We all know that the biggest weakness in our team for the last few years was the sieve of a defence that could not stop leaking goals. We also played tippy tappy football around the opposition box and there was a general lack of confidence throughout the squad.
Unai Emery has noticeably tightened the defence and Mustafi for one, seems to have switched on to his responsibility to defend. At first, for the first 3 or 4 games, I could not discern any shape to the team. We were still open at the back but Lacazette and Welbeck were playing with more directness and Welbeck in particular capitalised in what he does best. He is not smooth like Henry or Pirez in the way that he controls the ball and then run almost as smooth as liquid over the ground, He does not have a great first touch but he takes off like a greyhound and he has one aim and that is to eat up ground and terrify full backs. he has done that.
Lacazette for some reason kept being subbed and Aubamayang was also only getting less than expected minutes on the field. Bellerin has settled into a more guarded role of defending the right flank and bolting upfield with purpose rather than reckless abandon. Xhaka has been an ever-present and I can see why. Emery obviously trusts him but he is not afraid to drop anyone – Ozil and Ramsey take note! The result is that he actually runs all over the place. At one time on Saturday he ran towards Fulham’s right back to challenge him for the ball and he passed it to his keeper. Xhaka ran after the ball and when the keeper passed it to his right back, he still kept up the chase and only stopped when it was booted upfield.
I have not been a great supporter of Xhaka in recent times, but one thing he does have is a talent for picking long passes with great accuracy. That talent was curbed lately because our midfield was either overrun by speedy counter-attacks or because the defence needed to be shored up. Xhaka didn`t get the time that he needs to plan his move and he is just a bit slow to turn. Nowadays, with the addition of the little Uruguayan tank along with either Mik, Ramsey, or our new French teenage sensation Guendouzi alongside him, the options to attack in confidence have magnified.
There is a plan taking shape; Aubamayang and Lacazzette are working in tandem. Welbeck is still marauding up the wing and he is creating space for our two hit-men. Lacazette is brilliant at link play and he is providing almost as many assists as he is goals. Monreal is his usual Mr. consistency and Sokratis is solid. The stability at the back has allowed Holding to fill in when injuries occur and I can see a definite improvement in the defence. The improved possession in midfield and attack and the willingness for the forwards to chase lost balls means there is less panic at the back. I was delighted to hear the crowd roaring “We have got our Arsenal back”. Not quite but we are getting there. All of our play leading to the goals was a treat for the eyes and I cannot end without mentioning Ramsey.
The goal he scored was something that we thought we would never see again. He did not have a warm up. He came on abruptly and in the space of 38 seconds he controlled the ball and ran forward with it, passed back to Bellerin and ran for a return. he was in full stride when he got the ball at head height and headed it inwards to Mkhi and then made a beeline for the penalty box. The ball came to him from Welbeck at knee height and there was a defender alongside him. He ran slightly past the ball as it reached him and the defender did the same. The strike was deadly. He did what he had planned and placed his left foot behind him and flicked it into the net.
That was genuine world class, every move intended and executed in sequence like an assassin. That is what you can get from Aaron and opponents know it too. Nowadays, the attitude of the big boys will change. We have two world class CFs and a dangerous compatriot in Welbeck. Torreira was a fantastic bargain at £27m. Other clubs must be regretting that they did not sign him at that price. He has tightened the midfield and offers attacking possibilities with his work-rate and speed of thought. We are not the finished article, but neither will we be the whipping boys of the top 6.
Altogether, Emery has passed the first test at the new school and I look forward to seeing his exam results at the end of the season. I didn`t think I would be saying that any day soon!
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.