Finally a win and a convincing win with a lot of positives. No “ifs”, no “buts”, no dissecting another below-par performance and finding possible reasons behind it. A simple, emphatic win and it doesn’t really matter West Brom couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the game. All that matters is that we’ve secured the much-needed three points, climbed into third and welcomed back some of our own.
I’m jubilant. You may say I’m “making a meal of it” (I hate this phrase, by the way). I can assure you I’m not. I’m just happy I can write about something that truly inspires and makes one want to write stuff.
Yes, yes, I know, we’ve won consecutive games against Everton and Watford not so long ago. However I didn’t have a chance to reflect on either match. For the first I haven’t yet come out of my self-imposed exile. For the second I didn’t have the opportunity to watch the game, hence the lack of reviews.
Let’s shoot to the points of interest then.
The changes to the side
There were three: Mertesacker for Gabriel, Ramsey for Coquelin and Giroud for Welbeck. All three switches worked and, while Giroud’s contribution can be a sore point for some, it’s not one for me.
Olivier probably could have done better on a couple of occasions, but his hold-up skills, his presence on set-pieces at both ends and his overall clever play in and around the box make his inclusion completely justified for me. Olivier’s overall contribution deserved to be awarded with a goal and that he was denied one late on by Foster’s face made me a bit sad.
At the other end of the pitch we had Mertesacker to thank for a much-improved defensive performance. The German may not have done anything extraordinary, but his sheer calming presence made a welcome change indeed from Gabriel’s panic-inducing approach to his duties.
If it sounds like I have anaffection towards BFG, that’s because I do. The German is a hugely underrated player. His qualities like reading of the game and ability to marshal teammates are often discarded because “he’s as slow as a snail”. It pains me we had to learn the hard way that pace isn’t the panacea to all problems.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Mert’s counterpart, Gabriel. I think he can develop in an exceptional defender indeed, like Koscielny did. But he’s not at that point yet. Right now he’s at the “ship as many goals as you can in as short period of time as possible” stage. He’s been culpable for quite a few already this season and I really do think it’s time Per regained his place in starting XI.
I can understand Wenger’s decision to drop Per though. The Frenchman is probably getting the pieces of puzzle in place for when Mertesacker’s gone and is therefore trying to phase Per out. He’s looking at his options and he’s helping players develop connections. However right now Gabriel looks raw and his continuing inclusion causes more harm than good. What’s most worrying for me is the fact Gabriel and Koscielny just don’t seem to gel and it’s obvious Kos isn’t going anywhere from the starting XI soon.
So, to my mind, it’ll be best for everyone concerned if Per finished this campaign as a regular and during the (exceptionally short) pre-season Wenger can try something different. Such as, Calum Chambers alongside Kos, for instance and I’m not joking, by the way. I hold Calum in very high regard. One day, in the not-too-distant future, I’ll write an article on why I think the Englishman deserved to play more during this campaign.
On a side note, while we are on the subject of defenders, I have recently noticed Cech’s path to the ball is physically (and purposefully) obstructed during corners and free-kicks. By opposition players, naturally. Think it’s time we did something about it because Cech’s play on crosses is one of his many strong points and him not being allowed to come out increases the likelihood of potentially dangerous situations arising from set plays. Like the one with Rondon yesterday.
The final change, Ramsey for Coquelin, was mainly to see how the dynamic of our play changes and how well Aaron can play with Elneny in a pivot. The answer is: very well.
As for the overall dynamic, I’m not sure such a formula can be used against everyone in the league, it looks a bit too lightweight, but hey, Arteta and Ramsey worked grand together, didn’t they?
What I found interesting is that Ramsey basically did a two-man job alone yesterday. He played deeper than Elneny, completed 7 (!) tackles, basically taking over Coquelin’s duties, however he also constantly offered himself as an outlet for our centre-backs. The Welshman’s contribution higher up the pitch was also nothing to be scoffed at, at it included a couple of chances created for his teammates (and an assist!) and an overall positive influence which is harder to measure. For example, Aaron completed 2 dribbles near the opposition box, one of which led to that late Giroud moment and the other to a free-kick Sanchez converted.
Ramsey also kept things ticking in midfield, completing 105 of the 114 attempted passes. What I liked the most about his partnership with Elneny is that both tried to play close to each other and succeeded in doing so. Early signs, but positive ones for sure. It’ll be interesting to see these two against more serious sides.
The Egyptian, meanwhile, assumed a quieter role, but one which required some serious effort to excel at. His change from number 8 to number 6 was a subtle one, yet Elneny managed a seamless transition. By the time the final whistle came, Mohamed completed 8 ball recoveries, 4 interceptions and clocked a 90%+ passing accuracy. If you look at where exactly Mohamed recovered and intercepted the ball, it’ll show you he was extremely disciplined in his positioning and conscientious about his duties.
The Chilean was long overdue a cracking performance. Ever since his return to injury, to be fair and he got one yesterday.
He scored two great goals: a long-range effort and a direct shot from a free-kick. He probably should have scored a third from Ozil’s pass, but miss-controlled it, then slipped and the moment was gone.
However the Chilean had been a livewire all evening. Goals aside, Alexis created two shooting opportunities for teammates (Ozil really should have scored from his 2nd), completed 5 of the 6 attempted dribbles (4 in the opponents’ half), recovered the ball 6 times and even clocked an unusually high pass completion percentage – 86%, with 49 attempted passes. I say “unusually high” because Alexis’ game is based on a “high risk – high reward” system, so I kind of got used to him misplacing passes. However there has been a drastic and positive improvement in both his passing accuracy and sheer passing volumes ever since Alexis was moved back to the right flank.
The last word
I would also like to give honourable mentions to Hector Bellerin and Mesut Ozil. The former for being increasingly dangerous in attack (thanks to forging a formidable understanding with Alexis), but also not forgetting about his defensive duties. By the way, after I’ve seen people level accusations at Hector for being a lousy passer of the back I’ve monitored his passing closely yesterday. And you know what? The Spaniard misplaced only 4 passes of the 52 attempted. So you can all go… erm… to where the winds don’t blow.
Mesut, meanwhile, had one of his quieter performances in assisting people (only one chance created), but a much more direct one up front. The German acted almost as a second striker and can consider himself highly unlucky none of the 3 shots he took went in. I like this direct Mesut a lot, I have to say.
That’s probably all I wanted to share with you. I have intentionally not touched on some controversial matters which were not directly related to on-pitch proceedings. There’s a time and a place for these things and this review is neither.
Up the Arsenal