Deja vu is a funny thing. When the same thing happens over and over again, it almost appears as if the events are beyond one’s control. This season has seemed the same for the Arsenal; the team’s persistent weaknesses exposed for the umpteenth season, long term injuries blighting the already thin squad.
And this season more than most, with most of the usual title challengers struggling and with the semblance of a title-challenging squad already assembled at the Emirates, it has been particularly frustrating to watch the team fall away at a very familiar stage of the season.
But when Watford FC rolled up at the Emirates fresh from ousting the home team from the FA Cup in a shock 2-1 result one a few weeks ago, it took only five minutes to dispel any notion of deja vu repeating itself. The effervescent Alexis Sanchez poking the ball past the away keeper after Gomes could only parry his header from an Alex Iwobi cross straight into his path.
Maybe the interlull and the fatigue and travelling that usually accompanies it contributed a bit to the ease with which Arsenal was able to break down the away team on the right of the attack but i think Alexis’ deployment on Arsenal’s right might have contributed a nifty part.
In the FA Cup quarterfinal, the Chilean was stationed on his usual left wing, up against the Hornet’s Nyom, who is built more like a wardrobe than a right back. And he struggled to get past him. Not that it should have mattered in the eventual result of the match with the amount of clear cut chances the team created that day.
But today, Alexis played on the right and time and time again, with the connivance of Hector Bellerin, got past Nathan Ake who is no Nyom, with ease; the first three goals coming from that wing. And they said Arsene doesn’t do tactics.
All in all, it was a pretty comfortable victory for Arsenal; the three forward players, Iwobi, Welbeck and Alexis where particularly impressive on the day.
I know the temptation is there, especially after such a comprehensive win, to ask, “where has this Arsenal been all season?” And many have already began to ask such a question, which is indeed a valid one.
All i can offer in mitigation is this. As soon as three forward players were withdrawn and replaced by Giroud, Walcott and Campbell, there was a noticeable slowing down of Arsenal’s attack play. Never mind they were replaced by three established internationals, the pace and guile of the departing trio was sorely lacking in the final minutes of the match.
Now when you consider that two of those players have been out injured for varying periods of time, with one even out since the end of last season and the third has just broke into the team and is only having his second league start, maybe you realise it was not physically possible to have played the same way all season.
The challenge for this team till the end of this season and in coming seasons is to find a way, a formula, a solution to be as effective even when the team is blighted by the inevitable injuries and players lose from. That is for the manager now and in the coming seasons to sort out. We all realise that will be Arsene Wenger for the foreseeable future, don’t we?