Well the win over Sunderland was predictable, well, if it wasn’t Arsenal, enjoyable, if it wasn’t Arsenal and thought provoking as Arsenal performances always are. Even the apparently most routine victory, after a first half of taking a deserved lead, following after and preceding total dominance, gave the Arsenal supporters the obligatory period of concern or even panic. Normal service resumed after the Defoe equaliser and the result was ultimately as emphatic as the football played deserved. For that we can be grateful as it is not always the case as we know, but did we learn anything new about this team and their resolve and ability to challenge? I would say yes we did, so here goes:-
- The much maligned Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, although often as frustrating as he can be exciting is rising to the challenge this season. He knows his position if far from certain but seems to have a new personal resolve that goes beyond bravado and sound-bites. He has added goals of late and whilst his choice of pass and indeed concentration when executing basic passes needs improving, his confidence in taking on a player and his whipped cross for Alexis are attributes no one else gives us.
- Kieran Gibbs has been loyal, patient and kept his counsel in a frustrating 2 years at Arsenal. We don’t know what discussions he and Wenger had in the summer but already this season he has been given more playing time at left back and the last few weeks have suggested the faith and trust are deserved. He showed maturity and leadership as captain against Reading and was impeccable against Sunderland. As I said last week in this column, Monreal and Gibbs should share the role and selection should be based on the opposition. Gibbs with his extra youth and pace should logically play when the opposition right sided attacking has pace.
- Alex Iwobi has so much ability but his defensive frailties and seeming lack of fitness to last the course of a competitive fixture, make his starting berth vulnerable. If Wenger wants to persist with the lopsided 4231 with 2 playmakers he has a role and offers more vision than Chamberlain or Ramsey but should the emphasis shift he is on dodgy ground. However at his young age overplay can lead to burn out of injuries so tactical rotation and resting for this prodigious talent makes sense anyway.
- Mo Elneny given game time can settle into the team and offer more than ball retention and circulation. The Sunderland match, albeit, without huge precious allowed him to show us he can pass well, not just sideways and backwards but also forwards and incisively. Wenger’s choice for the 2 central midfield berths is exciting and potentially game changing this Arsenal team. It brings to mind the squad of 2003/4 when Vieira, Gilberto, Edu and Parlour shared the two roles. There was no concern from the supporters back then if one of Vieira or Gilberto was not starting because we all knew their replacements did not necessarily weaken the team and added different attributes. What a lovely situation to be in with Xkaka, Elneny, Coquelin, Cazorla and even Ramsey all offering different strengths both individually and as combinations.
- Olivier Giroud is alive, well, kicking and heading. It is fair to say the introduction of the French striker changed the game back in our favour on Saturday. Again though it is about different players bring different attributes and different times. Of course Giroud will hope to regain his starting position but for me I hope he remains a formidable Plan B or a game changer. Playing Alexis centrally has changed the Arsenal dynamic and we are more exciting and crucially unpredictable for it. However there will be times it does not work or teams where a different approach is required and there are few better alternatives than Olivier Giroud.
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Of course there are other interesting points from Saturday but these are the 5 that jumped out to me without getting heavily tactical.
Until next time