I have been quiet in recent weeks because frankly, it is hard to find anything new to say about Arsenal. We are roughly in the same position at this stage of the season that we always are. In the top four, challenging weakly to win the Premiership whilst having to keep an eye out for the teams behind us who are challenging us much more seriously for the places in the top four.
The team has played well at times but badly at other times often in games we would expect them to win. Dropped points since we destroyed Chelsea 3-0 have probably put paid to our chance of being champions so my expectations are that we may finish second and for once, we will beat Bayern and progress into the later stages of the Championship. Why do I have these expectations?
The game against Southampton has encouraged me. I am aware that we faced a team with 10 changes from their last match and many of those changes were academy players, but Southampton, over the last decade or so have had a conveyor belt of first-rate youngsters coming through. I doubt if any club has produced more. We fielded two of them in Walcott and Ox with Chambers out on loan. We also brought out some of our youngsters in Holding, Miles and Adelaide, with Iwobi coming off the bench.
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The outcome of the match was far more than we expected but it was not just the score that enthused me but way in which it was achieved. It also suggested we might well cement our status as the leading scorers in the premiership. Danny Welbeck was back at last, in the starting team and Theo was back after yet another injury. Many of the papers on Saturday morning had Coquelin and Chamberlain as our holding midfielders and when I saw young Miles in the starting line-up, I wondered where our defensive cover was coming from. I needn`t have worried. Mustafi kept himself in a central position and he covered well with Holding, who continues to impress. Bellerin was slightly more defensive than usual and Gibbs was solid on the other side.
The Ox was awesome and for me this was his best game in an Arsenal shirt. He supported the forwards, he covered the gaps in midfield and he delivered passes that caused the BT commentator to remark that “if it had been Ozil making those passes everyone would have been raving about them”. Miles was outstandingly mature in the way he disciplined himself to snap up the ball in our defensive areas and without fuss, to play it upfield. There was little evidence of the defensive panic we have seen in recent matches.
From the kick-off we moved with speed and purpose. Wellbeck everywhere, dragging defenders out of their comfort zone and creating spaces and opportunities for the likes of Walcott to exploit. His touch was superb and he was a constant threat that the young Southampton Defenders could not handle. The speed of the game only relented after the first hour when the effectively the game was over as a contest. Perez was really intelligent with some of his play; he hardly wasted a pass and was always instrumental in causing panic by linking with almost everyone in our forward line. He was an example of not over-elaborating when he got the ball and it all added up to such an improvement in our quality and speed of play.
Walcott was lethal and I am glad to see that he has resumed his keenness to chase the ball and go for goal at the earliest opportunity. That terrifies defenders. Alexis is proof of that.
I am aware that our next matches against Chelsea and Bayern will be much different. We will not have the open spaces to play into that Southampton`s inexperienced kids allowed us, but I am encouraged that we now have an element of speed about us. That could be invaluable against Chelsea`s back three. I can see Luiz and Cahill struggling with that. As far as I am aware, Bayern are in a bit of a transition and that same speed will be a problem for them. If we can win both of those games, our season can be transformed. Our curse of imploding at this time of year can be put to bed and we can all look forward to some glorious days ahead.
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.