By A Cultured Left Foot
Variety is the spice of life and Arsenal’s attack is capable of producing that. With the calibre of player at the club there’s no surprise in Per Mertesacker’s view that this is a pivotal reason for the strong end of season finish.
I know you can only beat the opposition on the pitch at the time but Monday night’s win over Hull might well have been the best performance of the season with the struggling hosts made to look as bad as they were.
The BFG observed:
“We are so unpredictable in what we are doing, even for me at the back sometimes it looks a bit weird! Sometimes we lose balance but sometimes it is really good so we have to keep going and focus on our game, especially defensively.”
Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla are hugely talented players. Their skill without the ball has been to marry themselves into the team environment without losing the individualism which has made them stand out.
Chief beneficiary has been Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman enjoys the space that the three players create for him with their runs and passes, drifting inside from the right. It worked on Monday with Hull leaving gaps to be exploited and against Liverpool for the same reason.
It’s that balance which Wenger has to find and Ramsey may find himself rotating with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – fitness permitting – in future games, depending on how the opposition set themselves. The two games it has worked well were noticeably against defences shaped with three central defenders.
But as Mertesacker observed, the biggest improvement in the second half of the season has been the defensive shape and concentration. As with Wenger’s title-winning sides, concentration at the back has been the foundation for success.
If, as everyone hopes, we are to progress, a decisive summer’s work is needed off the pitch to strengthen the squad. It’s inevitable that there will be a larger number of departures than arrivals with contract positions and the quality of some of the loanees returning.
Much of the talk surrounds the spine of the team and I wouldn’t disagree with most of those arguments. The one I do concerns the goalkeeper. David Ospina has proved more than competent since taking over between the sticks from Wojciech Szczesny and is, I feel, harshly judged.
It’s for the summer though. As Mertesacker said, it’s about finishing second and winning the FA Cup this season. If Liverpool fail to win at Stamford Bridge this weekend, the top-four finish is secure. If United fail to win also, the top three can be secured if we beat Swansea on Monday. A small but tangible step forward.
Quite quickly, rivals are dropping away and the focus on the top two becomes sharper. As I’ve said previously, quite a lot of the assessment on whether improvements have been made will be subjective but improvement is a meaningless term if we don’t use it as a building block to a stronger future.