October 4, 2012
Thomas Vermaelen attempted to show last night that not only does he have a supreme talent for steely eyed defensive Vermination, he’s also pretty handy when it comes to a nifty visual metaphor.
On a night categorised by sloppiness, particularly at the back, the Verm reacted to Laurent Koscielny spurning a free header in the opposition box by leaping up for the spectacular crossbar grab and swing only for his hands to slip and leave him crumpled in a heap in the back of the net. It seemed at the time like that might well be the enduring image of a difficult night at the office. Thankfully, despite the errors, despite the sloppiness, despite the driving rain and the resolute and well organised Olympiakos side we managed to get the result that we needed.
Vermaelen himself had been one of the key culprits when it came to sloppiness. As early as the fifth minute he was involved in a misunderstanding with Vito Mannone that could well have led to an early Olympiakos goal. Vito looked slightly more at fault as he passed the ball from his area two feet ahead of TV, but he was less than impressed at Tommy’s lack of awareness as the ball was presented to the Olympiakos striker on a plate. Later in the first half it was all on Thomas as he inexplicably and under no pressure passed the ball out to an Olympiakos man.
In his defence Vermaelen was hardly the only man to blame but his lack of concentration at times has been a bit of a worry this season. Last night we saw a return to his marauding tendencies of last year too which while they often lead to confusion and panic in the opposition half quite frankly I think we could do without. At 2-1 up in a tight game with fifteen minutes to go there doesn’t seem a lot of point one of your centre backs pushing up, chasing the game and potentially leaving gaps at the back. I thought that was something we’d consciously tried to curb this year. Apparently not.
Thankfully we got away with it last night. And Tommy got away with his parallel bars act. It would be just our luck if he’d broken both his legs when he hit the ground. Maybe he did. If it had been me I’d have just run around with broken legs for the rest of the night, too embarrassed to say anything.
Of course despite our mixed display the important thing is the result which we got in a fairly unorthodox way for an Arsenal team – by taking our half-chances. I was screaming for Gervinho to pass as the ball broke to him on the edge of the area towards the end of the first half. He ignored me. I was delighted that he did.
The shot looked a little scuffed and seemed to take the keeper by surprise but it just showed that good things can happen if you shoot low and on target and with a bit of confidence. That’s five goals for Gervais in seven games and while we’re all still on the fence a little bit about his role as our new centre forward the fact is, if he was a new signing this summer who we’d paid twenty million quid for we’d probably be very excited indeed. We’d be all like “Wow! Look at his ability to score even when we’re not playing well! He took that chance out of nothing! He does assists too! Defences can’t cope with his movement! I’m going to the barber to get my hair cut just like his!”
Good for him. I mean I’m still not convinced that we should be playing him in the centre but that’s partly because of all the damage I still think he can do from the wing and partly because I still think we might have stronger candidates in Giroud and Podolski.
I know Lukas has done a sterling job for us from the left wing and I know how valuable his defensive work can be down that left hand side and I also know in his early performances in the middle at the start of the season he looked less than convincing but, honestly, can we really afford to have a finisher of that quality stuck out on the wing?
His stats for yesterday’s match read one chance, one shot, one shot on target, one goal. I’d actually adjust that slightly to read half a chance. Because when he got hold of that ball in the box with his back to goal it didn’t look like there was a whole lot of danger. But his spin and shot took the keeper by surprise and we were 2-1 up. Imagine what would happen if we gave him five chances a match.
Olivier Giroud also seemed keen to remind us that he’s still a possibility up there with a fine cameo from the bench yesterday. Admittedly by this point there were gaps appearing as Olympiakos chased the game but Giroud showed the benefits of playing with a target man. He was desperately unlucky not to get his name on the scoresheet, first flinging a foot at an excellent Walcott cross which landed safely in the keeper’s arms and then somehow hitting the back of a defender from Cazorla’s cutback when it looked like he was bound to hit the net.
But with the seconds ticking in injury time his headed flick from Mannone’s clearance found Ramsey in space and the boy took his chance exceptionally well, drifting past the last defender and then cushioning a chip over the keeper and into the net. It made the scoreline look a little bit generous but showed the value of having such a strong bench.
It could easily have been a different story had Olympiakos capitalised on our early defensive lapses and their number five Machado will have been particularly sheepish on the journey home with his teammates after skying the easiest chance of the night from six yards out at nil-nil.
But a good result. And if we could do the same in the next one at home against Schalke then we’d have qualification for the next round all but sewn up. As Tommy V attempted to demonstrate last night with his thought provoking piece of visual theatre , if we can keep our concentration and resist the urge to show off hopefully we can avoid any embarrassing slips.
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