May 2, 2014
After a few nervous weeks, Arsenal are just one win away from securing Champions League football next season. And with the FA Cup Final on the horizon as well, the 2013/14 campaign could end as brightly as many had hoped back in August.
Everton's loss to Southampton on Saturday put us in a great position to open up a four point lead in the race for fourth place. And we took advantage on Monday. We also saw once again how much we missed the presence of Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil during that dour stretch of the season. We had been like a barbershop quartet with just the tenor and baritone. Now we're harmonizing like The B Sharps again!
Goals from Laurent Koscielny and Lukas Podolski gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead going into the break and we showed no signs of slowing down after that. Ramsey and Ozil combined to set up Olivier Giroud on the game's third goal as Arsenal cruised to a truly comprehensive win.
Arsène Wenger touched on the two midfielders after the game. "I think they make a difference, but at the same period we had Walcott, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and Koscielny all out," he said. "Of course you can sometimes miss one or two, but four or five? Every team feels that."
No one likes to talk about injuries, and blaming results on injured players always seems like a bit of a cop-out. Every team loses key players during every season. And Arsenal certainly are no stranger to this phenomenon. But this time, we essentially have a before-and-after case study.
“You could see there is a harmony in the team again and our fluency is strong," said Wenger. "Now that people are back and everyone is confident again you can see that we always look like we can score."
One player who really missed the absence of Ramsey and Ozil is Giroud. While he never went on a truly prolonged scoring slump, he was much less consistent and struggled some toward the end of March and the beginning of April. And yet he grabbed his 21st goal of the season – and 15th in the league -- against Newcastle, which are not tallies that you can scoff at. "I really needed it and it's always important for a striker to score," he said. "It's my 21st goal and I really want to be efficient and regular for the last three games."
Blogger Tony Attwood discussed Giroud's season recently and for me, hit the nail on the head. He closed with, " Henry had first Bergkamp and then Pires as his support team. At the moment Giroud has Ramsey and Ozil once again. Plus let us hope, next season, Theo as well. That will make Giroud even more prolific."
But before we get carried away and focus solely on injuries, Per Mertesacker made it clear that -- injuries or not -- it was those big, awful losses to Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Everton that ended our title hopes. “We couldn't afford those away [defeats] against big teams so we didn't deserve to be in the top three," he said. "That is something for next year that we have to manage better.”
And next year, we will hopefully have a fully-fit and very hungry Theo Walcott back to help us manage that. The Englishman scored five goals in just 13 league games this season before rupturing an anterior cruciate ligament against Spurs in January. One can only imagine how many goals and assists he could have over a full season while playing alongside Ramsey, Ozil and Giroud.
Looking ahead, West Brom visit on Sunday for Arsenal's final home game of the season. The Baggies have been a bit of an enigma this season. The currently sit four points above the relegation zone – unlikely to face the drop, but not completely safe either. They have a decidedly mediocre record over their last 10 games: three wins, three losses and four draws. Two of those draws came against Chelsea and Spurs, two against Fulham and Cardiff. So which team will show up on Sunday – the defensively consistent one that has the ability to hold the big teams, or the offensively limited side that barely earned points over teams in the relegation zone?
For Arsenal, it's quite simple: three points guarantees fourth in the Premier League no matter what Everton does against Man City on Saturday. Anything less and it could once again go down to the final game of the season. The team news is reasonably positive. We're looking at essentially the same squad that rolled over Newcastle, although at the moment, Bacary Sagna is listed as 50-50. Gibbo, Jack and Ox look set to miss out, but there is a chance we could see all three for the FA Cup Final in two weeks.
We do face a much-maligned early kick-off on Sunday, but at least we are at the Emirates. Hopefully, we can strike quickly and put the game away early so we can grab that Champions League spot and start to get focused on Hull City and the FA Cup Final.
And oh yeah, Happy belated St. Totteringham's Day!
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