Arsenal returned to the top of the Premier League with victory at West Ham yesterday, playing some of the best football they’ve exhibited all season.
Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla, arguably for the first time this year, dovetailed to devastating effect, swashbuckling their way across the Upton Park turf effortlessly, twisting, turning and exchanging the kind of creative passing with which they’ve both become synonymous. By full-time, if the West Ham defence were a component of your traditional Christmas dinner, they’d be the potatoes: roasted. Last lame seasonal pun, I promise.
It’s certainly a prospect for Gunners fans to savour in the remaining months of the campaign. In terms of aesthetics, they are undoubtedly two of the best players in the league – there are few more glorious sites than the German gliding past an opponent with a deceptive turn of pace, or his Spanish counterpart shifting the ball between those ambidextrous feet of his.
With Özil and Cazorla playing that well, it wasn’t surprising that Arsenal created dozens of chances, perhaps more so the fact that they only put three of them away. The finger of blame was largely pointed in the direction of Olivier Giroud, who is in the midst of whatever the opposite of a purple patch may be, having not scored in his last seven outings.
Giroud failed to get on the end of three menacing crosses from his various comrades and missed a one-on-one opportunity which was just as inviting as the chance he missed late on against Chelsea at the Emirates on Monday night. He seems to be completely unable to accurately strike the ball across goal, as strikers are told to do from a young age, and it won’t be long before his profligacy in such situations costs his side points.
That’s not to say he’s the archetypal footballing donkey. Giroud is a superb all-round player, and the target man Arsenal have lacked since heaven knows when. In the entire Arsène Wenger era, the Gunners have never possessed a forward as dominant in the air, good at holding the ball up or selfless in bringing his on-rushing teammates into play. The third goal against West Ham owed a lot to his work in the box and he seems to have some kind of impact in every game.
The general consensus seems to be that Giroud is ‘good,’ but not ‘title-winning good.’ He squandered good opportunities at crucial stages in his last two games. I’d put my shabby student house on Sergio Agüero, Luis Suárez and Robin van Persie absolutely gobbling up said chances without breaking so much as a sweat. That’s the difference between an above-average frontman, and a top-bracket striker that wins you trophies.
Lukas Podolski came off the bench and emphatically showed his teammate how finishing should be done, leathering a low strike into the far corner with his famous hammer of a left limb. Likewise, despite being effectively nullified by Chelsea’s Cesar Azpilicueta, Theo Walcott has impressed since returning to the side, his brace yesterday coming on the back of two more goals at the Etihad a fortnight or so ago. With Giroud misfiring, there is unsurprisingly a clamour for both Podolski and Walcott to be given a go through the middle, in what they would probably describe as their preferred position.
However, Podolski has flattered to deceive when played in a central role. His movement is perhaps not sophisticated enough and he has often found himself completely cut out of the game. Walcott has fared a little better when deployed there, but anyone who watches him regularly enough knows that his runs from out-to-in are as good as those of any player in world football, and it would be a real shame to dispose of that asset to Arsenal’s, err arsenal, particularly with the aforementioned cultured likes of Cazorla and Özil delicately threading balls in behind the opposition defence.
That then leaves the option of either keeping faith in Giroud, or bringing in another striker in January. I think every man and his dog within a ten mile radius of Ashburton Grove would be in favour of the latter but that is of course far easier said than done. There will be precious few top class strikers on the market next month, let alone those that aren’t cup-tied for the Champions League or carrying a hefty price tag.
Diego Costa has been earmarked as a possible target, but, whilst I’d argue any striker would be licking their lips at the prospect of being supplied by Arsenal’s midfield, quite why would Costa leave Atlético, whose stock could hardly be any higher? Or indeed why would they sell?
I for one cannot see a striker coming in, despite the need for one. I’m sure Giroud’s shooting boots will be even harder to find amongst the inevitable post-Christmas tsunami of boxes and wrapping paper, but he’ll need to do so, as Arsenal’s fate could well indeed rest on him improving his efficiency in front of goal.