Well, that was much more like it. An impeccable first half to put Arsenal 3 up and then a less convincing second, but more than enough to claim the three points in the end. Watford away was never going to be a walk in the park, Chelsea nearly lost for a reason, so I’m really happy this test is behind us. Let’s shoot to the talking points then.
A tale of two halves
A stamp if there ever was one, but it rang true. Arsenal took control over proceedings from the off, that thug Amrabat nearly broke Alexis’ neck, Kevin Friend pointed to the spot and Santi Cazorla slotted the ball down the middle. On a side note: Giroud and/or Cazorla have to start games, because we appear to have an assembly of weak penalty takers beyond these two. Sanchez, Ozil and Walcott are all far from convincing, not sure about Xhaka and Ramsey. Anyone knows if Perez is good from the spot?
We continued to pile up pressure after the goal, Alexis and Walcott saw their efforts parried away, then Sanchez bundled one in from a low cross and Ozil sealed the deal in stoppage time with a determined run and a firmly-planted header.
We fell back after the break, and Wenger said that was more down to the team not being able (yet) to maintain the same physical level for the entire 90 minutes. The Hornets pulled one back through substitute Pereyra after a series of pinball-like ricochets in our box provided him with an opportunity (interestingly enough, Xhaka was credited with the mistake that led to the goal, as it was him who Pereyra robbed). Mazzarri’s men went close to scoring a second, capitalizing on our inability to hold onto the ball for long, and we had Cech to thank for some really wonderful saves. His double one stands out especially. In the end our first-half blitz proved to be enough. Like Arsene said, it was about the points really:
“It might have been a slightly quieter second half but we all worked tremendously well actually. We’re disappointed with the goal, but overall you’ve got to look at the three points. It was really important just to get the three points today. The performance, to be honest, didn’t really matter.”
A cat in the sack
Alexis Sanchez at centre-forward is an interesting phenomenon. I’ve been absolutely adamant in my two previous reviews that the Chilean doesn’t cope as a lone forward, but yesterday I noticed some interesting qualities he brings to the team. He is still not your typical forward (at least yet) and, despite notching a goal and two assists I’d say he was again not convincing doing stuff usually required from a centre-forward, but there’s a caveat. Even a couple:
- Alexis is not only pressing the back 4 himself more effectively when deployed centrally, he’s also able to coordinate the efforts of the trio playing behind him (Ox, Ozil and Walcott on the day). The result being us working better as a unit when pressing high up the pitch
- Alexis’ predilection to move to the wings or even drop deep in search of the ball leaves a hole in the centre, it’s true: however this can be used to our advantage. All it requires is our wingers making diagonal runs in-behind, into the space Alexis vacates, to create dangerous situations for the opposition. Hence I don’t think Walcott will leave, he is uncanny at cutting inside from the right. With Perez on the left (assuming that’s where the manager sees him), in Alexis we have a forward more dangerous as a false nine, as a foil for others, than he is at finishing chances himself. Think of it as a different way of what Giroud offers us.
It will be interesting to see how the story unfolds after the break. Arsene will have Giroud, Perez and Alexis to juggle, all offering something different. Bottom line is, it’s nice to have options.
Holding, Xhaka and Walcott were the surprise packages
Barring Alexis, who I discussed above, most familiar faces delivered a performance of the high standard we are used to. Cech, Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, Cazorla and Ozil all had a good game. I can write a lot about why they were good and how it helped us get the points, but frankly, it’ll become a really long review then. So I’ll concentrate on those who stood out, deviated from the usual norm (in a positive sense) in one way or another.
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Rob Holding once again showed maturity and consistency rarely seen from someone this young. He and Koscielny were up against two strikers at once, much like against Leicester, though, unlike Vardy and Okazaki, Ighalo and Deeney posed a more physical threat. And Holding, tasked with containing Deeney, did grand. He was assured on the ball (completed 40 passes with a 91% success rate – only Xhaka and Cazorla completed more), was never caught in possession, won all 3 of his aerial duels (up against Deeney, remember) and cleared the ball 7 times, 6 of which happened in the 2nd half, when we were under the kosh.
Granit Xhaka also looked good in his first full game. The Swiss attempted (and completed) the most passes of all players, set up Walcott nicely in the first half and did his bit defensively. He thrived also because of the opposition on the day, looking less bright in the second half, when we had to defend in numbers. I maintain Coquelin will remain an important, ahem, cog in our machine and will be called upon in tough away matches, to see out leads and in more open games (i.e. against the big sides).
Finally, Theo. He looked really sharp when provided with a goalscoring opportunity, putting both his shots on target and making Gomez work hard. He also assisted Sanchez for the 2nd. But what really stood out was Theo’s workrate (!) Even in the latter stages he was willing to close down opponents aggressively and pounce on the loose balls and underhit passes. If the Englishman keeps it up, he’ll be in with a chance to cement his place on the right flank.
The last word
A win was really important to kickstart our season and win we did. That we managed to do so in style is really pleasing. Yes, we dropped off in the 2nd half, but that’s to be expected at this stage, I suppose. Once everyone is fully up to speed, we can very well be in for a good season.
The only worry I have from yesterday’s game is Oxlade’s performance. He played brightly against Liverpool and Leicester, fatigue shouldn’t be a thing with him, so fingers crossed it was just a blip on Saturday.
That’ll be it from me for now. Be sure to check out Dave’s article on Laurent Koscielny and I’ll be back with more goodness soon.