Rambo's Return and Two Dirty Words: Goal Differential
It was a blustery day at KC Stadium.
Arsenal FC faced Hull City in an intriguing preview of the FA Cup final.
Hull bossed the opening exchanges of the first half as a strong East Yorkshire breeze swirled and twisted the advert boards onto the pitch, Tom Huddlestone reminded of his dirty spud, or Spurs rather, bloodline, and Mikel Arteta saw his tooth blowing in the wind.
Easter Sunday welcomed back one Mesut Ozil.
It was a welcome sight to Gunners fans and an important return for Arsenal in their 3-0 victory. Early on, Ozil’s presence was felt when he was hacked down in the penalty area and should have been awarded a penalty. Later, his visionary passing was telling in the build up to Arsenal’s first goal.
Ozil’s return comes at a crucial time for the club and he’ll play a massive role in deciding the top four and ending the trophy drought in the days to come.
But it is Aaron Ramsey who has stolen the show since returning to action.
A goal and two important assists in the last two matches have been invaluable for the Gunners and illustrate just how badly Rambo's box-to-box presence has been missed.
Credit to Lukas Podolski for his four strikes in two games. He’s producing big goals in big moments; his contributions are significant and timely.
Let’s look at few things that have been confirmed after today’s important win.
Hull City Are No Pushovers:
Hull are a team consisting of experienced and proven Premier League players. The goal scoring pedigree of attackers Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic is nothing to sneeze at (thankfully, these two will be missing from the FA Cup final having signed in January and already played in the competition). The aforementioned Huddlestone can pick a rangy pass and hit a stinging shot, and Curtis Davies is physical and athletic at the back; in Steve Bruce they have a coach who has won at all the highest level. This is a Hull team that is up for a fight and will prove solid opposition when they do battle verse Arsenal on May 17th.
After Sunday’s victory, Arsenal own the mental edge. The Gunners made the 10 spots separating the two sides--4th and 14th--in the table appear accurate, but this victory cannot breed complacency for the cfinal. Hull could have easily have been level after striking the post shortly after Ramsey had put the Gunners ahead. The scoreline disguises Hull’s domination of the opening 30 minutes. Do not forget those 30 minutes. Do not fall behind in the final.
A Striker and Holding Midfielder Must be Acquired:
Ever since Olivier Giroud was dropped for the FA Cup semi-final, he has looked much livelier and dare I say it revived. He’s holding off one, two, sometimes three players again and his touch looks sharp.
This hasn’t been the case for the past two months. The French striker has been hampered by exhaustion and troubles in his personal life. If Arsene Wenger had gone all in, or at least gone harder, in the winter transfer window and paid big money on say a Miroslav Klose, or Kostas Mitroglou, it would have been a different season.
Giroud could have been rested as needed, and been motivated to work harder and produce more goals when healthy, knowing that with an additional proven striker in camp he wasn’t always guaranteed a spot on the team sheet.
Aaron Ramsey’s return has been eye opening as his range has been sorely missed: the engine, his creativity on the ball, the intelligent running to form three-player combinations, and his ability to get into goal scoring positions. Arsenal lost some tactful horsepower when Ramsey went down on Boxing Day; they lost a brilliant creative midfielder.
His first instinct, however, is to attack. He is not a traditional holding mid who sits in front of the back four, he never will be, and Wenger doesn’t want him to be. For most of Sunday, Arsenal were in a 4-1-4-1 with Arteta as the lone anchor. Arteta is not mobile, not disciplined, and not good enough to be that player for Arsenal anymore.
Arsenal cannot continue to bandage over the fact that they need to purchase a genuine article for this role. Securing a Lars Bender, Casemiro, or Luis Gustavo type player is just as vital--if not more so with likes of Joel Campbell likely coming home--to signing a world-class striker.
An ‘Injured’ Season Is an Excuse:
The injuries that have plagued Arsenal this season have negatively influenced their potential. Blaming some of their failures on injuries is not an excuse. We saw today how much deeper and deadly Arsenal are with the return of Ozil and Ramsey. From the bench, Arsenal brought on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Flamini, two very, very good players. The depth of a fit Arsenal midfield is one of the best in the Barclay’s Premier League. The first half of the season validates this reasoning.
Few teams in the world, if any, would have faired better with the absence of full internationals missing from their side for long periods of the season: Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Ozil, Laurent Koscielny and Abou Diaby.
Arsenal have weathered the storm as best as could be expected and when considering the impact of injuries it becomes clear that Arsene Wenger must sign the contract on the table and continue as the manager of Arsenal Football Club. He has worked tirelessly for years, overseeing a new stadium, enduring criticism, and taken it all in stride waiting for the day when his team could once again challenge for honors. That day is coming. The FA Cup is the beginning of the rebirth.
Santi Cazorla is Arsenal’s Player of The Year:
There has been no better servant and more deserving of the award this season than the diminutive Spanish midfield maestro (save for the injury hit Ramsey). Cazorla has given everything to put Arsenal on the verge of ending the trophy drought. The slick two-footed passing, timely goals and assists, his tireless work rate, Santi has poured his lifeblood into the campaign. His ability to stay fit and maintain a high standard of performance in so many matches makes him an automatic on the team sheet. He edges out Tomas Rosicky and Koscielny for his consistency and impact and can be the only verified recipient of the award.
Goal Differential is At Hand:
Yes, it’s time to start looking at goal differential and Everton have the advantage. The Toffee’s decimation of Manchester United has kept the heat on Arsenal and any slip up could be costly. Nothing is guaranteed and nothing can be taken for granted. Every goal, for or against, is critical in these the final dog days of the Barclay’s Premier League.