Arsenal 1-2 Southampton: Alexis is a maverick, Podolski is a misfit

clynearsenal

Whatever you think of the League Cup…

…it’s never good to go out of any competition. It amazes me that some can greet a cup exit with a shrug. A few fans even expressed relief. It seems they forget that in each season there are only four potential prizes, and that’s one gone.

Had we beaten Southampton we’d be just four games away from another Wembley final. Any Arsenal fan who experienced the elation of May 17th — or indeed the despair of the Birmingham game in 2011 — will know what an occasion those matches can be. Yes, it’s “only the League Cup”. For a long time it was “only the FA Cup too”, and yet I didn’t see too many muted celebrations at the end of last season. We haven’t yet looked like convincing contenders for either the Premier League or Champions League. Beggars can’t afford to be choosers, and Gooners can’t afford to be snobbish about trophies.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the decision to rotate the side. Arsenal have a hectic schedule, and the point of assembling a big squad is that it enables you to mix it up on a game-by-game basis.

The team Arsenal put out was good enough to win the game, even against a strong and slick Southampton XI. I can’t fault Arsene Wenger there. The front six was packed with players of international calibre, but too many of them underperformed.

The League Cup is an opportunity not just to lift a trophy, but to give squad players a chance to put pressure on regular first-teamers. Last night, Arsenal failed on both counts.

The senior players let down the kids…

The likes of Lukas Podolski and Tomas Rosicky might have hoped that impressive showings against the Saints could force them in to contention for a Premier League place. Unfortunately, both were dire. Rosicky at least compensated for his errors with effort. Podolski, on the other hand…

However, the bright spot was undoubtedly the work done by a very young back four. Arsene Wenger was forced to pick three 19-year-olds and a left-back, and they did not let him down. Calum Chambers grew in to the game alongside the impressive Isaac Hayden, while Francis Coquelin did a superb job at left-back. I made him Arsenal’s best player on the night.

Don’t get your hopes up over Abou Diaby…

The Frenchman got an hour under his belt as a holding midfielder, with Arsene Wenger admitting after the game that he hopes to “transform” him in to a deep-lying anchor man.

After the match, I had a flurry of tweets from fans asking if I think Diaby could be ready to replace Mikel Arteta in the first XI. In a word, “No”. For starters, deploying our most injury-prone player in the most combative area of the pitch is begging for trouble.

This appearance felt more like a testimonial for Diaby’s services than a testament to his abilities. There were moments where you saw flashes of the player Diaby might have been, but it’s difficult to imagine he’ll ever fulfill his potential at Arsenal now.

Don’t pin your hopes on him — and that’s aimed at fans and manager alike.

Alexis Sanchez is a gifted soloist…

Alexis opened the scoring with a stunning free-kick and generally hared about the pitch with his customary vigour. It’s rare to see such a gifted player show that kind of desire. Sanchez is a South American striker in the mould of Luis Suarez and Carlos Tevez. There’s guile, but there’s guts and graft too.

His game isn’t perfect. His passing is erratic and he can be guilty of holding on to the ball too long. It’s partly why he never quite settled in Barcelona’s system. I’m not sure it’s a massive problem for us, though. He’s not a continuity player, he’s a maverick. He’s not a playmaker, he’s a game-breaker.

Every team can afford one maverick, one matador. At times Arsenal can be too guilty of conforming to their intricate passing game. Alexis brings contrast and some welcome chaos to proceedings.

Lukas Podolski is on borrowed time…

It is becoming increasingly difficult to envisage a role for Podolski in the Arsenal team. I’m a self-confessed fan of the player: he is generally efficient in the final third, and remains the best finisher in the squad.

However, he just doesn’t seem to fit. As Wenger seeks to reconstruct his attack around the pace and vibrancy of Welbeck, Walcott and Sanchez, Podolski looks wildly out of place.

On several occasions last night, Alexis could be seen cajoling his team-mates, urging them to offer more movement off the ball and press higher up the pitch. If he continues to play alongside Podolski, Sanchez will have to learn the English (or German) for “move yourself” pretty quickly.

He’s rusty, certainly. He might also be lacking a little confidence, having effectively been told he was surplus to requirements in the summer before Olivier Giroud’s injury scuppered a move.

The problem is that, given the options at Wenger’s disposal, Podolski is never likely to get the run of games he patently needs. At the moment he’s stuck in some strange limbo, being brought on as a centre-forward despite the manager having publicly stated that he can’t really play in that position.

It’s a situation that I expect to reach a head during the January transfer window. Podolski’s time in London looks to be approaching an end.

Ps. Now that the spam filters have been reinforced, comments are back. Do use them please, as I’ve greatly missed the interaction on here. Thanks for reading.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.

9 Comments

  1. barnetgooner   •  

    Agree with most of that. Don’t you think we missed a presence up front? Even Sanogo would’ve helped as we didn’t win a single header in the final third all night. Podolski to me just doesn’t look ready for the season yet. Needs to play some reserve games to get match fit

    • GilbertoSilver   •     Author

      I think Sanchez can play as a CF. We looked better with him there than when Poldi played there in the 2nd half.

  2. Tom   •  

    Hi James – unfortunately I am one of those relieved that we exited the Cup. Not because I don’t like the competition – on the contrary, simply because the club did not prepare a sufficient squad to compete for this competition. But I hear it is “injuries” that were to blame. To be fair we couldn’t have foreseen that.
    Did Arsene buy Poldi with a view to playing centrally (on his own)? Because I am at a loss as to when he or his scouts saw anything that suggested he could.

  3. Sanogoalsyet   •  

    Excellent summary, in contrast to cheap media coverage banging on about the young back four…

    I am trying not to get excited about Diaby, but if freed from defensive duties which dont suit him, the thought of him gliding forwards throught top quality opposition is making me drool! He should play on saturday, as he is bound to be injured thereafter either way.

  4. matt   •  

    Without entertaining too much sentiment. Diaby is a very good player. He is prone to injury that is an accepted fact. However when he is fit he is a joy to watch. For what its worth he has a part to play in this squad. As much as you rightly said we need Sanchez’ maverick nature. We are missing Diabisc qualities in our midfield. A player with strong presence, can hold the baĺl, carry it, dribble past players, add unpredictability and a good passing range. If he becomes a one game player so be it. He had a memorable day at Liverpool 2 years ago. If he gives us a few such games this season i can take it. My fantasy team will have our usual backline, Diaby(DM), Ramsey/Wilshire, Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott and Welbeck.

  5. Ben   •  

    It seems Joel Campbell’s performance wasn’t interesting enough to garner much comment, and he generally underperformed. Such a shame as I maintained through the summer he could be a great deputy for Giroud and can do so for Welbeck too.

    • barnetgooner   •  

      Joel looked a bit of the pace but showed some nice touches. It will take a bit of time for him to adapt to English football but I think he has a role to play this season still.

  6. Yuki   •  

    Welcome back the comment section, I missed the heydays where there were over 100 comments on each article. I agreed with James on Podolski, his days at Arsenal do look to be numbered. He seems low on confidence and does not have the qualities to play at front or on the wings.

  7. Godert   •  

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