Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Kidding, kidding. It was gut-wrenching, nail-baiting and hair-raising, but we held on in the end. Despite atrocious refereeing, Xhaka’s idiocy and Swansea’a resilience. Each of these three factors could have cost us, indeed I can name a handful of occasions when below-par refereeing, one individual’s mistakes or opposition’s stubborn attitude resulted in lost points; however this time around we pulled through. And finally beaten Swansea at home, for the 1st time in 5 years. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty of it.
While some might urge caution in proclaiming Theo changed for good, I think this Theo will stick around. He added that element to the game which depends solely on his attitude and not on his individual qualities: work rate.
In simple terms, Walcott has become someone akin to Sanchez. The Englishman never stops running, never stops trying, he tracks back and, on top of it all, possesses the pace which even the Chilean can’t boast.
Is Theo going through a good patch? Yes. He won’t score in every game and I don’t expect him too. However, if he keeps plugging at it, his less spectacular goalscoring spells will become much more bearable. One of the reasons Alexis has endeared himself to the fans is that the Chilean always works his socks off. That’s why it is hard to make a case for dropping Sanchez, even when he is off form.
Previously Theo just about broke even when on form and became a downright liability when off it. Now he looks a player and a half, and will still remain highly useful if he keeps putting the effort in.
Ozil the goalscorer, Alexis the provider
It is funny, but Ozil still hasn’t registered a single assist to his name this season. However, he did score 3 goals (Watford, Chelsea and now Swansea). Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile, has already amassed 6 assists in all competitions, on top of scoring 5 goals.
And the funniest bit? Each and every Ozil goal came from a Sanchez assist. All three combinations were exquisite pieces of work, from both players. Alexis and Ozil have indeed struck a very good understanding, both have shown they can fulfill multiple roles, that’s why it’s not so important Ozil hasn’t yet assisted a single goal. Our ability to score goals hasn’t suffered as a result of this, which is demonstrated by the simple fact no team scored more league goals than Arsenal so far.
The case of Granit Xhaka
As someone sharply noted on Twitter after the game “Xhaka has been flawless both before his 1st mistake and his 2nd one”. I’m slightly paraphrasing it, but the meaning is the same.
Interestingly, it’s also a valid opinion. In his 70 minutes on the pitch, Xhaka completed 50 of his 54 attempted passes (the most of any Arsenal player and 3rd overall), recovered the ball 10 times (2nd to Kyle Naughton and tied with Alex Iwobi) and also managed 5 interceptions (first, tied with Nacho Monreal). In other words, he did what was asked of him in terms of playing role, and did it well.
However it’s the two mistakes he made that people will remember, and they have good reason to: both were exceptionally costly and we can consider ourselves lucky they didn’t affect the end result.
Xhaka gave the ball away for Swansea’s 1st, deciding it was a good idea to dribble on the edge of his own box when under pressure from Sigurdsson; and on the 70 minute mark Granit launched into a tackle from behind, with no chance of getting to the ball. Replays showed it was perhaps harsh to send the Swiss off straight away, as all he did was just trip Barrow, but without the benefit of replays, I can understand why Moss have shown Xhaka the red card.
Regardless of whether it should, or shouldn’t, have been a red, there’s no denying Xhaka was stupid and reckless going into the challenge. As a result the Gunners were put under the kosh for the remaining 24 minutes and can consider themselves lucky to survive what was a very decent effort from Swansea to snatch a point from the game.
This performance of Xhaka also highlights why Coquelin was preferred to the Swiss before sustaining an injury. I’m not even talking about the red card here, albeit it has to be noted that in 50+ league games since returning from Charlton Coquelin was only sent off once: rather, I’m talking about Xhaka’s overall style of play. Summed up by Arsene himself:
“Before, in Germany, he had some [red cards] but I don’t think he’s a dirty player at all. Sometimes there have been some clumsy tackles, because he’s not a natural defender, he’s a guy who likes to play forward.”
And this is precisely the problem. Xhaka is a good player, no doubt about it, but he is not the natural sweeper like Coquelin. Today Granit’s defensive resolve was properly tested for the first time and it’s fair to say he fell short.
Questions need to be asked about the decision to send Xhaka off (although I’ve already touched on that), but it’s not the main gripe I have with the refereeing standards on display.
Moss was in no mood to use his whistle, which resulted in us being on the receiving end of some nasty challenges. Walcott alone should have been awarded two fouls: first when he was undercut in an aerial duel, than after being poked in the eye. On both occasions the Englishman needed treatment, but Moss didn’t even call a foul. There was at least one more incident which made my blood boil: Monreal being cynically crashed into (Barrow did it, I think). A foul was given, but no yellow followed.
Contrary to his on-field colleague, the linesman was trigger-happy to waive his flag and I counted at least three separate occasions in the 2nd half alone when he wrongly flagged offside an Arsenal player. All three were dangerous counters, with the recipients likely to go one-on-one with Fabianski.
We’ve done the job despite all that, and should probably have won 4-2 (had it not been for wastefulness on Theo’s part), but that doesn’t mean referees’ incompetence should go unnoticed. Appalling display from Moss and Co.
The last word
A win sees us go second, level on points with Manchester City, who failed to beat Everton at the Etihad. We’ve successfully leapfrogged Tottenham in the process too, as Pochettino’s men only scraped an away draw at the Hawthorns.
It makes for a nice recovery after a first-day home loss to Liverpool: Arsenal are now unbeaten in 10 games, winning 8 of these, a run which includes 6 consecutive league wins. Not bad at all.
Now we can just sit back and enjoy United and Liverpool battling it out on Monday, safe in the knowledge neither team can finish the gameweek with more points than us.
I’ll try to be back on here to cover Ludogoretz, however my timetable Monday to Thursday is quite packed, so no guarantees here. What I can promise is me reporting on our next league game.
Over and out for now. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.