I think the only appropriate place to start this report is to apologise for something I said after we lost to Tottenham:
“And barring four wins in five remaining games, our total this season won’t be better than in 2016. Want a bet we won’t amass 12+ points before the end of May?”
I hold my hands up. I was in a lousy mood and I truly couldn’t see Arsenal beating all of United, Southampton and Stoke. These are excuses, of course, for it is not the first time I’ve shown a lack of faith in this team. So my sincere apologies. Having watched Arsenal long enough, I should know better than to write the Gunners off.
Of the three sides we’ve beaten inside just one week, it was Hughes’ side I feared the most. Simply because of our atrocious record at the
Britannia Bet365 stadium. They have a team full of unpleasant people, like Shawcross, Adam and Crouch, and they seem intent in dealing out maximum damage to the Gunners. If they can’t do it by scoring more goals inside the 90 minutes, they resort to ugly fouls on our players. All this shithousery is abetted by their manager, supported by their fans, and ignored by matchday referees.
It was true yet again today, so it was all the more satisfying to thoroughly beat the Potters in the only metric that matters: goals scored. It was a deserved win for the Arsene Wenger’s men too. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of it.
Changes to the side
Wenger made 4 changes to the team which ran out winners at St Mary’s. Bellerin came in for the injured Ox (and notched two assists!), Coquelin was picked over Ramsey for a little more defensive security, Giroud displaced Welbeck (and notched two goals!) and, finally, Koscielny returned in place of Gibbs, ousting Monreal to the left.
First of all, I’m over the moon Wenger finally played a three of Holding, Mustafi and Koscielny at the back. These are arguably our best central defenders and all of them had very convincing performances of late. The bonus, which helped add thrust to that left wing, was the marauding Nacho. The Spaniard was exceptional in the first half, his runs creating our best moments, and he was very unlucky not to score another goal on 17 minutes after his header hit the post.
On the other side Bellerin had a somewhat quieter game, though his stats were pretty solid in the end. The Spaniard misplaced just 5 of his 49 attempted passes, and got himself two assists. We missed Oxlade’s impetus, but I’m not inclined to bash Hector for what was far from a bad performance. Plus, Bellerin’s defensive sluggishness on a couple of occasions allowed us to enjoy Holding’s yet another mature performance.
Olivier Giroud still has a trick or two up his sleeve
Ollie was pretty ineffective for 41 minutes of the first half. He was slow, static, and predictable. It is clear both him and Danny Welbeck, who came on late in the game, are still figuring out how to make themselves useful in this formation.
However on minute 42 Coquelin threaded a fine pass to Bellerin, Hector squared it across goal, and Giroud was there to tap it in. Simple? The finish was, but Giroud still has something few in this team possess: penalty box awareness. Ollie is a brilliant poacher. He is not technical like Alexis (though the Frenchman certainly has more finesse than you would expect from a guy his size) and he is not a runner like Welbeck. What he is, though, is a cool near-post finisher and a brilliant header of the ball. Our №12 showcased the latter on Wednesday, yesterday he demonstrated the former twice.
These were the only two shots Giroud took. They proved more than enough to give the manager a proper selection headache for the Sunderland game.
Even when Sanchez is dead, he is not dead
I stand by what I said: Alexis’ best position is centre-forward. Simply because of his proximity to goal. However it does not mean he is totally ineffective elsewhere, something he proved yet again today.
On 71st minute Alexis was fouled out wide. He limped around for a couple of minutes, then asked for a substitution. And then he scored. Arsenal worked the ball to the right, Bellerin cut off a couple of defenders to find Alexis in space, and the Chilean’s low shot crept into the far corner.
It was the last thing Alexis did, with Ramsey coming on straight after. But it showed yet again the immense willpower Sanchez possesses. Even an injury couldn’t stop him from giving his all. He can be a frustrating player, yes, but he comes up with moments of magic almost every game to compensate for that. His contribution this season has been monumental and we’ll be very hard pressed to replace such output should the Chilean leave in the summer.
Have we found Ramsey his best position in this set-up?
It was interesting to see Aaron come on for Alexis. Not Welbeck, not Iwobi perhaps, but Ramsey. He played in the second ten position for the remainder of the match and has been hugely effective.
The Welshman’s first action upon being subbed on was to cut inside and make Butland go full-stretch with a low drive. Aaron proceeded to terrorize a tiring Stoke defence with his runs, and eventually got an assist for his trouble.
What I liked most is that Ramsey looked completely comfortable in this position, inspired even. He knew he had eight players behind him to put in a defensive shift and this realization allowed Aaron to play with freedom. The result being a very impressive outing. It will be interesting to see in what capacity Ramsey plays on Tuesday. Probably he’ll be reinstated alongside Xhaka, we don’t need to be quite so cautious against Sunderland at home, but I do wonder whether what we saw yesterday was a contingency plan in case of Alexis’ summer departure.
The last word
The win allows us to tiptoe right behind Liverpool. We are a mere point behind now, with exactly the same goal difference. Should Klopp’s men drop points today, we’ll be in the driving seat, another win putting us in control.
We’ve done a lion’s share of the work though. Like I said, I didn’t expect us to get through this week unscathed and, while we’ll still have only ourselves to blame should Pool finish higher, it’ll be a tremendous shame. It’ll be heartbreaking to be so tantalisingly close and yet fall short by a smidgen, especially after the week we’ve had.
Hopefully it won’t happen. So come on you Hammers.
For now, though, bask in the glory of this win and the fact it left so many orcs unhappy.
Back here to look ahead for the Sunderland game.
P.S. Lovely goal from Mesut Ozil. Piece of art.
P.P.S. All edits credit to @TheArsenalLens