Hello dear readers and patrons of Gunnerstown! What a time to be back and alive in the Arsenal blogosphere. I would wish to explain away my absence due to a couple of life-changing academic examinations that I had to undertake in the past few months, as well as the dire straits of Arsenal Football Club for a part of this season. But finally, we have WON! What a feeling, isn’t it lads? Almost felt I would be dead due to grief before I ever got another shot of this to be honest with you. However, Arsenal have rescued me and I am back.
The old guard was back in action today, our trusty old four at the back system which has given us equal loads of joy and misery over the past few days. The old guard was also back in that the early heroes of this game were Nacho Monreal, Jack Wilshere, Laurent Koscielny and the unassailable Mesut Ozil. Nacho went off with a niggling pain in his ankle it seemed and therefore he will not be my star of the match unfortunately, but we must applaud his contribution. As some on Twitter have so eloquently put it, he came, he saved us and went back to injury. What a man, our Spaniard eh?
Anyhow, the build up to this game was very much overshadowed by Alexis Sanchez and his saga to United. I was thinking we would struggle to create but I could not have been more wrong. In the absence of Alexis, Mesut Ozil whipped this team into superb shape, conducting the moves as if the maestro in an orchestra. The Arsenal Philharmonic well and truly works its best magic when Maestro Ozil is on the pitch, as we could clearly see when he went off the pitch for Reiss Nelson.
While individual stats are all good for this game, I would like to point something out about the balance of this team. People say we tend to smash forwards all the time and our players are all over the pitch but yesterday there was very little of that. In the absence of Alexis Sanchez giving the ball away with pointless dribbles every other minute, the team was very responsible with its positioning and this is immediately apparent from the heat maps of players.
This is the heat map for Mohammed Elnenny. Two clearly divided areas of operation. When picking the ball off of our CB’s he was behind the line and when we were in attack he was the furthest back so he could fall back into the CB line if needed or press on counters.
The map above is that of Granit Xhaka. He seems to have covered a lot of ground all over the pitch but his main areas of operation were two, just inside the centre circle and just outside the opposition box. In the centre circle he was recycling position or switching balls to the other side, as well as picking balls of CB very high up a couple of times in the game. Koscielny in particular seemed to play a couple of very risky balls to him which he handled with aplomb, although maybe what I call close on TV is not that close on the pitch. Xhaka primarily uses these positions to play line breaking forward passes when he can find the angle or the ball over the top when he can find a runner. We had a lack of runners at times but he played very well overall and some of the smart fouls he made were very, very efficient. No yellow cards either, for which we owe the ref a tip of the hat.
The next one is that of both Wilshere and Ozil combined. Individually, Wilsh covered the #10 area very well and Mesut Ozil was a bit right of his area of operation. There is a reason why I chose to show you this one combined. The boss, Dave Seager, tweeted last night that Ozil and Wilshere have belief in each other in much the same way Sanchez and Ozil shared a wavelength. Many a times we could see the pair interchange passes and positions, allowing the others creativity to blossom. This balance in attack was supported ably by Bellerin who was the width on the right and Alex Iwobi who was playing on the LW. A feature of the play was that there were none of the irritatingly meaningless pinged balls from the left of the box which Sanchez is wont to attempt all the time. That is why the attack occured much more centrally and from the front angles instead of the side angles.
After scoring four times of course, we took our foot off the gas and rightly so. We needed to consider the Chelsea game coming up. We never stopped creating chances though, and it was our infuriating desire to score the perfect goal that made us end with only four goals scored in the end. Many times, Lacazette tried to get the ball just right at his feet, Iwobi fluffed his line selfishly once instead of squaring to Hector for a tap in and Kolasinac and Xhaka combined unselfishly to try and create a perfect team goal for Lacazette who could not sort his feet out in time.
When all is said and done, I would like to remember the first 20 minutes of this game as pure footbaling joy. I will readily concede that there was some luck involved in the Iwobi goal and as well in the Koscielny goal but I will not be ready to concede the point that this was one of the most fluid Arsenal performances in years. Iwobi on the left win, and without the domineering presence of Sanchez looks like a completely different player. Ozil has taken up the mantle of chief creator very well and I am now convinced he has been told to help with ball retention in MF as well.
My Star of the Match, in absence is Alexis Sanchez. I wish the man nothing but happiness in everything outside football because he was a big part of us winning two brilliant FA Cups. Be that as it may, no single individual has ever been or will ever be greater than the Arsenal and I am happy we go back to being a team from now on. A team with a united front and a happy dressing room. I hope I am not too early to speak in this vein and the next few games should tell us that. For now, we await our new saviours in Mkhitaryan and hopefully Aubameyang. Till then, I hope to be here again midweek celebrating a well played win against Chelsea.