One Of Us Speaks – No More No Less
I don’t know. Our last three matches haven’t been great, but I reckon there’s been enough in each performance to convince me that we can get the job done on Sunday. And we’ll have an even better chance if we can combine the best of our last three matches together to create some kind of amalgamation. A perfect game wrought from three imperfect ones to get three points and third.
First we need to defend like we did at home against Chelsea. I think it’s clear that I’m not a football expert, but I do know there are different kinds of world-class defensive performances. There’s the heroic last-ditch stuff – usually individual defenders or the goalkeeper repeatedly intervening and saving the day after the team’s defensive structure has been breached. Less of that for me on Sunday please.
Far less likely to get us all committed are the lesser-heralded team efforts. Say, when a team like ours attacks for 90 minutes but successfully heads off the other team’s attempts to counter. Against us at home I think Di Matteo tried to copy Man United’s successful plan against by picking four fresh, pacy forwards to hit us on the break. But despite one or two hairy moments we remembered our defensive responsibilities and gave Chelsea few options and little space when we lost possession.
This shared appreciation for, you know, not conceding goals, could come in handy if we’re going to be attacking for most of the afternoon on Sunday – say if that first goal proves a little more tricky than we’d all like. Clearly a watertight defence can come at the expense of a productive attack, but as we hit the woodwork three times against Chelsea I’d like to think the margin between a controlled performance and a frustrating draw was exceptionally fine on that day.
On to the Stoke game, which was probably the best showing of the three. We all know our record there is a bit dodgy, but apart from an early goal and a scare from a late throw when Szczesny was momentarily lost in the shadow of five behemoths, we battled to make the best of it. Make no mistake, our game is in no way not suited to that place, but during the first half we cut them to ribbons. In the second half we relaxed a bit, but were never particularly threatened.
So while we didn’t get it together very often in the second half, but to wear out the fraying thread of this post I’d like to glean the team’s guts and bloody-mindedness from that match. That’s the courage to stay true to our footballing principles and not get drawn into a poop-throwing contest against simians, even if we know the conditions aren’t really in our favour.
Then finally I’d like us to attack the way we did in the second half against Norwich. Having tried to avoid most of the response to the match, I’m not sure if Gervinho’s showing has been recognised. In the first half he was as inhibited as anyone else, but I don’t doubt that the manager had a chat with him at half time because he was the player we need him to be after the break.
He’s got to be the quickest player off the mark at the club. It’s a characteristic that will take him past any player if he’s feeling confident enough, but after a demanding and not particularly fruitful ACN, and a return to a side in which Walcott was on fire, we haven’t seen the same form that I think helped the team up the table during the autumn.
Still, in the second half he was back to his peculiar best on the ball, and his final pass was more consistent than we’ve seen in a single match from him this season. If he can repeat that across 90 minutes then we might just have the combination to the vault if West Brom decide to keep things tight and try to catch us on the counter.
Bearing in mind that I’m only taking the second half performance with me from the Norwich, and purging the memory of the first forever, we could have scored five. That’s two penalties, added to the two goals we scored anyway, and the many opportunities that were either wasted or denied by what must take its place among the many classic performances from a visiting goalkeeper to the Emirates.
So who’s going to get into my amalgamated XI?
Unless there are any last-minute injuries, any dramatic changes at this stage of the season would be insane. But I will leave Aaron Ramsey out. And this isn’t because I subscribe to the nonsense that some of the crazies say about him, but a response to the manager’s comments after the match:
“He is very strong mentally and is going through a difficult period at the moment. But he will come off that stronger.”
That’s about as explicit as Arsène gets. Ramsey only had one hour against Norwich and, whether or not it’s a coincidence, our game improved after he left. I’d like to think I know what the manager has in store for him – he’s giving him mileage he needs to work out the kinks, which is going fine – but on Sunday it might be worth opting for more experienced players in midfield. I’m thinking we could bring Benayoun inside and pair him with Rosicky ahead of Song.
On the wings I’d have Walcott and Gervinho, at right-back I’d go for Coquelin. Gibbs starts at left-back, not only because I think he’s been a trooper there since his return (barring the odd slip), but also because he’s spent more time at the back with Vermaelen and Koscielny than André Santos in recent weeks. Factor in his pace and work ethic, and I think he shades his rival for this team.
Finally, if I felt capable of joking about this match I’m sure I’d suggest an outlandish alternative to van Persie up front. Yeah, I bet you’d find that funny, you sick b*stards.