When I sat down to write this review it suddenly hit me I cannot recall the last time I wrote about an Arsenal win. I went ahead and checked … It was on December 29, a 3-2 win over Palace.
Now, admittedly, it’s partially my fault. I couldn’t cover the win over Chelsea in semis, as I was airborne, while wins over Palace and Everton happened with me on holiday. We have also won just this week, at San Siro, but I was out with a cold.
While it may seem like I’m driving at the fact we are not winning nearly often enough (which we aren’t, by the way), I’m actually just happy I have a bunch of positive things to write home about. No more dissecting exactly why, or how much, shit we were. It’s refreshing.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
A look at the team sheet duly informed me Wenger now treats the Prem as he did the Europa League earlier in the season. I think the only reason some of our senior heads, like Xhaka and Ozil, played, was down to sheer lack of options in certain areas.
Our back four was 100% second-string after Mustafi went off on 70 minutes, Elneny came in for Ramsey and Wilshere was spotted on the bench. Monreal and Bellerin supported the team from the stands and for a fleeting moment I hoped Welbeck was with them… Alas, Danny made the bench.
However the rotated squad didn’t seem to have much of an effect on our overall performance. This much became apparent when Ozil put Aubameyang clean through in the 3rd minute, only for Karnezis to save Auba’s shot.
We didn’t toil away for too long though. 4 minutes later Mustafi’s guided headed shot rippled the net after Ozil’s cross picked the German out from a free-kick. Deep into the second half Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan took turns to upset Karnezis, assisting one another for the 2nd and 3rd goals respectively.
However our performance was far from complete, something the scoreline does well to hide. Watford had a slew of chances between our first and second, and we had Cech to thank for keeping our goal intact.
His long barren run has been well-documented over the last couple of weeks. Arsenal failed to keep a clean in 11 consecutive games, depriving their shot stopper of an opportunity to get his 200th shutout in the league.
I remember him giving an interview back in December (!), on how nice it would be to get to this milestone against Liverpool. Obviously this looked laughable after that crazy 3-3, but I think few expected Cech to only get the clean sheet in March.
Yesterday Cech finally managed to get this out of his system, and in some style too. His record looked under threat the most when AMN brought down some Watford bloke inside the penalty area minutes after we scored our second.
Atkinson pointed to the spot, Deeney stepped up, with a chance to get Watford back in the game and … shot right down the middle. Cech, who half-heartedly committed to his right, got enough on the effort to palm it away. It was 16th time lucky for Petr, whose last saved penalty happened against Fulham in 2011, in Chelsea colours.
But the penalty save, however important, (and massively satisfying too, because of the identity of the taker), was not the only stop Cech made all game. Some of his blocks at 1-0 were just as important, if not more, while he also displayed the usual calmness on crosses.
While I still think Cech’s story at Arsenal should be drawing to a close, it was an exceptional day in the office for him, and for now we can just be happy with that.
Once our star striker raced on goal in the 3rd minute only to see his shot parried, he always looked nailed on to score. So I was not surprised when his Borussia pal Mkhitaryan released the Gabonese international on the hour to slot past hapless Karnezis.
However these were not the only two moments Auba had all game. He narrowly missed Kolasinac’s cross during the first half and then, 8 minutes after scoring himself, returned the favour to Miki by means of a lay-off. Our №14 was in a decent position himself, but recognised Miki was even better-placed to capitalize on a good move.
I think this performance well and truly sets Aubameyang on his way with Arsenal. The goal on his debut, and even the one last weekend, while nice, were just about the entirety of his contribution so far. Cup tied for Europa League, part of a squad which lost to Spurs and City, Pierre struggled to impose himself since his January move.
Now, however, he looks to have broken that barrier with a very good performance indeed. I expect him to go from strength to strength in the remaining league games, and his instant understanding of how Ozil and Mkhitaryan operate looks promising.
I really didn’t want to talk about the negative bits today, but it’s a relatively small thing in the grand scheme regardless.
I’m at a point where I’m really worried we might have overestimated Iwobi’s potential, or his return on it. The Nigerian international looked completely off the pace again, slow and erratic off the ball and headless off it. We all know he is capable of better, and I can understand Wenger wants a dribbler in a team full of passers, but Iwobi was, frankly, shambolic.
I do realise our bench is quite short at the moment, and Lacazette’s imminent return is not about to solve it. However at this stage I’d rather Wenger give the minutes to someone else, Nelson comes to mind first. He can have Wilshere in this dribbler role for Europa League and rotate with Nelson, who is clearly talented, for the Prem.
I’m not sure where we go from here with Iwobi though. His confidence looks at an all-time low and the only solution I can think of is loaning him out for the next season. He is a talent I’d like to keep in the longer term, and cries of “the worst player at Arsenal” are far-fetched and hysterical, but at the moment he doesn’t look a world-beater. Playing him through this bad patch didn’t seem to help either.
The last word
It’s nice to finally be able to write about a win. A resounding one, with a clean sheet. It doesn’t matter much in terms of the table, we are unlikely to catch even Chelsea as it stands, but some momentum ahead of Europa League is much needed.
I don’t think it’s possible to play like garbage in the league only to four days later rise like a phoenix from the ashes for the Europa games. If we go past Milan, the opposition is likely to get even trickier, I’m fearing Atletico Madrid at present. We will need to be as ready as can be for such an occasion.
For now though, we can just bask in the sun for a couple of days. Hopefully we’ll put in a performance against Milan too, to leave for the international break in festive spirits.
I’ll be back with you for the return leg this Thursday.