I can be one of the few that said they actually bothered turning up last night for the dead rubber against BATE last night but, unlike my picture above suggests, that’s where the only disappointment of the night exists.
The stadium was probably even less than half full and whilst that will no doubt be the media’s favourite topic this morning, the real story cane from the squad players who finally stepped up and said “bugger this, we’re going to have some fun”, and they certainly did. In spades.
The team selection was a little more experienced than expected but I guess Arsène had given fair warning about that in his presser on Thursday. Only Maitland-Niles managed a start from the academy and it feels like even he’s getting to the stage where he’s a squad player and so should be considered as such rather than an academy prospect.
So little change in the normal midweek personnel, but plenty of change in the set up and for the first time this season we started in a 4-2-1-3 formation, or variant of depending on how you think the set up went. And it worked.
From the first few minutes we dominated the ball, controlled possession and with Elneny dropping deep to collect from the back four, it even felt like we had three at the back at times. He was all over the park and I’d definitely say it was one of the Egyptian’s best performances since joining, capped off by a very smart finish in the second half from a Wilshere ball which Mo rather enjoyed himself it’s fair to say.
But they all did I’d imagine, except for Ospina, who had little to do bar keeping warm throughout. BATE are no real force in Europe and they looked like a team with little confidence that they were going to get anything from the game. So when Debuchy of all people fired home another smart finish, it did feel at the time like it could be the first of many.
And so it proved. Theo getting another goal whilst doing little else in the game, Wilshere notching his first in years, Ollie G from the spot, the aforementioned Elneny finish and a strikers hammering by one of their unpronounceable centre halves to deny Welbeck a tap in, sealed another hammering just a week after the Huddersfield tonking.
I’m getting used to this. And I like it.
The players seemed to enjoy themselves too and it’s hard to pick anyone as an underperformer on a night like last night. It’s true that the opposition helped, but I thought the two centre halves played well in Chambers and Holding, Maryland-Niles had a couple of nice interplay’s going forward, whilst Debuchy also added another fine performance to his tally this season. We were rarely troubled but some of that must also be the composure of the back line.
The midfield base of Coquelin and Elneny worked against this opposition too, mopping up wherever needed, but it was the man in front of them that dictated the show. Jacky Wilshere stepped up and put in a performance that said “pick me! Pick me! I’m here!” to Arsène and the boss essentially admitted it at the end of the game in his post match interview. Jack was pivotal in our build up, exchanging passes with the midfield base, forward play and getting into the kinds of positions that are a nightmare for defenders when you’re so close to your own goal and you’ve got a guy who is so good in confined spaces.
His goal was a classic example of that. A ball pinged in to him on the penalty spot, one touch with his right foot, a second and third with his left – all very close to his body – then a hammer drive past the ‘keeper.
We’ve got games coming thick and fast and I really do believe that Wilshere should start at least one of the next three Premier League games, probably the West Ham one in midweek, which is away but a game I’d fancy he’d be up for.
Welbeck will be a little unhappy that he didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet but for him this was all about fitness. Olivier Giroud did ok and he’ll be happy that he got a goal and he also created a few chances for Theo too. Giroud and Wilshere seem to work well together and their combinations in the final third looked very impressive; almost as if they have never not been playing together. Whether they both get to rekindle that relationship on the Premier League remains to be seen, but I am just pleased that it clicked.
There will be many to dismiss this game, to question whether celebration is needed, but to those people I would simply say:
We had to play this game – would you rather a gritty one-nil or a total shellacking?
That’s all anyone needs to say.
Yesterday evening was fun. I hope for more of the same in midweek in the near future.