Well, that was fun. A sound thrashing, order restored and a great performance on top. Also, Bayern hammerred Olympiacos at at Allianz, which means the second team to go through will be determined in Greece a fortnight from now.
Wenger made two changes to the side that went down to West Brom on Saturday: Flamini for the injured Coquelin and Campbell for Gibbs. It looked to be Joel’s last chance to make an impression and, while I still think we’ll see either Ramsey or Oxlade on the right come Sunday, the Costa-Rican performed admirably. It was his best outing in an Arsenal shirt, hands down.
As always, I’ll guide you through the points of interest.
All of them were sublime. There is no other word to describe how we put the ball in the back of the net.
The first goal happened in the 29th minute after we escaped Dinamo’s press in our own half through a neat interplay involving Bellerin, Campbell, Giroud and Cazorla. The Spaniard then sent Alexis down the flank, Sanchez waited for Giroud’s decoy run to divert the defenders’ attention and then lofted a cross towards the unnoticed and unmarked Ozil. The German headed the ball home.
Our second came four minutes later, after Monreal intercepted a poor pass deep into Dinamo’s half, burst past the defender and squared the ball to Sanchez who sidefooted home what would his first goal in eight games.
We had to wait for the 3rd for half an hour (plus the break), but the goal was worth every second of that wait. It came about when Campbell split open Zagreb’s defense in one neat pass, Alexis got onto the end of it, rounded off Eduardo (who had a good game and saved his team on multiple occasions) and powered the ball into the empty net. 3-0 and game over. We could have snatched a 4th right at the death after Sanchez found Ozil in the box, but the German’s headed effort looped over Eduardo and just wide of the goal.
Alexis is love, Alexis is life
That’s the second time inside the week that I’m asking myself the question about how such a level of performance is possible from the Chilean. He should be on his last legs by now, after all the games here played, but he isn’t.
In fact, he improved on his already stellar performance at the Hawthorns by adding end product to his game.
What’s even more amazing, every time Sanchez scores he becomes even more active, more willing to chase the ball, help his teammates, assist, score. Alexis once again went into full beast mode yesterday after scoring his first and didn’t drop his performance levels until the last seconds.
Arsenal fans voted Ozil MoM and, while I’m very happy for the German who put in another great performance, I think Sanchez deserved the award more. Without him we would most likely have found ourselves hard-pressed to get through Dinamo’s defense.
Even if he completely messes up the game against Norwich, the German will once again snatch the Player of the Month award. He was outstanding in all games this month (even the Bayern debacle), he was consistently brilliant and yesterday he showed again how vital he is to us.
I won’t bore you to death with the German’s numbers, however I’d like to talk about a quality I first noticed developing during pre-season, namely: the directness to Mesut’s play, one that wasn’t there before.
Ozil seemed much more willing to make runs into the box and shoot at goal and, as we could see for ourselves, he’s pretty good at shooting when he sets his mind to it.
The German took four shots, three of them were on target, the only one which wasn’t went narrowly close. Of these three shots one Mesut tucked away, the other two efforts made Eduardo work really hard. Even Wenger seemed surprised by such incisiveness to Ozil’s game and was full of praise after the match:
“He had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I’ve never seen him in the box so many times this season, especially in the last five or six games.”
As I’ve mentioned above, it was his best performance for us. Joel looked much more involved this time around, completing 36 passes out of 44 attempted, one of these was a sublime assist to set Alexis up.
Joel also hustled and bustled down the right flank helping Bellerin out and, indeed, completing 4 tackles.
Sure, his attacking display still lacked end product a bit, as Campbell only had one shot which he really should have put away, but still, this performance represented a marked improvement on everything he’s done up to this point. While he’s unlikely to be given the nod ahead of Ramsey/Oxlade on the weekend, I’ll sleep much better knowing Joel can produce performances like this one.
He is French, he is free…and he is much better than given credit for. No, Flam didn’t do anything spectacular yesterday, apart from grounding the bloke who knocked Ozil off his feet moments before, but I’m not looking for spectacular things from a DM. We have Ozil and Alexis (with a sprinkle of Cazorla) for flashy passages of play, from someone like Mathieu Flamini we need a tidy performance with minimum fouls and maximum output. We got exactly that yesterday.
Flam was tidy on the ball (dispossessed only once, no unsuccessful touches), notched a 93% passing accuracy (he outdid both our centre-backs in this regard, Ozil and Cazorla) and on top of that provided some steel in sticking up for his teammates. Well done, Mathieu.
I don’t know whether Flamini will continue deputising in that role until Coquelin’s return/acquisition of a new holding mid, while Wenger’s yesterday’s experiment with Chambers showed he may not be completely at ease with starting Flamini in every game, but I’ve seen enough not to fret about our central midfield for the time being.
Ramsey on the left? Sanchez up front?
When Ramsey came on for Giroud, I was baffled a bit. I thought he’d either play on the right with Campbell on the left, or in central midfield, with either Cazorla/Ozil shifted to the left side of the attack.
Imagine my surprise when he did neither of those things, instead setting camp on the left. For me it looks like Wenger is unwilling to introduce two changes at once in central areas (Flamini for Coquelin and Ramsey for Cazorla) – which is not unlike the Frenchman and which is what ArsenalColumn ponders here. I think it means we’ll see Rambo return to the right flank on Sunday.
However, another experiment caught my eye, one which may point to the fact Ramsey WILL STAY on the left, with Oxlade coming in on the right. The experiment I’m talking about? Alexis Sanchez up front.
We know Giroud is no winger, we know Wenger is reluctant to upset the midfield dynamic by introducing several changes at once, so should the Frenchman proceed with Alexis up front (and I think he ought to try it out, luckily the run of games we have allows us to), the only options for the flanks would be Ramsey, Oxlade and Campbell. With the latter likely consigned to the bench soon, the motive behind Ramsey on the left can well be in place.
It was a great game for us, a great win, a much-needed boost after a pretty atrocious November and, finally, it leaves us with a very real chance of qualifying. Even Mamic said after the game this Arsenal side is well capable of beating Olympiacos by two goals.
The situation is not new to us, twice in the last two years we played away needing a win of a greater margin and, with all due respect to Olympiacos, our opponents were tougher. Despite that we almost got the job done. Now we need a lesser feat against a lesser opponent. Is it possible? Yes.
Phew, I feel like I’ve written enough. Back with a preview of our weekend game.