March 4, 2015

Queens Park Raisins

By Michael Clements

The business end of the season is well and truly underway, and too often for Arsenal in recent years this is the point in the season when we begin to get knocked out of, well... everything.

Let's begin with our convincing win over Everton. The Toffee's always seem to prove a conundrum for The Arsenal. While their horrific record against us in North London hasn't seen them collect 3 points since 1996, they always seem to give us a run for our money. A goal from Giroud (who needed one badly after his flop against Monaco) and Rosicky saw us earn a 2-0 win and jump over Man United into 3rd.

Next we made the short trip to Loftus Road where we managed to get a couple of scrappy, yet well worked goals past QPR, and walk away with our deserved 3 points and maintain our place in third, just 4 points behind Manchester City.

Now, while I urge caution in our enthusiasm, as only 5 points separate 3rd through 6th (7th place doesn't matter, just ask Sp*rs), I still think that making 2nd place our goal is realistic and something we should strive towards. Most football fans will probably agree that the Russians have got the league title more or less wrapped up, so it's automatic Champions League qualification for the taking.

Now, Monaco thrashing us at home was something we would all like to forget, but before, during and after that match were a few things I'd like to touch on. Mainly is my concern with our most expensive signing of all time - Mesut Ozil. He's become a love-him or leave-him sort of player within the Gooner community over the last few months, and I'll no doubt get bollocked for not laying down and praising the man, but here's my analysis anyway;

Ozil is a player who has obvious technical ability and is by no means a bad signing for our club. However, his inconsistencies and lack of drive, physicality and what seems to be a blatant lack in motivation is beginning to overshadow his (slightly) above average performances. The Ozil devout out there will accuse me of not watching his off-the-ball movement and his ability to change a match with one ball.  I've made a conscious effort to watch him with or without the ball during recent matches and it's nothing but disappointing to be brutally honest. As for his 'game changing' balls and his five assists this season (Samir Nasri and James Milner each have more than him...), they just don't make up for his failure to contribute to the team as a whole. 

Does anyone remember a certain Ray Parlour? The 'Romford Pele' may jolt some memories. Parlour was one of my all-time favorite Arsenal players for one reason - effort. He may not have been gifted with the technical ability that Ozil has at his disposal, he more than made up for it with pure effort. Ask any Arsenal fan that walks into the Emirates and they'll tell you that all they're looking for is for their boys to just give 100%, win or lose. That's precisely what Ray Parlour gave you on any given day, and that's how he became such a legend in North London. That, and he scored an absolute screamer against Chelski at Wembley....

I'm not trying to compare Parlour to Ozil, but who would you rather have in this Arsenal team right now? You've got Alexis Sanchez busting his balls for 90 minutes every single match, and it's beginning to make Ozil look worse. Last season Mesut had a few excuses - He was adapting to the Premier League, he's not used to playing during December, the league is too physical etc.
Now, Arsenal are looking to drive forward and improve on each game we play but the our number 11 is stagnant. His performance against QPR was better, and I know some will pour over him with accolades, but it just isn't good enough I'm afraid. We need more from a player who is making the wages that would pay two very good players in his position. Much more.

We didn't lose against Monaco because of Mesut Ozil (we lost because of Giroud.... I kid, I kid), but he certainly doesn't instal fear in the opposition like someone of his caliber should. Opponents are beginning to suss him out and catch onto the fact that they can shift their focus to other players who might pose more of a threat. Will the googlie-eyed German be with after the summer? Probably, but it wouldn't break my heart if other teams (outside England) threw enough money around to turn his head.

To prevent ending on a negative, let's briefly touch on some top class performances from players you wouldn't necessarily expect. Coquelin, whom I've mentioned multiple times recently, has been immense. His Andy Linighan-style broken nose performance was something that will go a long way to earning him the respect he deserves from team-mates and fans going forward. Well played to the lad for coming straight back into the team Wednesday, with a Phantom of the Opera mask on and throwing his weight around. It goes to show how important he is to this current team, and to Le Boss. 

Then there's Hector Bellarin. Debuchy is going to have his work cut out for him trying to get back into this team when he's finally healthy again. The young Spaniard has been solid at right-back, almost to the point where I see his name and it installs comfort in me before matches. Speed, ball control and, once again, sheer determination is giving us a front row seat in a truly great player in the making. I'm genuinely enjoying watching this kid play, and I hope he doesn't get forgotten when Debuchy comes back. 

And so the FA Cup continues as we travel to the toilet of England to play Manchester United at Old Trafford this coming Monday. It's a weird one for fans, as nobody, including Man United fans, will be able to get home to London due to the game being so late that the trains won't run. For us ex-pats and yanks here in the States, it'll just be the tricky task of skating out of work early to catch the match. For both teams though, this will be our only realistic chance of winning a trophy, so while I expect a blood bath, I also know that The Arsenal are well overdue for a win at the Theatre of Dreams. Score prediction Man U 1 - Arsenal 2 

Come On Arsenal!