Who else will step up?
As I watched the Arsenal-Spurs game earlier today I was struck by something rather odd. How the gunners of today remind me of how we used to be. Their 1-0 win over spurs wasn`t anything of beauty but rather an efficient functional display. One cannot blame them either. No other side in the BPL this season has been more cruelly hit by injuries to key players and yet somehow the gunners remain 3rd (same points total as Liverpool who are second presently) 4 points of us with a game in hand and have led the BPL for the longest time of any side this season. How has this happened and what bearing does it have on us?
The truth is that a close look at the Gunners play this season other than the anomaly games like their huge losses to City and Liverpool have been very much like we used to win games in the first Jose era. Scoring one to two goals and then showing steel in defence to hold on and not concede.
Jose has got us back to the defensive solidity we used to have. (The one caveat to this in my mind are the increasingly shaky performances we are seeing from Petr Cech but that is the subject of discussion for another day). In spite of the debacle yesterday at Villa park we are still the league`s best defensive team. So where is the problem?
Contrary to what some may feel, the issue is obviously that our strikers have been underperforming woefully. However there is a bigger issue than that. Since the exit of Drogba and the last remnants of Jose`s last golden generation (including the much underestimated contributions of Anelka, Kalou and Lampard at his goal scoring peak) we have clearly been lacking in the finishing dept. The last few years under AVB, RDM and Rafa this major flaw has been papered over because others have stepped up from defense and mid field to carry the scoring load that our profligate strikers have left. This is where our last 3 or so seasons is significantly different from where we find ourselves today.
This is also the reason why the gunners who by all stretch of common sense should have fallen of the pace by now stubbornly remain hot on our tails. This is a gunners side with really only one striker; Olivier Giroud. He has more goals this season than all three of ours combined and most would agree that he is a decent but not great striker; -that is how bad we have it. The best alternate goal sources for the gunners have been injured for large chunks of the season or are still injured; Walcott, Podolski (in the first half of the season), Ramsey. To make matters worse their big January window signing Ozil has recently dipped dangerously in form and is also now out injured and then add Wiltshire to that list. How have they managed to remain with the top pack?
Well, because other guys have stepped up with goals at critical junctures; players like Cazorla, Rosicky, Oxlade chamberlain have jumped in to assist lonesome Giroud and then a solid defence particularly with the Koscieny and Metersacker CB pairing have enabled them actually grind out results in a fashion we made famous.
What has happened to us though is that this season those extra contributors we used to have; goals from defenders; Cahill, JT, Luiz and Brana have slowed to a trickle. Goals that used to come with fair regularity from our midfield in Hazard, Mata and Oscar (the old Mazacar) as well let us not forget the much maligned and unappreciated Victor Moses (who scored in double digits for us last year along with a couple of assists) have essentially shriveled up and now the only real significant goal threat from our midfield is Hazard with Schurrle chipping in a few when he gets to start.
This is the problem we face now. For all our good defense, scoring is a major labor for us and invariably we leave it till the second half (a very dangerous way to play especially against underdog teams) before we manage a goal either from Hazard's brilliance, the predatory instincts of Eto o (despite his age and clear dimunition in sharpness) or the occasional Schurrle goal if he starts. In essence our goal scoring modality and sources are now so very predictable it is painfully easy to stifle us. Unless we play a team like Spurs that self destructs and essentially hands us goals on a platter we struggle mightily to score.
Let us not speak of next season for now because I am full of hope that we will finally resolve our chronic striker problem since the departure of King Drogs this summer. The question I have for the VC faithful is a simple one; For us to secure this unlikely BPL title I doubt we can afford to lose any of the remaining 8 games we have left. In fact considering the number of games all our other fellow competitors at the top have in hand over us we may well have to win all the remaining 8 games to have a chance to steal the BPL title and so it is clear now how wise Jose`s words were when he said that the League table lead we have is in fact "fake".
If we are to ensure no more defeats and possibly win all these eight games we will need to score more goals than we have been scoring recently (other than that standout game against spurs) and we had better start scoring them earlier and certainly in the first half of games. As we all know that first goal when scored early often opens up the game making it easier to score more goals and takes a major load of pressure of our defense.
Every side we play in the final 8 games run in will double team Hazard and give special attention to Eto O as well. It appears beyond those two we are essentially toothless. The question is, now in crunch time with all the chips on the line who else from our squad will step up the play the role that Rosicky, Chamberlain and Cazorla have been playing so admirably for the gunners. Where else will the goals come from? The floor is yours blue nation!!!