For all his talent, Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil has a nasty habit of going AWOL before low-profile trips up north. The latest ‘injury’, which kept him out of team for the clash in the Midlands against WBA, is his sixth this calendar year, according to Soccerway.
When Ozil was missing for the Burnley away trip in November, I smelt a rat and now that the German has missed a game at tough-tackling West Brom, we are left to draw our own conclusions.
Martin Keown reckons Ozil and Alexis Sanchez are ‘indulged’ by Wenger, but you’d have to say the Chilean is as tough as old boots, whereas Ozil may have less hunger to face brutal challenges than his fellow ‘indulgee’ (who seems to relish battles).
Nevertheless, Ozil was sorely missed by Arsenal at WBA; without him they lacked a creative spark.
Sanchez is more of an individual than Ozil, but looked threatening in a dull game of few chances. When his free kick was deflected in for the opening goal, it seemed to be a case of justice served. After all, Sanchez had almost single-handedly tried to take the game to the Baggies, in the absence of Ozil.
Although the late penalty conceded by Chambers was harsh, WBA deserved at least a point against under-par Arsenal, who could not seem to be able to stop numerous crosses coming in from Matt Philips; neither Kolasinac nor Maitland-Niles were able to snuff out the danger, so it was somewhat surprising that the penalty was conceded on the other flank. Arsenal were seething, as it was clearly an accidental handball.
True to form, Cech was unable to save the penalty, although it was whacked straight down the middle, meaning the keeper will have longer to wait for his 200th clean sheet.
The game was still a landmark for Wenger, who has now managed more Premier League games than any other. However, his wisdom at ignoring Walcott, leaving him on the bench was questionable. No wonder we are hearing that Walcott wants to return to Southampton, albeit on loan, to get game time ahead of this year’s World Cup.
Like Arshavin before him, Walcott is paying the price for being too outspoken. I don’t think Wenger has forgiven him for saying Arsenal weren’t ‘up for it’, away at Palace last season. Theo was right, but Wenger does not suffer the truth gladly: like when Arshavin dared to comment about substitutions never happening before the 70th minute. Wenger’s response was equally predictable: freeze out the player and offload him at the earliest opportunity. The same will happen to Walcott, I’m sure.
Another instance of questionable management is the decision to play Koscielny with a dodgy Achilles’ tendon. I would imagine that the Frenchman is receiving injections before every match, and surely that is no way to treat a loyal asset to the club. It smacks of short-term thinking and you can’t help wondering if something similar happened to Santi Cazorla before he was seemingly operated on numerous times by ‘a local butcher’. Like Koscielny, Cazorla has always gone through the pain barrier for Arsenal and look what it’s done to him physically.
On the subject of physical demands, I found it hard to take that Wenger was moaning about the fixture list. On this occasion, it’s true that WBA had more preparation time, but playing two games in quick succession didn’t seem to have an adverse effect on Sanchez. The seemingly-fresher Iwobi, drafted in for Ozil, didn’t play the last game, but was, nevertheless, ineffective.
The all-conquering Liverpool side of the 80s used to play a ridiculous number of games with a much smaller squad. I accept that the game has changed since then, but surely it makes sense to give players days off after fixtures to give them a chance to recover. I simply do not accept that Arsenal have a more congested fixture list than other clubs and even if that is the case, it’s the price you happily pay for not getting knocked out of cup tournaments.
Despite the gloomy transfer outlook for Arsenal, with no obvious successors for the outgoing Sanchez and Ozil, there were some positives last night. Despite conceding a penalty, Chambers looked confident in a back three and was rarely troubled.
Upfront, Lacazette looks a threat, despite being starved of service by an Arsenal team that seem to believe that possession is nine tenths of the law. A lack of incisive passes from midfield means the Frenchman is living off scraps and he has my sympathy.
However, it’s hard to sympathise with Wenger’s moaning and groaning. Most Arsenal fans are expecting a poor excuse for a winter transfer window, which is becoming the norm at a club that claim to have lofty ambitions. The proof of the pudding is in the eating and Arsenal fans have not dined on anything remotely like caviar for many years now. Although I think Arsenal could do a lot worse than Wenger, I think the time has come to change the ‘Master Chef’, who serves up more excuses than anything nowadays.