I hope you have been well this week. I spent the week in a stupor of gluttony which culminated in a Christmas dinner with the family and the annual opening of the presents. For dinner, my brother made a ham and I made macaroni and cheese. My mac and cheese was constructed with 2lbs of cheese to one pound of macaroni. Like I said, a week of gluttony, just like the little baby Jesus would have wanted.
I also got a puppy. Again, this is something that is in the bible. I believe it says “thou shalt” and then something about a puppy. I think it’s in the book of Job.
Arsenal had a game yesterday as part of the Boxing Day festivities where 16 teams squared off in a gluttony of football. My TV guide suggested that Arsenal would be on the big screen but when I finally pulled my plump belly out of bed and got in front of the tube, it was Chelsea v. Bournemouth. Thus started my day on the wrong foot and I was reduced to watching Arsenal on my phone while Chelsea danced on the big screen above me.
Arsenal faced a team uninterested in playing football, so a typical Pulis-led side then. This type of game always gives me time to ponder the mysteries of the universe, like “how does Pulis continue to be employed” and “also disgraced former England manager Sam Allardyce, how is he now manager of Crystal Palace?”
The answer is that they are just good enough. Not good managers by any measure but the Premier League seems to reward this particular type of terribleness with “not getting relegated” which seems to be the goal for 12 teams of the 20 teams in the League.
There are four key things a manager looks to control in a football match: time, space, the ball, and luck. The type of football these men trade in is all about controlling time. Throw ins, injuries, and their greatest weapon of all: they tell the keepers to kill the game with long free kicks. Ben Foster attempted more passes than anyone else on West Brom. Gareth McAuley played 90 minutes and had just 9 passes. Imagine that, being a 37 year old footballer whose entire job is to be a wall.
So, they sit in their wall and invite the opposition to come onto them in waves. Arsenal obliged and got 11 shots on target, which was the most of the season, a gluttony of shots. Before you think this means that Arsenal have been practicing shots or something this is just what crummy teams like West Brom do. Arsenal’s most shots on target this season have come against West Brom (11), Hull (9), and West Ham (10). Actual good defensive teams, teams which seek to control space, teams like Man U, Man City, and Tottenham, they have limited Arsenal to a combined total of 4 shots on goal.
In the end, Özil played a nice diagonal in to the prime area and Giroud looped a header over Ben Foster. Özil rebounded from his quiet game last weekend and feasted on a glut of 7 key passes for his teammates. He probably could have created more if Ramsey and Giroud had been able to get their shots off.
After the goal time was against the time wasters. But since they aren’t organized to control the ball, just the time, they can’t get the ball down the field in a way that allows them to create chances. Their chance creation only comes from set plays and the occasional breakdown in the opposition defending counter attacks. Arsenal, however, have a team that is experienced dealing with counters, and along with Koscielny mopping up in the back, and Alexis pressing up front, they limited West Brom to just three shots all game.
West Brom did get three great shots all from set plays and Arsenal were actually a bit lucky that they didn’t concede to Claudio Yacob when he was left unmarked at the back post and the ball fell to his feet. He blazed over the goal and Arsenal were spared the ignominy of going down 1-0 to a team that would rather be reading Ivanhoe back at the team hotel.
Arsenal also created several big chances which went begging or were saved. Alexis had a rebound shot which Foster did well to smother. Alexis also hit the post in the 49th minute from about 8 yards out. And there were a few chances from players which were just not quite taken: Perez came on as a sub late and played a cross that should have been about 8/10ths of a goal but neither Özil nor Giroud could get on the end of it. Aaron Ramsey also had two chances to extend Arsenal’s lead but the first was brilliantly saved from the penalty spot and the second he was wide open but instead of chipping the onrushing keeper, he inexplicably tried to dribble around him and failed.
That might sound like sour grapes. It’s not. Arsenal won. Arsenal dominated the game. Arsenal deserved the win. West Brom deserved exactly the nothing they got from the game.
Sadly, Arsenal’s win didn’t do anything to change the League table. League leaders Chelsea also won, extending their winning streak to 12 and bringing them to within 2 games of Arsenal’s record 14 game win streak. Chelsea also won without their two best players, Costa and Kante.
Man City also won, though there was the humorous moment where he sent someone out to measure the grass at half time. This is a Guardiola thing. He sometimes complains about the grass. Because. Man U won too, and got a “goal of the season” from Mkhitaryan who was a yard offside. I expect Mourinho to lodge a formal complaint with the FA for the officiating, which allowed such a horrible decision to stand.
And Liverpool play today with Klopp complaining about the fixtures list. Uhh.. Liverpool have played 21 matches and Arsenal have played 27. His men should be well rested having played 22% fewer matches. 540 fewer minutes. 8,000 fewer km run.
Spurs play tomorrow.
Merry Christmas. If that’s your thing.
Me I need to get to the gym!