Scrappy Arsenal delight Wenger
By Jim White | The Daily Telegraph | Published: 26th November 2013 11:33 AM |
Arsene Wenger had little doubt what victory against a resolute, determined Southampton side meant. "This win shows we are ready for a fight when it doesn't go as fluently as we wanted," the Arsenal manager said. "On that front 'm very happy today."
After the defeat against Manchester United this was just what Wenger needed to demonstrate his side's title credentials.It was, in short, the very definition of the old saw about champions triumphing in scrappy victory. Never find the quality, feel the win. It was not that Wenger's Arsenal side lacked enterprise.
In the first 20 minutes, both Jack Wilshire and Aaron Ramsey hit the post with efforts that, if converted, would have been shoo-ins for the goal-of-he-month shortlist.
Ramsey's back-heel flick was evidence of someone playing at the very peak of confidence and form. And as it bounced back off the foot of the post, the crowd was left wondering if this was to be the sort of frustrating encounter in which even the intervention of something extraordinary was not going to alter the direction.
But then, after the sublime came the ridiculous. As the game looked to be locked in tactical stasis, Artur Boruc, seemingly celebrating the announcement last week of Monty Python's reunion, handed the home side a gift lucked from the shelves of the Ministry of Silly Goals.With about half an hour in which to clear the ball from Nathaniel Clyne's back-pass, Boruc attempted what appeared to be an impression of the old Mitchell Johnson: he went to the left, he went to the right and ended up falling over his own feet, allowing Olivier Giroud to step in and score.
Even Cristiano Ronaldo might have reckoned that many Cruyff turns a little self-indulgent in the circumstances."I do ask my players to play in a certain way and that requires Artur Boruc to play with his feet so he was just doing what he knows how to do," Mauricio Pochettino, the Southampton manager, said in defence of his keeper. "It just so happens that today it did not happen as well as we wanted it to happen."
However it happened, the Emirates Stadium crowd loved it and spent the rest of the match soundtracking the Pole's every contribution with a delighted, sarcastic "woo".
Only the return of Theo Walcott, coming off the bench for the last 15 minutes, drew a bigger cheer than the ones which erupted every time the ball landed at Boruc's feet. In truth, the home support recognised his was the kind of calamity Arsenal needed to unpick opponents Wenger reckoned to be the most testing of the season so far.
"To stop us from playing, it was the best we have seen," he said of Pochettino's-pressing policy.
This was, tactically, an astute performance from Southampton. Victor Wanyama, in particular, worked tirelessly to stifle any space in which Mesut Ozil and anti Cazorla had to work. As a result, the pair had their most disappointing afternoon of the season. Stationed ahead of the -Kenyan, the England trio of Ricky Lambert, Adam Lallana and Jay-Rodriguez were an amalgam of -inspiration and perspiration.
Soon after his own keeper had dropped his Boruc, Rodriguez deftly juggled his way into the Arsenal penalty area, set himself up and volleyed beautifully.
It was heading into the bottom corner of the goal before, with an athletic dive, Wojciech Szczesny gave his countryman up the other end a timely demonstration of a-goalie's principal role: keeping the ball out of the net.
Wenger, though, was right. As good as Southampton were, Arsenal had that little bit more. If Pochettino had frustrated their Plan A, Giroud was around to implement the Gunners'Plan B: hustle the team to victory.
The home centre-forward was superb here. He not only benefited from Boruc's generosity, he scored a late penalty after Jose Fonte had tried to remove Per Mertesacker's shirt as the pair jostled for a corner.
In between he was strong, determined, leading his line with selfless muscularity. It was the kind of display that Wenger defined as that of the classic, English centre-forward. And one he reckoned is now a threatened part of our game.
"If you look back to the 1960s and 70s and look at the strikers who were good in the air and English in every single club and tell me now today have you the same number? I'm not even talking about quality, have you the same number who go in for crosses, go in the air?
"We teach more play on the ground, we have better training pitches, today we educate more on the ground. Maybe we pay a bit of a price with fewer people who are ready to go for this kind of ball."
Wenger bemoaning the fact that English football is getting a little too technical: it was not only Boruc who was subverting expectations at the Emirates Stadium.