Finally. A league win. Some good football played after the opener. A clean sheet. Seems like an eternity since Arsenal have combined all of the above.
A lot of stuff to discuss, so I’ll just crack on.
A tale of two parts
No, not halves. Although Arsene’s men visibly cranked up the pressure after the restart, it was Mesut Ozil’s goal in the 58th minute that opened the floodgates. The goal came in the form of a beautifully-curved long shot after the German got fed up with his teammates’ indecisiveness and just let fly.
10 minutes later Walcott put another one into the back of the net, following a sublime Alexis – Ozil interchange. Seconds after Bellerin wasted a golden chance to put us three up, after the Chilean found our fullback with a delicious dink. However the substitute Ollie Giroud finished the job six minutes from time by curving another shot past a hapless Randolph.
The important thing to note here is how quickly Arsenal gained in confidence and stature after breaking the deadlock. Suddenly West Ham couldn’t keep up with the pace, the one-twos started to come off and the men in red-and-white looked a coherent unit.
The result was the most joyous half an hour of football I’ve seen in a long time, the goals were a mere by-product of a much-improved performance.
Martinez did indeed come in for the injured Ospina (Big Dave wasn’t even on the bench), Wenger threw up a surprise in midfield by starting Elneny, while Welbeck retained his spot up front.
However the bit I’m most pleased about was the courageous and extremely assured showing from our centre-back pairing for the day: Mustafi and Gabriel. I owe them both an apology, as I thought this duo was a recipe for disaster against an in-form Andy Carroll.
But our centre-backs did a magnificent job. Both were quick on their feet to intercept passes coming to Carroll, and backed each other up when it came to aerial duels. Monreal also did his fair bit from the left, as Carroll began to drift to the wings in search of space.
The effort of our back line was so commendable Carroll was taken off on the hour without doing anything of note. Unless you count that shot Monreal blocked.
Based on this I’m assuming Mertesacker will have to wait a little longer to get playing time. I’m perfectly fine with that if it comes as a result of high levels of competitions, with his counterparts proving their worth.
A word on Emi Martinez. If you are a regular reader of my pieces, you know I rate the Argentinian highly. Yesterday he didn’t have much of a chance to shine (another thing I’m fine with), however I still think he played an important role. Martinez, unlike Ospina, exudes an air of calmness without being cocky. In this regard he is close to Petr Cech.
While I don’t think Wenger will reward Martinez with a start on Monday if either of our goalkeepers recover, I’m all for giving Emi more playing time next season. He can become a great goalkeeper indeed.
Mesut Ozil makes us better
Who would have thought, eh? Jokes aside, I think our improvement in the final third has been evident yesterday. Mesut Ozil was at the heart of it, creating five chances, completing the most attacking third passes and scoring a crucial goal with a sublime effort.
He also rediscovered his early-season knack of making surging runs into the box and was closest to goal on a number of occasions. Finally, in a bit of a twist, Ozil was third in recoveries with eight and I think that reflects his desire to track back and help out partners.
More than once I noticed how he sprinted back to cover for one of Xhaka/Elneny or drifted to the wings to press. That’s admirable from Mesut. I know defending isn’t his forte and will never be, however when he tries hard like that it’s worth praising. It pays off handsomely for the team too. Hope he keeps that up in the remaining games. As we’ve now seen, he can be more useful in getting the ball back.
Danny Welbeck continues to worry
Welbz started his third game up front and we can now become officially worried as to why he’s not performing.
His two horrendous misses aside, what causes me most grief is the evident lack of pace from Danny. He somehow became more rigid, less mobile, less quick on his feet. Welbeck’s sprinter qualities always set him apart and made him a threat.
What I’m seeing now has me concerned. I hope the tacticians chime in and say stuff like ‘but Welbeck was highly useful in stretching the defence” or “pushing the defense back” or “making decoy runs to free up space for others”, but as it stands, even Ollie Giroud made a more meaningful contribution in the last three games than Danny Welbeck.
If Welbeck can no longer offer us the searing pace, I’m not sure why he should start over the Frenchman. Ollie at his worst brings others into play by clever flicks, Ollie at his best a threat in the box both on the ground and in the air. His goal today was absolutely gorgeous, a piece of art.
If Arsene wants a mobile striker up front, he can move Alexis there. Or he give Perez minutes (ha!) If Arsene a presence in the box, he should play Giroud. At the moment Welbeck is neither here nor there and, while I rate him highly, I do not think it is reasonable to continue giving him starts on current form.
Martin Atkinson is still an insufferable, incompetent twat. Martin Twatkinson
This is fast becoming an integral part of my reviews. Every time Martin Atkinson referees one of our games he is simply appalling. Mike Dean levels of appalling. Absolutely horrendous, inept beyond words.
Today he made a number of wrong calls, however what I will remember is three (!) penalties denied. Walcott was shoved out of the way by Collins, Monreal was scythed down twice. That last instance was so obvious even the commentator, who has proved the champion of fence-sitting and generally dislikes Arsenal, said in simple terms Atkinson made a bollix of it.
That aside Atkinson still has a lot to account for. The episode right before he booked Mustafi, or the fact Byram behaved like a thug the entire game and only got a yellow late on. Every match day I think the refereeing can’t possibly get any worse, and every time it somehow does.
However at this point Atkinson not only looks like an incompetent referee, he appears to be one with a grudge against Arsenal. One can only wonder how he restrained himself from cancelling our opener because Sanchez was close to the ball. Inexplicable refereeing.
The last word
The win takes us to fifth courtesy of United dropping points on Tuesday and it, couple with City losing to Chelsea and Pool sharing the spoils with Bournemouth, means we are within touching distance from the top four.
In simple terms we are four points behind City with a game in hand, and six behind Pool with two games in hand. That is good news.
What cheers me up more though, is our much-improved second-half showing. Yes, it was against a pretty hapless West Ham, but still we found some inner resources to improve. Well done on that front.
Back with you soon to preview a visit to Selhurst Park.
Until then. Enjoy the rest of the week.