Give David Ospina his dues…
Would I pick him over Wojciech Szczesny? No. Am I convinced he’ll be Arsenal’s long-term number one? Not even nearly. However, credit where credit is due: he was excellent against Everton.
As anticipated, Arsene Wenger dropped Per Mertesacker for Gabriel. However, what was arguably more intriguing about his team selection was the players who retained his trust. Ospina and Olivier Giroud, both disappointing in midweek, kept their spots.
In Giroud’s case, that wasn’t a huge surprise. Arsene has a longstanding admiration for the striker, who has established himself as the club’s undisputed first-choice centre-forward at the club.
Ospina is a different case. Although he has been a regular in the team since January, Arsene has never publicly declared him the new “No. 1”. There has been a lingering suspicion that the manager was simply waiting for Ospina’s first substandard display to reintroduce Szczesny.
The Monaco debacle made this an easy time to justify a change, yet Wenger stuck with the Colombian. That’s a significant show of faith. It begs the question: if the boss didn’t see fit to change after Monaco, does that suggest Ospina is likely to retain his place until May? And if so, what does that mean for Szczesny’s future?
Gabriel had a decent game…
I think there’s a danger that assessment of his performance falls victim to hyperbole. He made a couple of outstanding tackles, but those eye-catching contributions were balanced out by some glaring errors.
His decision to let the ball bounce in the first half, allowing Romelu Lukaku to steal in and run at David Ospina, was particularly bizarre. There was also a wildly misplaced pass and a couple of mistimed jumps for headers. Perhaps nerves were a factor for a guy making his first start in the Premier League.
There’s a lot to like about Gabriel, but he looks very much like a player still adapting to the demands of a new league. Koscielny suffered from plenty of teething problems; Mertesacker too. It may be next season before the begin to see the best of the Brazilian. His adaptation will certainly be accelerated if he retains his place ahead of the jaded German.
Theo Walcott must be worried…
If he can’t get off the bench in a game like this, when the manager has made a definitive decision to rotate his squad, he’s in trouble.
For weeks debate has raged about which of he or Danny Welbeck is more deserving of a first-team place. That dichotomy was a disservice to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was one of few bright spots in the first half of the campaign.
It now feels as if both Welbeck and Chamberlain are more prominent in Wenger’s thoughts. Some have suggested a connection with Walcott’s contract situation — when he stalled on a new deal in the Autumn of 2012, Walcott was excluded from the XI until form and fitness forced Wenger’s hand.
However, I believe it’s more to do with Walcott’s lack of defensive contribution. Speaking before the Everton match, Wenger said:
“Offensively we have lots of solutions. We have to find a team balance. It is more about team balance than any individual.
When you have the ball in the modern game you have to attack, when you don’t have the ball you have to defend. All the players who can’t do that, cannot play.”
Until Walcott’s all-round contribution improves, it seems he will be confined to the sidelines.