The S J Chandos Column
The Stoke City away victory was just the 'leg up' needed ahead of the Christmas fixtures!
You could not fail to be impressed with the nature of our performance away at Stoke City. Not only did we retain our newly acquired defensive solidarity and organisation, but we were also a potent attacking force. Indeed, we looked like scoring every time that we attacked and that is a most welcome development. In particular, Arnautovic should have bagged an hat trick and a six goal margin of victory would not have flattered us. As it was, Arnautovic scored once and we come away with a very healthy and accomplished 0-3 win. The only down side was Lanzini subsequently being charged by the FA with diving and hit with a two match ban.
The ban meant that we went in to the Arsenal Cup match, yesterday evening. without our chief font of creativity. And did we miss him! Yes, we put in another solid display, slipping to a close fought 1-0 defeat, but we were badly missing the spark of Lanzini inspired invention witnessed against Stoke City. More worryingly, Lanzini will also be banned for the Newcastle United match. Somehow we need to compensate for the Argentinian midfield maestro’s absence and that is easier said than done. Moyes played Quina in Lanzini’s absence, against Arsenal, and he could opt to continue with that selection option. Quina did well and he is undoubtedly a top prospect. Indeed, it is good that the young Portuguese play-maker has began his education at first team level. However, one must question whether he is yet ready to step in to Lanzini’s boots? At the end of the day, it may be that it is our best option? At least it will show faith in Quina’s ability to ‘cut it’ at first team level and, with the likes of Noble and Kouyate. playing alongside him, it may assist him to have a greater impact on Saturday. Personally, I think that Moyes will start with more experienced options on Saturday, with Quina probably on the bench. However, that still leaves unresolved the question who is going to provide that vital creative spark on Saturday?
It was unfortunate that we exited the Cup on Tuesday evening, but it was also pleasing that the result was close and the likes of Quina obtained exposure to top class opposition . Some fans will no doubt be critical that we did not pose a more attacking threat at the Emirates and I am sympathetic to that point of view. Nevertheless, I just feel that it is more important that we continue that defensive and organisational solidarity that we have found under Moyes, rather than going for all out attack and falling to a potentially damaging 3-0 or 4-0 defeat. That latter result could have undermined confidence and the progress that we have made since the man City away defeat. That is something that we most definitely do not want at this more promising juncture in a hitherto troubled season. Others will disagree, but that is football, a game of endless and conflicting opinions!
The Stoke City victory lifted us two points clear of the bottom three, which was important. Also important is the fact it sets us up nicely for a series of winnable Christmas and early new year fixtures. We have Newcastle United at home on 23rd December 2017, Bournemouth away on 26th December 2017 and WBA at home on 2 January 2018. This is a sequence of three matches that we should look to take a minimum of 7 points from; although a maximum 9 points is arguably not wildly unrealistic. Lets start by taking the three points from the ‘Toon’ this Saturday and take it from there. As stated. for me the biggest danger here is compensating for Lanzini’s absence, but hopefully Moyes will find an answer to that problem.
If we do the business over this period we can move up the table and away from a sustained relegation battle. In doing so, we will save ourselves a lot of grief and worry and enjoy the remainder of our season, perhaps with a run in the FA Cup as a welcome distraction. I do not want our PL status threatened a day more than it need be and this Christmas programme gives us the perfect opportunity to move away from it and push up the table (providing other results also go our way).
This will be my last article before Christmas, so I would like to take this opportunity to wish all readers/contributors a very merry Christmas and a happy (relegation worry free) New Year. COYI !