates. Not only that but as much as we have a moan about Giroud’s finishing, he does get shots off with a season average above 3 shots a game, which is around his career average. Podolski on the other hand has never been a prolific shooter (two year average 1.9 per game) and it shows, he’s had just three shots in his two games up front for Arsenal.
I did a poll on twitter (accurate as hell, I know) and the results were close but 38% would like to see Theo Walcott given the chance to start at center forward with second place going to Gervinho. My vote was for Podolski. Not because I think he’s been good in the position but because I don;t think Arsenal are well drilled enough to play a new style at this point in the season and he is bigger than Theo and against QPR he did put himself about a bit better than he did against United. He won 5/12 aerial duels against QPR and did have two shots, though he still didn’t create anything for anyone else.
Theo, on the other hand, is not being stifled at all by playing wide. He’s had 8 shots (5 on target) in the last two games and under Arsene’s non-system system has the freedom to drop into the middle to clog things up by being an extra body all he wants.
I’m leery of saying that there has been some kind of “sea change” at Arsenal but over the last 14 games Arsenal have been statistically unlike the Arsenal that we are all used to seeing. They have scored 26 goals (5 of them against West Ham) for an average of 1.9 goals per game (1.75 if you take the West Ham match and one of the 0-0 matches out) which is about right for an Arsene Wenger side. But what’s different is that they have only allowed 10 goals in that time, which is an average of 0.7 goals allowed per game, and they have kept 6 clean sheets.
As I wrote in my By The Numbers Column, that’s not because Arsenal are limiting the chances of the opposition, as they did with the tiki-taka football under Cesc Fabregas, there’s something else going on here: pressing from the front, fighting for possession, winning defensive headers, helping each other on defense, all of that seems to have taken hold at Arsenal. And I feel more confident about the Arsenal defense than I have all season.
There was a momentary bit of anxiety toward the end of the West Brom game but yesterday against QPR I honestly felt that the result was never in doubt. Even though it did require a fine save from an otherwise dreadful Szczesny.
So, I don’t see Arsenal changing things much. It’s been a very successful formula over the last 14 games and Arsenal are the form team of the Premier League because of it. I know that’s rather boring to say and that there is some “brilliant” blog out there right now with the headline “Why Arsenal need to give Gervinho the starting center forward spot” or some such nonsense but then grinding out 1-0 wins can get rather boring. For those who wanted their “Arsenal back”, they got it.
And one last thing because I know that everyone is trying to figure out the permutations of how Arsenal could finish 4th or whatever. I did see that Chelsea won today and there are a lot of worried Arsenal fans that think that means more pressure has been heaped on the players. But the reality is that Arsenal needed to win every game in this run-in no matter what so if these players didn’t already have pressure on them then there was something seriously wrong.
When Arsenal drew with United that essentially took the finish out of our hands and now we have to hope for Chelsea to beat Tottenham. But for me, I’m not worried. I’d like for Arsenal to finish in the top four but its not a prerequisite for me as to whether I support the club by flying over at great expense and seeing games — it will only change where I fly to. And as for whether the club will or won’t invest if they lose out on Champions League money, that makes for great speculation in the blogosphere but no one has one shred of evidence that they know what this board and manager will do this summer.
The season is going to be over in a few weeks and we will have all summer to bitch and moan about transfers. In the mean time, let’s just enjoy the football we have left. And for those of you wanting to do the math on what happens if Chelsea win against Tottenham or whatever, here’s a simple formula: root for Arsenal to win every game.
And that’s all we ask, right? Do your best, gambatte in Japanese. And if they fail at the finish then they just get back up and try again next year.
*Real crème fraîche contains at least 30% butterfat. So what?