As I see it by WC
Last year Arsene Wenger took the Arsenal team to Stamford Bridge hoping to make a landmark celebration. What followed were many sleepless nights of anguish and misery. The Bridge had indeed confirmed its status as a theatre of horrors for him.. On Wednesday he took his team to Anderlecht full of hope and, one might add, some measure of complacency, to make another celebration. For the greater part of the game, history seemed destined to repeat itself.
Nothing was going right for Arsenal. The players were not short of energy or commitment. They gave as much as they could but every avenue seemed closed. On the other hand for Anderlecht players, hours invested in watching Arsenal videos were paying huge dividends. Arsenal players were playing as expected. After a few passes in their own half, one would try to run with ball endlessly. From Santi Cazorla to Ramsey to Wilshire, it was repeated ad nauseum. Even Chamberlain who had been watching from the bench came on and continued with the same approach. I wondered whether there was a belief that the more one ran with the ball, the more kudos one would get.
It reminded me of the game of cricket in which the player holding the bat continued batting after he is bowled out. As it turned out the opposition attacked in pairs. They must have been surprised with the ease with which the won the ball. They must have been more surprised by the acres of space available, if only they were willing to run. And run they did. It was counter attack after another.
As the game drew to a close, Arsenal players were facing humiliation of no mean proportions. With Vanden Borre and Andy Najar causing mayhem among the Arsenal defence, the writing on the wall seemed to be getting clearer by the minute. When the latter headed in the long awaited but richly deserved goal, desperation reached suffocation levels for Arsenal fans and players alike. Our players seemed to have lost direction. Anderlelcht had grabbed the all important lead and with it the momentum. Not surprisingly gloom and doom were written all over the faces of our coaching staff. Had this game been played at the Emirates hordes of Gooners would have flocked out swearing all sorts of unprintables. Still, our rooky keeper, the wobbling defence and sheer luck kept us in the game.
The home fans’ early celebrations went into overdrive. It was at this point that Wenger pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Firstly he moved Alexis Sanchez from his wilderness on the flanks to replace Danny Welbeck at the centre. Sanchez is many things in one. He has an eye for goals. With the ball at his feet he becomes extremely unpredictable in his movements. He can create space for himself as well as for his teammates with the same craftiness. He is not easy to dispossess. Defenders find it very difficult to outmuscle him, given his body strength and low centre of gravity. He can pack shots with either foot. Should an opponent commit the cardinal sin of dispossessing him, one thing is certain ..Alexis will hound him with the ferociousness of a terrier. He is a total package and unrelenting fighter..
It is my humble submission that it is Alexis Sanchez who should be deployed behind Danny Welbeck. Welbbeck’s presence commits central defenders, and, by so doing, creates space for Alexis. In our last game, he massively helped Arsenal rescue a point from the jaws of defeat. He switched into the box at the most opportune moment and threaded to Welbeck that delicate sublime pass, which had been lacking all afternoon, at the right time and in the right manner.. Welbeck duly obliged and a point was secured. I am convinced, from my own perspective, that we could have lost the game, had zremained on the flanks. In this game against Anderlecht, his presence in the box made a telling difference, especially leading to the winning goal.
Secondly Arsene brought in Lukas Podolski. Podolski is about GOALS. Yes he is Mr GOALS. What he brings to the table is not the massaging of the ball. He simply delivers goals. Period. Give him a slight chance and he will shoot. He will shoot from all sorts of angles and distances. His conversion rate is very high even with the paucity of minutes afforded him by his begrudging boss. The Anderlecht defenders who seemed to have been comfortably handling Welbeck, were now stretched to deal with the twin threats of Sanchez and Podolski. Although ostensibly deployed on the left wing, he wasted no time in moving right into the box, his favourite hunting ground. I don’t buy Wenger’s explanation of Poldoski’s limited playing minutes. What else could he say about a player who had proved him wrong several times. Podolski, just like my other favourite player Tomas Rosicky, appears to have committed the sins of Andrei Ashavin, whatever they were. Both are drifting into the dangerous red zone of personae non gratae. Needless to say, Podolski was there for us when we needed him most. He delivered the killer punch with his usual clinical efficiency.
Thirdly Arsene Wenger through into the mix the enfant terrible, Joel Campbell. Joel brings to the table a different set of offensive dynamics. He is an intelligent player whose movement off the ball can hardly be faulted. His positioning makes life easy for his teammates to locate him. Once he gets the ball, nine out of ten times, he beats his marker and at times markers. Unlike most conventional wingers, he prefers to cut inside instead of running to the by-line. He plays it simple. After beating his defender, he is already looking to pass the ball. As the defender pursues him, as he is invariably bound to, acres of space are created behind. This how Calum Chambers was able to find time and room to pick his spot and deliver that over-weighted cross which fortuitously fell perfectly for Gibbs, who had the calmness not to go for power but controlled execution. Gibbs should have been scoring more goals if only he could improve his positioning. I hope this goal, which he appeared to celebrate in a state of disbelief, made him realise his potential. My own suggestion to him is that he goes to the video library and watch the Brazilian Roberto Carlos over and over.
What I have found interesting with Joel’s play is not only the timing and accuracy of his passes but, more importantly, his eagerness and speed with which he moves into the box. Most of the time, after making the first pass, before you realise it, he is in the opposition’s 18 yard area. It makes life that more difficult for them as no sane defender can afford to let this predatory wily fox roam around in the box unattended. What I would have wanted more from Campbell is his work rate especially commitment to defending. He has the requisite pace which he can and should exploit to greater effect.
When the final whistle was blown, Anderlecht players and fans were stunned, gutted and speechless. Arsene Wenger had pulled a rabbit out of the hat. For me, it was more an act of desperation than the timely execution of a well managed plan…
But will Wenger have learned from those last ten minutes? Or will he go back to his original starting line-up?