Well, that was fun, wasn’t it? Just when the game seemed to have settled into a calm pattern of Arsenal keeping Burnley at arm’s length whilst 1-0 up, Granit Xhaka and Jonathan Dross injected a little variety into the proceedings. The inevitable rollercoaster followed, but, mercifully, we managed to come out on top, if only just. Let’s start at the beginning, though.
An unchanged side
I predicted one change, Bellerin for Gabriel, but even that didn’t transpire. However I don’t think we can have any complaints – everyone did their bit and did it well (barring a certain midfielder I’ll get to below). Gabriel, as a matter of fact, looked quite impressive in a position still mostly unfamiliar for him.
Everyone else did what was expected of him, more-or-less. Alexis was a bit too wasteful for my liking, while his non-existent link-up with Giroud remains a worry, but on the bright side, the Chilean did score a massively important goal at a crucial time. Also, I thought Ramsey upped his game, adding efficiency in his passing and overall decision-making. Fewer flicks, more end product and hair back to normal. Keep that up, Aaron.
He was extremely useful right up to getting sent off. When Dross whipped out the red card I was stunned: the foul didn’t look that bad even without the benefit of replays. I thought Dross was consulting the lino on whether he should give a yellow or just call a foul.
The replays did little to convince me Dross was right, so I’ll be calling him that from here on out. Xhaka’s lunge was stupid and unnecessary, however it wasn’t remotely as dangerous as Defour made it look like. Worth noting it’s the second time Dross sends off Xhaka.
That does leave us without the Swiss for four games, as I don’t think we’ll be appealing that, particularly as Wenger has warned the player to control his game. He’ll miss games against Watford, Southampton, Hull and Chelsea. While I’m hopeful we can still get the results against the former three in Xhaka’s absence, Conte’s Chelsea is another thing entirely. The Coquelin – Ramsey pivot hasn’t proved to be functional and an unsettled midfield is something Chelsea are more than capable of exploiting.
This is the part where I once again bemoan Wilshere’s absence. All it took was Cazorla’s injury and Xhaka’s suspension and wham! We are out of options. Having Elneny wouldn’t have made a big difference in my opinion, as he doesn’t seem a player as capable of dictating play as any of Jack, Granit or Santi. We don’t even have Calum Chambers, who at one point did quite well alongside Aaron Ramsey.
I’ll just pray to the heavens the Coquelin – Ramsey pivot keeps us afloat, but the harsh reality is that I don’t think we can win a battle at Stamford Bridge with it, and we need to do just that to have a chance of a title.
Alexis Sanchez shows nerves of steel
The jubilation of us getting a late penalty quickly turned to dread as it dawned on me we had neither Santi Cazorla, nor Olivier Giroud on the pitch. Xhaka was sent off, Ozil subbed (not like they are good penalty takers anyway), so we were left with a choice of Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez. In theory we also had Danny Welbeck, but I just don’t remember him taking any penalties and it would have been unfair to entrust a player just back from injury such a task.
At first it looked like Ramsey was ready to take it, but then Alexis shooed him away and I had to suppress an urge of not looking. Sanchez never scored a pen for us and the two I remember his trying were quite horrendous misses too. However before my jangling nerves reached breaking point, Alexis ran up to the ball and dinked it over Heaton’s legs, right down the middle.
Now, that is a remarkable feat. It was calmness personified and whilst Alexis’ overall contribution left something to be desired, he got us the winning goal under a lot of pressure. He deserves all the praise for that.
The last word
This nerve-wracking win elevated us to second in the table, which is a nice place to be in after two consecutive losses in December and that 3-3 draw vs Bournemouth. Chelsea has beaten Hull to stay eight points ahead, but there’s nothing we can do about that. Conte’s men face Liverpool at Anfield next, before hosting us, so let’s hope come 14:30 on February 4th we are just two or three points behind. It’s not impossible. I am not sure what impact this importnat win has had on the Premier League betting but this weekend will have shortened Arsenal’s odds in the among the chasing pack.
I’ll sign off at that. Have a good week and I’ll be back on here to preview our cup visit to St. Mary’s. Oh and by the way well done to Mustafi
Take care all and thanks for reading.