Due to a busy few days I couldn't get round to writing about the Southampton defeat, which always feels a little strange from an OCD point of view so I thought it would be best if I merged the Bournemouth fixture together with the Southampton game. We are doing the same with the podcast which will be out soon, so keep your eyes pealed.
So I had convinced myself that we would overcome Southampton on Boxing day. Yes we would be pushing our luck with starting the same 11 that have played pretty much ever since we lost Coquelin, Cazorla and Alexis but the fumes from our Manchester City victory on top of the Saints dismal form in recent weeks would see us do one of those professional jobs that we have developed in the last 18 months or so. At least that was the plan in my head, on the pitch it was a very different matter.
We witnessed a very different Arsenal team to the one that fully deserved the points against money bags Manchester City the Monday previous. Southampton were aggressive, they did not allow us time on the ball and were physical in their challenges, we simply could not deal with it as our level had dropped from the previous game. Not only were we not at the right level physically but the referee played his part in three of the four Southampton goals. Defensively we were a mess also with all of our back four playing their part in a shambolic performance at the back. It was a day where everything that could go wrong simply did. I fear that if we are not able to rotate again properly in the future then this can happen again so the sooner we get Welbeck, Wilshere, Rosicky, Elneny (maybe) in the squad the better.
As bad as the performance and result was and yes it was bad, but the post match reaction from many a Gooner felt almost unnecessarily suicidal. A lot of throwing in of the towel and declarations of lost bottle was doing the rounds. Forget the fact that the Southampton performance and result was uncharacteristic this season, forget the fact that we required plenty of bottle to beat Manchester City with many of our key players missing from the line up. We had bottle in abundance to go to Greece and turn over Olympiacos 3-0 to qualify. A lot of it was all rather emotional I guess, that said I was concerned about the Bournemouth match before kick off. Arsène Wenger was clearly going to address the fatigue issue with some changes but mass changes on top of a heavy defeat didn't feel like a solid platform upon which to play our creative football that we need to win matches.
Gibbs, Gabriel, Chambers and Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Monreal, Koscielny, Flamini and Joel Campbell in a bid to freshen up the team. Arsène said post match that the team started with the trauma of the Southampton game in their system as the visitors started brighter but we wrestled control of the game and that is when Mesut Özil stole the show once more with a ridiculous array of passes that sliced open Bournemouth. The German was once again on another level to those around him on both teams.
If Theo Walcott and others were clinical on the night, it is probably not a stretch to say that Özil could have beaten Henry's assist record at full time. Özil's lofted pass over the top for Theo who miskicked. His ball down the side for Theo to have his shot blocked from close range. The best pass of the night was when he nudged a ball in between a crowded penalty box for Walcott to receive wide of the keeper. How did he see that? His cut back to Giroud in the second half, his bending ball around the defence for Walcott who could not keep the ball close enough before being denied by the keeper. Not to mention the countless amounts of dangerous crosses that Gabriel attacked so well.
It was that combination that opened the scoring. Özil's inswinging cross found Gabriel who stooped to head in for his first Arsenal goal. Gabriel has looked a real threat from corner kicks whenever he has played for us. His desire to attack the ball is superior to both Koscielny and Mertesacker which is why he is able to meet so many of Özil's corners.
After years and years of no corner threat, Özil finally gives the crowd a reason to look forward to a corner kick. Great deliveries.— Mean Lean (@arsenalvision) December 28, 2015
I couldn't have been the only one who have felt little when we have gained a corner in the past. These days our threat is far greater and much of that is down to the consistent delivery of Mesut Özil. Long may that continue.
I thought Giroud battled very hard to keep the ball from knock downs and he gave a lot physically but it was perhaps not his best game from a technical point of view, but his assist to Özil in the second half was delightful. The weight of the flick had to be perfect otherwise the ball is either being intercepted or flying over Özil's head.
We really should have put the game to bed way before Özil's goal and indeed afterwards also. Perhaps an Arsenal team that had picked up 3 points at Southampton would have scored 4 or 5 last night, who knows.
I thought Calum Chambers grew into his defensive midfield role as the game went on. He looked confident in his distribution and kept everything pretty simple. That will do him the world of good as he has looked below his best in recent weeks from the bench. His mate Oxlade-Chamberlain also had a more complete performance than he had of late so that is great not only for those two but for the players they replaced on the pitch.
We witnessed first hand at Southampton how much the players need a breather so if the players who come in can make a good account of themselves then hopefully we won't suffer for it much during a tough run of fixtures.
So this Tuesday morning we find ourselves top of the Premier League at least until Leicester City take on Manchester City tonight. I'd take being knocked off top spot if it meant that another knife was plunged into Manuel Pellegrini's men. I still don't believe that the darker blues of Leicester City will be there in May but I fully expect the lighter shade of blue to be in the mix so the more defeats the better.
Top spot is not a bad place to be this morning. Not bad for a pack of bottlers eh?