When Arsenal’s squad was announced I had only one thing to say: this is either a masterstroke and we’ll win convincingly, or it’s a huge mistake and we’ll screw up completely. (That is 2 things 🙂 )There was reason enough to worry: Arsene made 10 changes to the side which narrowly beaten Burnley on Sunday, with only Mustafi keeping his place. While changes to the back four and front three were foreseeable, the midfield trio left me baffled, as it consisted of AMN, Ox and Jeff.
Thankfully, I needn’t have worried. Not only did we win the game by an astonishing margin, the abovementioned trio was absolutely magnificent. Each of them can stake a claim to be MoM. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of it.
Welbeck’s grand return
Though yesterday was Danny’s fourth appearance since his return, the first one actually coming in the 3rd round of the FA Cup, it was the Englishman’s first start. Boy did he deliver.
Welbz opened the scoring on the quarter-hour, after a delightful one-touch pass from Perez set him up. However the finish was just as delightful: a composed chip which went in off the crossbar. Fantastic level of composure from a player surely craving to get his first after a return.
The second followed just seven minutes later, after Oxlade’s brilliant over-the-top defense-splitting pass found Welbeck running off the shoulder of Stephens. Danny took one touch to control the ball and direct it away from the keeper and then slid it in gracefully.
The Englishman also notched an assist in the 36th minute, when his cutback found Walcott for a tap-in. However while Danny’s direct involvement in three of our five goals makes him my MoM, his overall contribution goes beyond just the numbers. Welbeck’s workrate, movement, drifting to the channels to confuse the defense were all top notch. He has had an outstanding game which hopefully signals his return to full fitness and increases our chances of seeing him more often.
A coffee break worth enduring
Since his game against Manchester City on the December 18th, Theo Walcott hasn’t played once. His “matter of days” injury kept the Englishman sidelined for six games, or 42 days, if you like. Six weeks of football missed.
But Theo couldn’t have made a grander return. Not only did he start straight after an injury lay-off and stayed on for the entire 90 minutes, he scored three goals. His overall tally for the Gunners now reads “99”, so the next time Theo bangs one in, he’ll join the century club.
I was also impressed with Theo’s tracking back. At one point McQueen (I think) had a clear sight of goal, only to miscontrol the ball a little and Theo was there, near the six-yard box to make a clearance. That summed his desire to help out defensively best.
Hilariously, Theo attempted just 12 passes in the entire game, completing just six. On another occasion I would say “that’s classic Theo for you”, but as I noted above, he’s willinging to do the dirty work, which doesn’t fall into the category “classic Theo”.
The double-barrelled midfield is the surprise package
While I can’t find an Arsenal player whose contribution in the game I’m displeased with, our midfield trio stood out for me. As a unit and as individuals. Simple because you can with a bit of imagination predict Welbeck’s masterclass, or even Theo’s hat-trick, but I couldn’t expect such a mature performance from three players with either little experience at this level, or little experience in this position.
Yet it was exactly what I’ve been delivered. Ainsley-Maitland Niles proved our top passer with 79 attempted at a 90% accuracy, while scoring highest in several defensive indicators. Jeff Reine-Adelaide duly contributed further up, albeit with no instant unrivalled numbers. Meanwhile Oxlade-Chamberlain had a stormer of a performance, finishing the game with an assist, the most key passes (3), the highest passing accuracy (91%) and a plethora of accurate long- and through balls to his name. In short, he demonstrated a fantastic range of passing, similar to that of Xhaka. Enough to make you think central midfield should be his position in the longer term, and maybe even right now, in the absence of Xhaka.
Lucas Perez impresses once again
Honestly, we had a terrific front three yesterday. Right before Sanchez came on I tweeted “the front three is so good, I’m not even sure where Alexis Sanchez comes in”. The Chilean was subbed on for Danny Welbeck seconds later and clocked two assists to his name to become the fourth attacking player in the game to make a meaty contribution.
The other three being, naturally, Welbeck, Walcott and Perez. The Spaniard I kept quiet about up until now, but only because he deserved his own section in this review. Lucas just looks a hell of a signing. He provided an assist for our opener, his clever pass freed Welbeck down the left for the third goal and he should have scored himself from the one-on-one late in the game. Lucas may not be a player who stands out and draws attention to himself the way Sanchez does, however he is without doubt a clever and motivated player, who is highly efficient in the final ⅓. I do hope Arsene manages to squeeze the Spaniard in somewhere despite the monstrous competition for places. He just looks too good to be wasted on the bench.
The last word
Albeit this was a win over a second-string Southampton side, it was still immensely enjoyable. It alleviated the fears of our depleted central midfield somewhat, showed we have an array of top class forwards and banished the ghosts of playing at St. Mary’s. Goes without saying the win also ensured safe passage into round 5 of the FA Cup.
All in all, a pleasant evening all around. Hoped you all enjoyed it as much as I did.
I’ll try to cover our Watford game if I don’t have too much on my plate in midweek. If I do, then expect me back for our clash vs Chelsea.
Until then and take care and one final thought – Walcott, Alexis, Welbeck? WAW!!
P.S. Rob Holding is class