A month back, almost to the day, I’ve read an interesting article from @7amkickoff which stated, in unequivocal terms, that Arsenal WILL get back to their best, that they WILL become much, much better at finishing the chances they create. The reason was very simple: every team has a certain amount of chances created, shots, goals scored etc. every season. And the fluctuations from one campaign to another are not wild, meaning we can more or less predict what will happen next season.
In that sense, the first six games presented an anomaly in that we scored very few goals (just five, three if you take away own goals). We had an atrocious conversion rate, but other important numbers linked to scoring goals (like chances, shots etc.) actually improved. It became obvious this anomaly would be short-lived, because at that rate we would have far inferior numbers to the previous campaign. Such outcome, while possible, was highly unlikely for statistical reasons: as I’ve said above fluctuations from one year to another are not wild. It was just a matter of time before Arsenal broke the goalscoring duck.
I’m not trying to come across as a know-it-all and say I knew we would put 5 past Leicester. What I was sure of, though, is that we would, sooner or later, have a cracking game which would balance out the previous matches with their statistical anomalies and get Arsenal close to their average in terms of goals scored. That such a game happened at a time when we absolutely needed to win to capitalize on City’s slip-up (thank you, Tottenham!) makes me infinitely more happy. As usual, I’m going to dissect the moments I found interesting.
Theo Walcott, the lone forward
Theo’s been playing as a lone forward for a couple of games now (in fact, last time Giroud started a league game for us was August 24th, against Liverpool), however, lingering doubts remained whether Theo has indeed become our Plan A.
Now these doubts have been put to bed. Theo started up front in a tough away fixture and he performed admirably. He scored an all-important equalising goal at a time when Leicester were in front and looked likely to score another and was a live wire while he remained on the pitch. Out of our 26 shots Theo took 8, 7 were from inside the box and 4 of these were on target. I felt Theo was a bit unlucky to come off with only one goal to his name, but there’s no denying that goal was massive. There is also no denying Walcott looked really dangerous with his clever runs in-behind, so I think we are going to embody a force to be reckoned with once the rest of the team fully gets used to Theo’s style of play.
Alexis Sanchez, the hat-trick hero
Alexis Sanchez is a microcosm of Arsenal, in a way. Just like the team, the Chilean struggled in front of goal for six games. Just like the team, he exploded on the day, scoring not one or two, but three goals and it was a sight to behold.
Alexis was in the right place at the right time for the first (a quality that sets real strikers apart), his sheer willpower saw him score a header past much-taller Morgan and Huth and for the third he cut inside from the left and cannoned a distance shot into the bottom corner. It was the first hat-trick for the Chilean in the Arsenal shirt and you couldn’t be happier for him.
A couple of interesting facts about Alexis’ performance:
- He took 7 shots, 6 from inside the box
- 3 of these 7 were on target and he scored from all 3
- 2 of the 7 were headed efforts – not bad for someone who is 5 ft 7 inches tall
- Sanchez completed all of his dribbles – of which there were 7
- He had 2 big chances and put away both
Finally, this is a mere guess from my part, but it looks like Sanchez is much more effective with Walcott as a striker – he acts almost as a second striker (which is reflected in his stats) and he looks much more at ease with the Englishman by his side.
Cech, the massive goalkeeper
Yes, he let in two goals, but he also made 5 saves: one at 0-0, one at 3-1 and then a massive three at 4-1. I do not understand why Leicester looked much more interested in chasing the game at 4-1 than they did at 3-1, however, that doesn’t make Cech’s saves any less valuable or, indeed, any less spectacular. At one point he pulled off a great save, then, after realising the defenders aren’t going to help him out, he chased the attacker himself (think it was Vardy) and palmed the ball away from under his feet. He might have let in 2, but he also showed how important he is and I am genuinely happy we have a goalkeeper of Cech’s level.
Arteta, not done yet
I wasn’t really surprised to see Flamini start the game. It was a safer option than Ramsey and with Arteta playing all the 90 minutes in midweek it was obvious Mathieu was the fresher guy. He also scored twice, let’s not forget that.
However, when Arteta came on in the 21st minute to replace an injured Flamini, the game, which has been end-to-end stuff, calmed down a great deal. Both teams still had their moments, but Arteta brought assuredness to the proceedings with his metronomic passing and we instantly looked more organised and less vulnerable on the counter.
Arteta didn’t do anything particularly interesting stats-wise, didn’t have a Coquelin-esque performance, tackling anyone and everyone in sight. His only really decent (for a DM) figure was his passing: 88% accuracy (46/52), but even this is not much of an anomaly (how many times did I use that word?) for our lego-haired Spaniard, who’s used to clocking 95% passing accuracies with over 80 passes per game.
His greatest asset, like Mertesacker’s, was his calming influence: Mikel slowed down the tempo when we badly needed just that and continued to control the proceedings in his unobtrusive, yet effective manner. Even if Coquelin doesn’t make it in time for Olympiacos, I’ll be calm.
It was a massive performance, a massive win away from home against an in-form team and an opportunity to get us within reaching distance to the very top, the opportunity we grabbed with both hands, legs and Sanchez’s head.
With Tottenham humiliating the newly-crowned invincible Champions at White Hart Lane, Chelsea hilariously dropping points against a team facing a relegation battle and United powering past a hapless Sunderland, we did what was required. A win against United next Sunday and we’ll go into the break at least joint-second, with a maximum two points off the top. Not bad for a team in crisis, eh?
Until later, enjoy the win, Gooners
(Credit to all but one photo goes to @ArsenalRealm)