MOVEMENT AND BALANCE: THE JEKYLL AND HYDE THAT IS ARSENAL by Uche
Before I begin, I will like to state categorically that I do not know football more than Arsene Wenger. None of us does. When we blog about football, we only do it as observers. Of course as an observer, you sometimes see things unfold in ways that the manager of a football team may not necessarily consider significant. So this is what I have observed so far watching Arsenal since we bought Olivier Giroud as our main central striker. There are two sides to this Arsenal team.
Depending on what kind of striker plays up top, Arsenal can be fluid, sharp, quick and unpredictable or we can be slow, nervous, lethargic and predictable. By all considerations, we prepared well for the start of this season. We won all our preseason games and conceded only one goal. Heck, only last week, we beat the Champions Chelsea in the Community Shield tournament and lifted the trophy. In that game, we were sharp, switched on, mature, defended in numbers and took our chances when we had it. We defended for our lives and never doubted ourselves. And victory was ours. We even got touted afterwards as league contenders afterwards. So what changed one week later?
This is where I regret to announce that I will inevitably dabble into the endless debating cycle of a certain Olivier Giroud versus Theo Walcott. Yes folks, it always comes down to these two players of late and we cannot get away from it. Depending on which of these strikers you start in a game, you will get very different performances from this same team. Case in point. Towards the ending of last season, the goals dried up. At the time, Olivier Giroud led our forward line. Alexis Sanchez, our South American fireball, had run himself into the ground and was practically limping over the finish line after carrying the team on his shoulders for much of the season. It was at this time that we drew a blank against Chelsea at home, did the same against Sunderland at home and lost to Swansea. In those games, we did everything but score a goal. We were terribly predictable. In our game against Swansea, our former goalie, Lukas Fabianski was made to look like a world class goal keeper. All our shots on target were aimed directly at him and he picked them off one by one as if it was match practice. We were that jaded, uninventive and predictable. Enter Theo Walcott. Walcott came in as a late substitute in the league game against Manchester United that we were losing and he got us a goal by scaring the United defense into scoring themselves.
Suddenly, there was hope that the goals would come back. One week after thrashing Chelsea 3-1 at Stamford Bridge, a confident West Brom headed to the Emirates for another giant killing. Unfortunately for them, a certain Theo Walcott was started as central striker. We blew them away in that game and Theo scored a hat trick in an exhilarating performance that ended 4-1. Suddenly, a goal drought transformed into a goal glut. The next game was the FA Cup final against Aston Villa. Arsene Wenger uncharacteristically started Walcott yet again as striker and he scored the opening goal in what ended up a brutal one sided rout. We won 4-0.
Now I know that you are all aware of the history lesson that I am recounting here. The problem however is that Arsene Wenger is yet to show that he has learned from our recent history. Walcott and Giroud offer very different things to this Arsenal team. Walcott is quick, mobile, darts behind defenses, can create his own chances and shoots on sight. He also has a better shot to goal ratio than Giroud. Giroud on the other hand is strong, slow, holds the ball up well and offers the aerial threat you will expect from a target man his size. Unfortunately for him, he is also predictable, cannot create his own chances and his lack of movement can be stifling for our team. But when he is being flanked by wingers who are in form and running riot, we manage to get by.
For the millionth time, the Arsenal game is built on movement and quick passes. That movement is best created by a mobile central striker or winger with Walcott-like skill sets. When we have this movement and speed, we are unplayable and hard to track. We play with confidence, create more chances and are unpredictable. When we lack movement and width, we get narrow, predictable, easy to defend against and lose our confidence. That is also when we begin to make aimless side passes that amount to nothing. In his post-match press conference after our West Ham loss, Arsene Wenger said something very interesting. He admitted for the first time that we were nervous. Really Arsene? Oh, you noticed? Good! However, he failed to go further by stating what made us nervous. Can anybody here guess the cause of our nervousness? Anyone? Okay since I cannot hear you all the way from Lagos where I am writing this article, I will put forward my own answer. We were nervous because this team has no faith in Olivier Giroud and when your team has no faith in you, it shows.
Just how did we go from beating the best team in the premier league just one week ago to losing to a mid-table team by two nil? 24 hours ago, we were going to win the league. 24 hours later, we are playing catch up all over again. I have my own theory of what went wrong and I have put it forward. This Arsenal team has no faith in Olivier Giroud and when you are a central striker and your team does not believe in you, the team suffers. If you doubt it, watch their body language when he starts a game. Walcott might have been anonymous in the Chelsea game but his team never doubted him. Again, the evidence is in the way they played. You are all welcome to make your own contributions but I will like to end this article by echoing what King Henry himself has been bold enough to concede. Olivier Giroud is an okay striker but with him upfront, we will not win anything. A central striker is the offensive leader of his team. He is at the forefront of the battle field. Even when he doesn’t score, he can still inspire a win by doing a lot of things right on the pitch – and that includes giving his team belief. In his last season in Arsenal, Robin Van Persie was that guy. He gave us belief. We may hate him now but he was the perfect example of the kind of striker that I am talking about. Cesc and Nasri had left. Confidence was low. We made a mad dash and bought four average players that amounted to little. It was Robin and Walcott who led the line and dragged us into Champions league qualification. When Robin left, Theo led us brilliantly the following season and scored 21 goals mostly as a substitute coming back from injury. Does Olivier Giroud inspire that kind of belief in this Arsenal team? Is it a coincidence that when he lost his starting position to Walcott, the goals came flowing back again and now that he has being reinstated, we are back to our goal drought? The facts speak for themselves and I am not a Giroud hater.