Arsenal fans will be boosted by the team’s performance in last night’s home leg win against Basel as further evidence of their growing title credentials. More concrete progress is needed before there can be genuinely founded speculation of a successful challenge in the Champions League but the December home match against PSG will be a good test.
Arsenal started with a performance that was as top gear as the 3-0 home win against Chelsea. Two goals by Theo Walcott was enough to see the Gunners home against Basel but the margin could have been increased as Sanchez was that close to a second half hat-trick.
Something is going on at the Emirates. Fans are reluctant to whisper its name but success is now no longer something to dream about. But the facts first; in the sixth minute Walcott powers through the middle of the penalty area with a perfectly timed run to head home a cross from the left from Sanchez. Cazorla curled a ball over the Basel defence giving room for Sanchez to perfectly cross the ball for the incoming Theo. A delightful goal – a perfect chip, a perfect pass and a perfect run. Wenger was purring – the fans were celebrating.
Arsenal had settled into their passing game – they were pushing and probing as they moved the ball from right wing to left and back again to right. They were comfortable on the ball, quick with the pass and ever ready to smother a Basel counter-attack when the ball went astray.
But performances need goals to give credibility. Pretty football is just that – pretty but a second goal came on the 25th minute when Sanchez provided the wall pass to Theo to push into the area and slot the ball inside the far post. Remember how Willan missed a similar shot – Theo took it with aplomb. Two up and looking good.
The performance grew in confidence. Still tight in defence with greater solidity emerging from the Mustafi/Koscielny central partnership and ever ready to smother any threatening moves from Basel who continued to play football throughout the match Arsenal went in search of the coveted third goal. Two is never enough and even three is not “switch-off” time but just as Chelsea were down and out when Ozil scored the third on Saturday so Arsenal pressed for a goal glut.
It never came. Not for want of trying but the margins went against us. Vaclik used arms and legs to deny Sanchez and Bellerin. Had it been 0-0 the crowd would have become frustrated and begun to be vocal but the 2-0 lead gave us some money in the bank. Sometimes it happens – the goals do not come and we went in at half time two to the good but around the Stadium there was a feel good factor. We had started where we finished against Chelsea. We were not complacent or smug. We competed and made the chances. On the night those chances just slipped either side of the post.
The second half was more of the same – a drop in speed of play and ever alert to a breakaway goal from Basel but another goal never came. Substitutions were made; the increasingly appreciated Gibbs came on for Monreal and five minutes before the Ox came on for Theo and Elneny for Iwobi. The personnel changed. The performance remained the same and the passing game continued if just a little off the high first half pace.
Two points; – it is noticeable that we regain possession quicker now than ever before and the addition of Mustafi has given us greater strength in defence and at corners and free kicks into the area. It is early days. We must not get ahead of ourselves and it was only a few weeks ago that Liverpool pulled us apart. But we appear to be turning the corner. Confidence and application are there in abundance. The team are happy – they support each other. They know they are on the right path. Let’s enjoy the growing collective self-belief but remember that bigger challenges lie ahead. There is a spring in everyone’s step. Good On Yer Arsene!