As the New Year dawns, we should all be happy, given our dreadful start to the season, at where we stand today. We have risen up the league and four of our signings have turned out to be tremendous – Fabianski, Diop, Balbuena and Anderson. And we can still look forward to players coming back from injury. I still dream about the perfect partnership between Lanzini and Arnautovic when we beat Huddersfield 4-1 away.
So, what questions can there be for discussion? We cannot take anything away from the achievement of Pellegrini, who has persevered with his formation through thick and thin. But, it remains to be seen whether he is too one dimensional. Should we, for example, have adjusted our formation when we played Manchester City at home? Or is it a good thing that when replacements and substitutions are made, players can easily slot into a system?
There seems to be a modern obsession with playing wing backs. As the name suggests, they are supposed to be both wingers and full backs. So, they need to be super fit, charging up and down the pitch. The danger is if they don’t have quite what it takes to be a defender. Antonio and Masuaku fit into that category. Cresswell is not the player he was two years ago and Zabaleta is in the twilight years of his career.
In the old days, you had wingers and then you had full backs. The winger would be a speedy guy who would make a dash for the byline and make a cross to a sturdy centre forward, who would head the ball into the net. Against Birmingham, we did have two players on the pitch who could fulfil that winger requirement – Antonio and Diangana. And of course, for most of the game we had a sturdy centre forward.
I’m asking this question for two reasons, because I think the game against Birmingham highlighted the problem. Individually, it was obvious we were far superior but overall, as a team, we didn’t seem to be able to break Birmingham down for 89 minutes of the game. It may have been because we were not using the full width of the pitch.
Andy Carroll comes in for a good deal of criticism these days, even though he is just coming back from injury. But what he needs is the type of service I describe above. Players getting to the byline and crossing the ball. Too often, they cut inside and we have seen Andy Carroll come on and not been given any service at all. Finally, yesterday, he received a cross from Antonio and showed his quality with his head.
Alongside the use of wingers, you must also ask whether having two players in defence e.g. Ogbonna/Balbuena and Diop is sufficient. Wouldn’t it be better to have three plus the wingbacks? Anyone watching the Birmingham game has to admit that Birmingham created some terrific chances, which a better team would have taken advantage of. And three at the back gives you the opportunity to attack with more freedom.
It was a surprise to see Arnautovic start. It is a risk to play such an important player and chance injury, but, perhaps he felt he needed a workout to reach match fitness after his recent injury. My impression was that he was surprised to be taken off, so hopefully he will start against Arsenal.
We should congratulate Nasri and Silva on the first starts for the club. And amusing to see that Adrian hasn’t lost his old habit of dribbling around the opposition. Declan Rice once again proved what a talent he is.
Saturday’s game against Arsenal will be a stiff test, especially for our defence. Let’s hope we can summon up the energy and intensity that will be required to win.