Arsene Wenger was once asked what is his ultimate goal in football. He responded with that:
“You strive for perfection. And when you reach these moments, even for 5 minutes, they stay in your memory forever.”
Yesterday, the Gunners managed to squeeze the perfection period in even less – just 4 minutes, from 67:44 to 71:44, from Giroud to Ozil. It was as if Arsene’s team was mocking their manager slightly – but I’m sure none of us, the veteran Frenchman included, minded that. In fact, we’d all like to see this every game.
Yesterday, for a brief spell, our football transcended sport and became art, if I’m to borrow another Arsene’s phrase. The Gunners, riding high on a wave of confidence, became unplayable in the most literal sense of the word. I enjoyed this immensely, as I’m certain everyone who witnessed the destruction of Huddersfield did.
Let’s get out teeth into this delicious helping of Arsenal’s best football this season.
Arsene only made one change to the team which ground out a win at the weekend – in came the majestic Ozil for Alex Iwobi. It was arguably the only change the Frenchman could make if he wanted to strengthen the team.
This might not seem like a big deal, even logical on many levels: you play your best team to stand the best chance of winning. However a quick look across the board showed few managers shared Wenger’s holistic approach: wholesale changes were made by Guardiola, Conte and Klopp, to name a few. Such players as David Silva, Raheem Sterling, Eden Hazard, Cesar Azpilicueta and Mohamed Salah were delegated to the bench, while Leroy Sane was omitted altogether.
So I think Wenger deserves credit for playing his strongest side and achieving such a confidence-boosting win ahead of the weekend’s clash against United.
The opening hour … or so
We started off in the brightest manner possible. A quick exchange on the edge of the box involving Ramsey, Ozil and Lacazette saw the former put the latter through with a beautiful heel flick and our leading scorer made no mistake. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
After that we tailed off somewhat, definitely for the remainder of the first half. Some sloppiness crept into our game: a few of Xhaka’s careless passed were seized upon, Koscielny’s arrogant flick was intercepted at the edge of our box and then Monreal left us exposed by charging forward and losing the ball.
This didn’t escape Arsene Wenger’s attention:
“I felt that I was not pleased with everything, but we started well and I think after that we slowly lot a bit of our edge, the urgency in our game and a little bit as well in the second half we gave them one or two chances.
“I’m convinced that we played with a bit of fear at one-nil at some stage because we didn’t play with the freedom, the passes didn’t come early enough. We played a bit inhibited and when we scored the second goal everybody was suddenly had more movement and passed the ball quicker.”
We were treading dangerous waters, and had Cech to thank for an exemplary save in the second half and Koscielny for an outstanding block in the first. Mercifully, we sprang into life soon. Owing in large part to the performance of one man…
After the game, Tim Stillman hit the nail on the head by encapsulating the Mesut Ozil conundrum in one tweet:
He nearly always passes the numbers test, but when he passes the ‘eye’ test too, he’s unplayable.
— Tim Stillman (@Stillberto) November 29, 2017
Yesterday Mesut Ozil was the fulcrum of our team, he was at the centre of everything good created by the Gunners. He directly assisted two goals (one with his weaker foot!), scored a chipped volley himself, took active part in our opener and then our last goal.
The German was certainly on his game in the attacking ⅓, but Arsene Wenger waxed lyrical about a less glamorous part of Ozil’s game too:
“He added something that people wanted to see from him as well, against Spurs and tonight, that he can fight and come back and win the ball back. Once people see that they are behind you, everybody knows in the stadium that he is a good football player and at the moment he shows that he can fight.”
Ozil was a pleasure to watch in both games, he had an immense impact and once again he showcased the qualities no one else in this team has. I have almost given up hope he will stay beyond next summer, but games like these make me want to plead with anyone and everyone who can change his mind.
But we also shouldn’t forget about Aaron Ramsey
Ramsey has become our mainstay this season. There were suggestions he merits a rest before yesterday’s game, and it’s hard to disagree looking at his minutes: on 9 occasions he completed the full 90, and only once was the Welshman omitted entirely: Watford away. I think that was because of a knock.
For a player with a long track record of calf and hamstring injuries, especially since his game can easily be called the high-energy type, that’s a lot of minutes. But yesterday he started again, and God am I happy he did.
The Welshman matched Ozil’s tally of assists (2), by teeing up Lacazette and then the German himself and he looked much more assured and aware in his runs. This perhaps comes from the fact we play three front-footed defenders at the back, who are yet to concede this season when fielded together.
Ramsey’s two assists take his tally for the season to 7 – only Silva and KdB have more, at 8 apiece. Yes, Ozil has fewer assists than Ramsey! This goes to show Aaron’s rekindled fire, which, combined with better discipline, makes him undroppable, and unstoppable.
A Lacazette worry
The Frenchman was once again subbed off for his elder counterpart, but this time after just 45 minutes. I thought Alexandre was just given time off during a packed schedule – something Wenger talked about before the game, however I was wrong. Our main man suffered a groin injury, one which rules him out for the Saturday game and might keep him sidelined ‘for a while’, according to our manager.
Suffice to say this has me worried. Yesterday Lacazette showed once again why he is so important by just doing his job – putting the ball into the back of the net. No fuss. He just ran into space, received the ball, took a touch, looked up and powered his shot past Lossl.
We don’t have anyone as prolific or deadly, and I don’t like at all it is United we are facing without our number 9. However, it opens up the door for Olivier Giroud – who got a brace yesterday – and Danny Welbeck, who loves playing against his former club.
I’d say Giroud deserves the nod for the foreseeable future for several reasons:
- He is good against teams parking the bus, as undoubtedly Mourinho will do. Ollie is good in and around the box with his deft touches, physique and aerial prowess
- He scored twice of the bench yesterday to beat Cantona’s goal record in 40 fewer games. He might not now this bit of trivia, but he is definitely pumped up after a brace
- He was our main striker for 5 years and is the first player Arsene turns to when Lacazette needs a breather. What message will it send to Ollie if Laca is out, but he’s still not picked, especially after scoring twice?
However in essence, this a topic for the Saturday’s preview. By that time we might get some more insight into Wenger’s thinking too.
The last word
This emphatic win allows us to remain 4th – a point behind Chelsea and 4 behind United. It also creates a gap on Spurs … but it seems almost funny to talk about Spurs when both Liverpool and Burnley are above them. Poch’s men are closer to Watford than us, so why bother?
The main thing here is the confidence boost such a win provides, and the fact it allows us to keep pace with the second team in the table. Win on Saturday and suddenly we are a point behind with an easier run, while Jose’s men host Manchester City.
But above all … yesterday we saw something special. In that sense it is a shame our next game comes so soon, as it precludes us from fully appreciating the manner of our win. It is not that often we kick into such high gear and tear teams apart these days.
So savour those fleeting moments for the next couple of days. It was a fantastic win, during which perfection was achieved.