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For Xhaka and Sanchez, a Day to Remember, as Arsenal sign off on Naughty November

Well, that was much better, wasn’t it? A convincing win in the end, an improved performance, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott back on the scoresheet. Still things to work on, obviously, but I’d much rather discuss these after a win. Let’s start with the positive bits though, shall we?

Changes to the side

I was really pleased to see Arsene make a number of switches to the side which produced a meek showing on Wednesday. In fact, the manager made 7 changes!

It tells us Arsene recognised what he had wasn’t working and performed an open heart surgery, not the cosmetic dust-up. No papering over the cracks. The Frenchman ruthlessly cut his side in pieces and the end result justified such an approach.

Granit Xhaka shines

At some point I stopped bombarding you with stats unless I could properly contextualise them, but today I’ll veer away from this rule. As Bournemouth weren’t afraid to take us on at our own game, unusually high numbers indicate a huge amount of work done in certain area and Xhaka excelled in several.

Excellent

He made 14 ball recoveries (5 more than 2nd-placed Simon Francis and Shkodran Mustafi), completed 9 tackles of 11 attempted (2nd-placed Gosling racked up 7 out of 12) and also covered the most ground, at 12 km. I know we are not Liverpool to bandy such stats about, but I just wanted to focus your attention on Xhaka’s work-rate, which sometimes gets overlooked owing to his languid and relaxed style of play. Indeed, he’s very similar to Ozil here.

Granit also can be likened to the German in that he has an ability to slow down time and get that extra second on the ball, while cleverly creating space for himself. I’m very happy Xhaka put in another strong showing, and I hope it convinces Arsene to field the Swiss regularly.

Alexis Sanchez roars back to life

The last really good performance from the Chilean happened a month ago – against Sunderland. Incidentally, it was also Arsenal’s last good performance. Coincidence?

Sanchez regained his spot up top and produced a masterclass, scoring twice, hitting the bar, having a penalty appeal turned down and creating 5 chances – the most of any player on the pitch. Some of his through balls were particularly tasty.

In short, it was a delightful performance from Alexis, one which sees him only behind Aguero and Costa in the scoring charts, and one which reinforces my opinion that our best football happens with Alexis as a false nine.

 

But Giroud is still important

The Frenchman came on at 2-1, when the result was still hanging in the balance and made the impact we needed. Ollie nearly converted Ramsey’s beautiful through ball, glanced a header just over, and then provided an assist for Sanchez after a lung-bursting run into space.

I was all the more concerned to see Giroud down on the ground and Arsene said Ollie might have tweaked his hamstring:

“In the first moment, he told me that he felt a twitch in the back of his hamstring and we will see. I hope it’s not too bad because he told me after that when he sprinted he didn’t feel anything.”

Giroud is a fine athlete, his odd toe injury this season is only his second injury in over 4 seasons with us – the first being a freak ankle ligament damage. I think only Alexis can rival the Frenchman for fitness levels, so I’ll hope for the best here. We really can’t have Giroud out at this time.

Debuchy wasn’t so lucky, however

One of the seven changes Arsene introduced was swapping Jenkinson for Debuchy. Carl wasn’t even on the bench, which is weird. I don’t think he has sustained any injury, but when talking about possible in-game replacements for Debuchy, the gaffer didn’t even mention Jenko:

“When I picked the squad I imagined that something could happen to Debuchy. I had Francis Coquelin ready to play right back as well because he can play there, but I went for Gabriel because he’s a defender and is very quick. He adapted well.”

The only reasonable explanation I can come up with is that Arsene doesn’t consider Jenko good enough. The sad thing is, I probably agree with him. I always had this suspicion lurking at the back of my mind that Jenko is not at the level required to be a regular for Arsenal. I hope he’ll prove me wrong, because I like him a lot, however I have my doubts he will.

Is Jenko good enough?

Back to Debuchy, though. The Frenchman started the game quite unexpectedly, and then went off after just 15 minutes. It is a real shame, Mathieu acquitted himself well in this quarter of an hour, but it’s even sadder because the Frenchman can’t get a break with injuries. He is starting to approach Wilshere and Rosicky-esque levels of spending time on the sidelines (not quite Diaby realms, poor lad). Wenger’s update was rather grim:

“He thinks it’s a severe one. Don’t go too far because I have to speak to medical people, but you can only assess it really after 48 hours. You have to let it bleed and after, usually they have an MRI 48 hours later to see how big the damage is.”

I hope it’s not severe, for everyone’s sake. I’d really sad to see Debuchy’s career at Arsenal fizzle out with an injury.

Poor Debuchy

We were dominated in spells, and conceded another penalty

The penalty thing is getting ridiculous. It’s the third time in four games the ref pointed to our spot, and I’m getting worried here. There’s a case to be made none of them were penalties, or that, at least all of them were soft ones, with strikers looking for the slightest of contacts to go down, but we can’t deny it’s a flaw in our game which needs addressing.

Cech once again went the wrong one, and I had no faith he’d bail us out. It’s the sixth penalty he faced at Arsenal, and the sixth he conceded. I look at Lloris and wonder whether Cech can do a little better with spot-kicks. However Petr made two vital saves from open play: at 1-1 from a tight angle, and at 2-1 from Afobe, at point-blank range. The big man deserves credit for that.

What I find more alarming is our tendency to ease off and let our opponents back in the game after opening the scoring. It’s the third time we did in 4 games (the other two being, well, you guessed it, Sunderland and Tottenham). I don’t like this trend in the slightest. We need to keep our heads and continue pushing our opponents after scoring ourselves. We need to be more disciplined and better organised defensively. Right now I don’t feel we are secure enough.

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The last word

It was a much-needed win and I’m relieved we got it. The need to break the vicious circle was even more acute after all of Chelsea, City and Liverpool won their matches. By getting the three points we managed to stay right behind the three, and will have a chance to make up further ground in a week, as City and Chelsea go head to head.

We can wave November goodbye (barring the league cup game we are done) and 2 wins coupled with 3 draws look a decent haul, especially in the light of our last November. Now let’s hope we’ll see Lucas and Bellerin back in the next week, while also keeping fingers crossed for Giroud and Debuchy, and December might just be a better place.

See you on the other side. Back to preview our West Ham clash.

Until then

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