We are still without our superb Match reviewer who returns next week for West Ham so I thought I would step in again with some player ratings instead. It was a hugely enjoyable performance from Arsenal yesterday and the only disappointments came off the pitch and not on it. The 7th minute response to Rocky was observed with some relish but that aside the atmosphere was not the best and sadly many empty seats to report. Given how well the players performed the lack of crowd vocal backing should be surprising but depressingly it wasn’t.
Enough of the downbeat stuff and on to a personal assessment of the players on the day that managed to easily dispatch a Watford team who, courtesy of defeating the same opposition 3 weeks back, had one eye on Wembley.
David Opsina – David has ably deputised for Cech and yesterday did all that he has to do including one flyer header and another equally spectacular flying safe to gift his team mates a clean sheet. He has been given a head time after his Champion League lapse but I can’t think of many Premier League teams with a regular international keeper warming the bench. I will be sorry to see him leave but will respect his desire to is that is the case. 7/10
Hector Bellerin – The superlatives are exhausted for ‘The Boy from Barca.’ Yet another fine display, linking with Sanchez in attack and dealing with the pace of Anya, when he came on. I dream to contemplate Bellerin threatening club appearance records or least Lee Dixon on 621. 8.5/10
Gabriel – Clearly deserving of his place ahead of Per in Wenger’s eyes and although his has not convinced all supporters he put in another solid display against a non-buzzing Hornet attack. It is his rashness and his distribution that concern some. The rashness must improve when his English does so he can hear and compute his peer’s calls and the distribution for me is fine. 7/10
Laurent Koscielny – I am not comfortable with Kos as skipper as he is not a talker on the pitch. I am not saying we need we need a shouter but the Frenchman, whilst deservedly one of the first names on the team sheet does not appear to wear the armband with ease to me. Of course another exemplary display in defence sensing any minor danger and snuffing it out with ease. 8/10
Nacho Monreal – I sit here typing thinking that after his fist campaign I never wanted to see him in an Arsenal shirt again. Incredible to think that now as each week I watch the most consistently able left back in the Premier League. The transformation in hindsight from Spain to England was perhaps not easy but the turning point did seem to be his fabulous stand in period at Centre back. Seeing the game from a central position seemed to improve his positioning and his reading of situations as he has not looked back. 8/10
Francis Coquelin – Some jumped on my post-match tweet suggesting that our French enforcer is so much more than the best anticipatory interceptor in the league and that his passing is also superb. Those 2 cross field balls to Joel Campbell, one of which led to a goal from memory, would not have shamed Ozil. I think the issue people have is that I suggested he can set the tempo of the match. This is not just by his passes though it is by his drive, his will to win and his constant talking and encouraging of his colleagues. To be running back shouting instruction to his defensive team mates within seconds of celebrating a goal and urging concentration. It is this quality as much as his talent that sets the tone of Arsenal’s performance. He has also thrived with his new partner. 9.5/10 My Arsenal Motm.
Mo Elneny – I have read that 121 passes in a match is a record for this season and that was Mo yesterday. He was seemingly everywhere and yet always back alongside his central midfield partner when he needed to be. He covers the ground with a long stride to be where he needs to be to receive the ball. However as any academy coach will try to instil in a young player the receiving of the ball and getting instantly under control is expected. The top players have already looked and assessed what they will do once they receive the ball to ensure fast distribution. It is this that the Egyptian has that Ramsey does not have. The Welshman gets the ball and then twists and turns one way and the other looking and thinking what he should do with the ball. So one player has the ability to keep us flowing and moving and the other slows is down. I think 10 of the 121 passes were on the right flank between him and Ozil though which is why Coq just edged the Motm. 9/10
Alexis – Moving our talisman of last season to the right has proved an inspired decision, both for the player and for the team. He is back to his best for the run in and linking so well with Ozil, Iwobi and Welbeck. He is not trying to do too much as he has been for most of the time since his return from his hamstring issues and as a consequence is less up a Blind Alley and more in a Happy Valley. He showed great movement of his marker for the goal and a superb assist. 9/10
Mesut Ozil – Our playmaker glided effortlessly through the match yesterday, seemingly enjoying the improvement around him reducing the pressure on him to be the sole creative force. There were as there always are some joyous moments, most notably some wondrous back heels and flicks straight to team mates but it was not finest game. I wonder is the assist record playing on his mind? Plenty of time Mesut. 7.5/10
Alex Iwobi – Another accomplished dynamic display from the young man yesterday and it is so hard not to get over excited when it is one of your club’s own products. He seems to have it all though; a great first touch, an eye for a pass, cool in front of goal and still playing for the joy of it all. I saw someone say yesterday that Arsenal are benefiting from having 2 Number 10’s on the pitch and I think they could be right. Iwobi began playing for us in the Cup at 10 and now is playing for us in the league on the left with the instincts of a 10. It gives us more control and adds vision and flexibility as we see Iwobi, Ozil and Sanchez interchangeable behind the striker. We and he must keep our feet on the ground but another assist, a well taken goal and an obvious understanding with Welbeck ad Sanchez it is proving tough. 8.5/10
Danny Welbeck – Certainly our first choice striker now it is hard not to imagine what might have been had he been fit earlier this campaign. I genuinely find myself disappointed when he does not have a goal for all the unselfish work and effort he puts in for his team. When you see him playing as he is now it is so easy to understand why Sir Alex Ferguson played him so much and so hard to comprehend why van Gaal failed to see it. With the new fluidity and the form of the 3 behind him the movement and interchange is essential and Welbeck gets this and crucially has the mobility for it. Giroud has the hold-up play and can bring others so well into the game and Theo has the pace and movement behind and through the game line – Danny has both. 7.5/10
Olivier Giroud – Came on for Danny and did little wrong but failed to truly impact the game 6/10
Joel Campbell – Joel does not really deserve not to be in the team but the form of Iwobi cannot be ignored. His enthusiasm of the bench yesterday was to his credit and on the left where he often plays for Costa Rica he tortured a tired Nyom and created the final goal. 7/10
Theo Walcott – Is this is his Arsenal future? A shot cameo and a well-taken non-essential goal? It is a great shame to see a player we as fans and the club have invested in become so peripheral when he was see key in the RvP era. As I said to someone yesterday it is sometimes that a team just moves on and evolves and changes playing style and through no fault of your own you find your face does not fit. Alexis has raised the bar for the Arsenal wide striker role and Walcott has not been able to raise his game accordingly. It is like Eduardo – When was injured we played 442 and he was beginning to shine. When he came back we played 4231 and RVP was on fire. He was still a top player and when he left we were sad and wished him well. Theo? 6/10