Ever the entertainers, Arsenal seemed determined to prove the error of ITV’s ways in choosing to televise another Utd dead rubber for the trillionth time. They did so by scoring a couple of brilliant goals, and then conceding a couple of equally calamitous ones. As we approached the final ten minutes, the magic of the Cup was making my tummy hurt. In the end it was left to a heavily deflected Theo Walcott side-footer to end the tie, and that was a slice of luck I was more than happy to scarf down.
Were I being patronising I’d describe Brighton as plucky. They were actually quite a bit more dangerous than that, and may consider themselves unfortunate not to have forced a replay. Having rested five players, the manager may regard this as a sizeable banana skin avoided – and will doubtless be glad to not be answering questions about fixture pile-up or, *shiver*, another exit to lower league opposition. Here’s who else ought to be happy, and not so much…
- Olivier Giroud – Two absolute peaches from Arsenal’s pin-up, who’s answering whatever doubts there are about him in the best way possible. The first was the kind of goal the shot-shy Chamakh would never have even taken on, much less netted, while the second was arguably even more skilful – a sublime control and shot reminiscent of a certain Dutch thoroughbred. OG is bang in form, and I can’t put it better than this…
Olivier Giroud’s touch is like Chantilly lace at the moment.
- Jack Wilshere – Different class when he came on, as is increasingly becoming standard. The way he dribbles and drives at the space 10 yards in front of the box must make him particularly hard to defend against, as he seems able to bypass the first bank of four with ghostly ease.
- Kieran Gibbs – Playing brilliantly, despite being under zero pressure of losing his place. The collective sigh of relief when he replaced Santos must have been heard all along the south coast.
- Tomas Rosicky – A handy player to have back, and a relief too as offering him a new deal off the back of six healthy, productive months was starting to look like the height of naivety. I was slightly surprised he was asked to start the game having had no time off the bench, but despite a little rust Tommy looked much as we remembered. Hopefully his re-emergence from knack hibernation will provide some opportunities to rest Jack and Santi, as well as adding some welcome experience to the squad.
- Per Mertesacker – The BFG was particularly culpable for Brighton’s first goal, standing stock still as the Brighton man ran through his zone, into space, and onto the ball. Zonal marking isn’t the grand folly many British pundits would have you believe. In fact most teams use a mix of man-marking and zonal. But as with anything, it’s the execution which counts, and we’re executing set pieces like a guillotine made of blancmange. As for everyone’s favourite debt collector, he’s had a few shaky games this season. Per remains first choice, though, largely on the basis that the Vermaelen and Koscielny partnership is like putting two error prone repellent magnets together.
- Wojciech Szczesny – Anyone else still not really convinced? There seems to be a view that bringing in another, more experienced, keeper – say Stekelenberg – would discombobulate the young Pole. I say so be it. Between the Cesc and RVP sagas, I think I’ve managed to burn out whatever part of my brain used to hero worship players and treat them like friends who needed protecting. Now pretty much all I care about is performance, and I’m not sure Woj’s has been good enough for a while. Can you remember many games this season when he won us all three points with his saves? The point I guess is this: I don’t dislike him, I think he’s better than what’s gone before, but I’d have no qualms about it if we found someone to give him genuine competition. And if he lost his place then so be it. I’m an Arsenal fan, not his mother. Speaking of which…
- Andre Santos – Look, I’m sure he’s a great guy, loves his wife and kids, and enjoys a good BBQ. God knows I like pulled pork too. So I don’t hate him, because that would be absurd. I’ve never met the man, and his only crime is not being a very good defender. But I said during the game that I don’t want to see him play for Arsenal any more. Again: Not because I think he’s some sort of disgrace as a person, but because I think he hurts our ability to perform in matches. The way he failed to close down the cross for the second Brighton goal, was, literally a schoolboy error. As was getting needlessly dragged a million miles infield to leave the entire left flank exposed earlier in the game, or the preposterous, wasteful shots he took on. Just for the third time, in case there’s any doubt, there isn’t anything personal about saying this. I’m not into the culture of always treating one of the players like a blame piñata, and don’t do it at the ground, but saying “I don’t want to see Santos anymore” is every bit as defensible a position as saying “I want to see Jack play as many games as possible.” It’s based on talent and application, and for me Santos lacks both.
Tl;dr version: A good result, but still worrying at the back – let’s not suck each others dicks yet.
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