I have to admit I was starting to forget how good a comprehensive win feels. Think our last win happened back in October, when we thrashed Ludogorets. November has been pretty mean in terms of wins, let alone comfortable ones.
But yesterday I was reminded of that feeling. After a pretty depressing showing in the cup, Arsene Wenger and Co bounced back in style in the league, maintaining their grip on frontrunners Chelsea and leapfrogging City in the process.
Arsene was ruthless and made nine changes to the midweek side. Only Gabriel (this time at right-back) and Coquelin kept their places. Iwobi gave way to Oxlade, who had a good game, while Xhaka was reinstated in the centre of the park. But let’s start with another man here.
The Chilean had an absolutely phenomenal game. He was easily the most influential player in the final third, which is always hard when you play in one team with Mesut Ozil. But Sanchez outshone our playmaker, who himself had a strong performance.
In short, Sanchez scored 3 goals, each one of tremendous quality and set up Mesut Ozil for the opener. He created five chances overall (one better than 2nd-placed Ozil) and his industrious buzzing around the place spurred on others around him. Absolutely phenomenal showing, one which takes Alexis league tally to 11 goals, as many as Costa has.
Have we found our midfield pairing?
I have been banging the drum of playing Coquelin and Xhaka together for weeks, and finally Arsene listened. And boy did it work.
Granit Xhaka put in another solid showing, keeping the midfield ticking over with his crisp and precise passing. One of the qualities I admire about Xhaka is his willingness to always pass through the lines, go forward whenever possible. He demonstrated that willingness once again. On the basis of what I’ve seen from the Swiss so far, he should be a regular starter.
Granit was complimented quite nicely by Francis Coquelin. The Frenchman simply had a monstrous performance against the same opposition almost two years to date which marked his return from Charlton. Francis recovered the ball 12 times (the most on the pitch, followed by Xhaka with 9 recoveries), completed 5 tackles (2nd to only Masuaku with 6) and 6 interceptions, one of which directly contributed to the first goal. I also liked how he kept a low profile after Pawson decided to book him on the half-hour mark for kicking the ball into the stands. A ridiculous decision really, but hey. I’ve seen worse refereeing performances.
The Ox coming back to life?
It’s interesting how what you see can sometimes wildly differ from the stats tell you. I thought at first Ox had an average performance, and the goal was his saving grace. The truth is a little more nuanced than that.
Going by the numbers, Oxlade was one of our best players. He completed 6 of the attempted 9 take-ons (twice as many as second-placed Alexis Sanchez), created 4 chances for his teammates (on par with Ozil and one off Alexis Sanchez (!)), made a whooping 7 recoveries and was tidy enough with his passing (33/38, 87% completion). In short, his goal was a cherry on top of a good performance.
I would still like the Ox to provide more end product, and overall improve his decision-making in the final ⅓, but that was an encouraging showing nonetheless.
Gabriel at right-back
This was the bit I felt uneasy about going into the game. Gabriel has next to no experience at right-back, let alone in the Premier League, where he at times struggled to impose himself even in his preferred position. Payet playing on the left side of West Ham’s attack only added to my worries.
Worries which turned out to be unfounded. Gabriel is not the kind of player to provide you with the impetus of Hector Bellerin going forward, but he certainly had a quietly impressive game in an unfamiliar position. He showed mental and physical resolve to complete these 90 minutes at such a good level and I feel that much calmer about the current lack of options at right-back.
Speaking of which, it has to be said I’m surprised by Arsene’s quotes on Carl Jenkinson. These ones:
“He has lost confidence. The Jenkinson you see at the moment is the Jenkinson who can play but is not completely Jenkinson because he has no confidence. That will come back. He will be in and out and, suddenly, after one or two months, he will make the step and play. It is natural and very difficult. Today it is even more difficult because he gets quickly hammered by everybody on social media. I hope he doesn’t read all that and focuses on his game.”
I don’t doubt Arsene is honest and upfront in his assessment, what surprises me is that a) he rarely talks about his players in such terms as “completely lost confidence” b) he always dismisses the effect of the social media.
The fact Arsene cites both as key factors makes me think the problem is not him, but Jenko himself. Giroud has been hammered for as long as he’s been at Arsenal, Walcott needed selling just 4 months ago, Gabriel has been dubbed incompetent for large swathes of last season and on the list goes. Yet Arsene never talked about any of these players this way and never dropped any of them.
Criticising the players is fine, abusing them directly is not, but that’s the world we live in. Most of our players go through it and somehow do not crumble, do not lose confidence and do not get dropped. If Jenko is such a sensitive soul he can’t distance himself from a bunch of morons on Twitter, then it appears he has a very serious psychological barrier, as well as a possible quality one.
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What struck me when I looked at the team sheets, was an obvious lack of good players at West Ham, with all due respect to those who played. Of the team which looked very formidable just in April this year, only Reid, Ogbonna, Lanzini, Noble and Payet started the game. No Antonio, Cresswell, Carroll, or even Adrian in goal.
West Ham are paying a heavy price for having a bunch of injured players. They are better than yesterday suggested. They shouldn’t be a candidate for relegation. Yet here they are.
That’s not to diminish our effort. Nor the absolutely brilliant solo performance of Alexis Sanchez. A mere demonstration of what a run of bad results and a slew of injured players can do to the team’s confidence.
Mercifully, West Ham’s travails are not our problem. Ours is closing the gap on the top, and the emphatic win over the Hammers moved us into second, at least temporarily. Which is a nice place to be in after a rocky November.
I’ll sign off at that. Take care, and see you in a week’s time.