Evening all. And what a pleasant one it is too, after Arsenal secured a 2-0 win over Stoke at Emirates stadium this afternoon and Chelsea got exactly what they deserved at Goodison Park in the early kick-off – a Steven Naismith-inspired spanking.
It’s just a shame City grabbed a late winner at Palace and United beat Liverpool, but I suppose, I shouldn’t complain. We’re third now, five points off top spot and our stuttering start to the season is rapidly morphing into a very solid one indeed.
Arsene Wenger made just one change to his starting line-up from the win at Newcastle as Mesut Ozil replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, with Aaron Ramsey resuming his role on the right hand side. Gabriel retained his place ahead of Per Mertesacker in defence and Theo Walcott was again first-pick to lead the attack.
We started very brightly and Walcott wasted two early chances; skewing one effort well wide before placing a close-range header over the bar when he should really have scored both. But overall as a team, we looked far more fluent than in our previous two home games this season, with Alexis Sanchez in particular, looking back to his razor-sharp best.
So I was confident a goal would eventually arrive from somewhere and that it came from Walcott was the perfect way for us to break our goal-scoring duck at home this season. The move began with Francis Coquelin winning possession with a typically snarling, sliding tackle in our half before finding Ozil.
The German looked up from half-way, spotted Theo’s clever dash in behind the Stoke back four and placed the ball perfectly into the forward’s stride with a lofted through-ball. Theo’s touch as the ball dropped over his shoulder was sublime and he showed great strength and composure to hold off his marker and slide the ball past Jack Butland for one nil after 31 minutes.
It was more of of the same for the rest of the half and the majority of the second as we continued to pass and probe without finding a second goal to kill the contest. Arsene replaced Walcott with Giroud and after missing a glorious opportunity following a mix-up at the back by Stoke, the Frenchman nodded home his second goal of the season from Santi Cazorla’s free-kick five minutes before the end.
So both Plan A and Plan B, in term’s of our current striker options, were utilized today and both, eventually, worked out but the spurned chances by both players today will, in honesty, have done little to convince their doubters. Afterwards, Arsene praised the performance from his team, before explaining why he chose Walcott ahead of Giroud and saying the former has it in him to be a prolific goal-getter for the Gunners:
I believe we put in a very strong performance. Technically we had our moments in the first half and we played the football we wanted to play and created several chances. Maybe if I wanted to be critical I could say that that there is too big a difference between the number of chances we created and the number of goals we scored but that will come quickly once you win your games at home. I know Stoke are a compact, organised team in their own half and Theo could find little pockets to get in their and maybe that you get two or three chances to counter attack at home so maybe you can use that. He scored a great goal because you needed technical quality to score and timing in the finish. It is good Giroud came on scored as well. He has chances. He can be a prolific goalscorer. When you come out of the game and look at the amount of chances he scored. The bigger the belief he has to score the more he will score. But he gets in good situations.
Of course confidence in crucial for any player but maybe more so for a striker who’s primary job is to put the ball in the back of the net. I’ve said in the past that Walcott has had very few games as a lone striker in his time at the club and whilst his weaknesses can sometimes seem all too apparent in that position, in terms of goals per start, his record for us is fantastic.
The main constraint as far as I’m concerned preventing Walcott truly blossoming into a top striker is his mentality, as Arsene alludes to above, not his ability. I actually think he has more than enough to his game to make a success of the striker’s role in our system but is woefully short of confidence and experience. Hopefully today’s goal goes some way to improving his mindset and we see him on the score-sheet again next Saturday at Stamford Bridge.