I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to writing this blog today. Having spent a large part of the summer in the transfer doldrums, then seeing our start to the season completely disrupted by injuries and the failure to adequately prepare for the season openers, the tone of my writing hasn’t been as positive as I’d like it to be.
But this Sunday morning, that can change, because what we were treated to yesterday – particularly in the first half – was the Arsenal we all want to see.
It all started about an hour before a ball had even been kicked, too, because as soon as I saw the line up against Watford, I had a beaming smile on my face. a front four of Ozil, Ox, Alexis and Theo, with a stable base of Santi and Xhaka protecting the back four, all looked to me to have more balance, more structure and collectively, enough technical ability to retain possession, control and dictate play and cause Watford problems.
And that’s exactly what they did. From the first couple of minutes you can see that the team was clicking. The triangles of possession were working, but not only that, the passing felt quicker, didn’t it? We looked like we had more purpose, more poise and we only had to wait nine minutes until we were one up. I watched Match of the Day last night and they questioned whether it was a debatable penalty or not. There wasn’t a debate about it. It was a clumsy shove by Amrabat and if you’re going to jump in to anyone and not get any of the ball, you’re going to give away a foul. Santi to make it one-nil to the Arsenal felt good.
What I liked about the set up yesterday, is that it felt like nearly every player had their role and contributed effectively to it, bar the Ox – i’ll come to him in a bit. The defensive midfield base of Xhaka and Santi just worked, didn’t it? The challenge with the Coquelin/Santi partnership is that it feels like we have two players playing the role of one guy. I’ve spoken about this with a few Arsenal-supporting mates, i’ve heard it on a few pods and so it seems that is the general consensus. So when that partnership are together it means that Santi and Coq need to spend a lot of time closer together so Coquelin can feed cazorla when we break down the opposition’s build up. With Xhaka and Santi I don’t think I saw as much of that yesterday. Cazorla was able to roam a little bit further and as a result, I feel like he was free’d up to be more impactful on the game.
Xhaka had a good game yesterday. His distribution is brilliant, he broke up play when needed and what I loved the most about his performance, was that it reminded me of peak Arteta, in the way he collected the ball from the centre backs. Mikel used to love to drop deep, receive the ball and distribute forward efficiently. Xhaka was the same. But he showed a longer range to his passing yesterday that we didn’t always see from Arteta. If yesterday’s performance was indicative of the Xhaka we’re going to get on a regular basis, then I’ll be very happy.
And so will Ozil and our quick attackers, I think, because Xhaka will find them with his passing range. Ozil may find it particularly useful having a guy who can spray a pass, because at times last season teams doubled up on Ozil with the knowledge that he was the main man when it came to build up play for Arsenal. If teams realise that Xhaka is dangerous when given time, they’ll start to look at ways in which they can press higher up the pitch to neutralise him. That may just mean that Mesut has more room to roam in between the defensive and midfield lines. Let’s hope so.
Mes’ headed goal was superb, delivered by probably the man-of-the-match himself, Alexis. He looked vintage 2014/15 yesterday. He ran the lines, he was his usual mobile self and he popped up with a goal, an assist and a hand in winning the penalty. What worked better than the previous two games, was his ability to move across the pitch and interchange with the Ox and Theo, although Theo seemed to occupy that central role a little bit more than the Ox did. I think that was probably the problem at home to Liverpool and away to Leicester, that Alexis was just adopting centralised positions only, but with the front three moving around more, he was able to find those runs and those pockets which enabled him to have a go at the back three. As good as we were though, we were helped by the fact Watford played that back three against us. I don’t know why anyone plays a back three against Arsenal. I’m pretty sure every time I’ve seen it, we’ve been able to run riot. Wish everyone could play that formation against us to be honest with you!
So Alexis was good, great even, and Theo too, made more of a telling contribution, I thought. He seemed to be tracking back a lot more and in that wide right position had an impact on the game with some very good runs and a good cross to assist Alexis with his goal. Walcott has been much maligned by us fans for some time, but that’s because we have seen him disappear in matches, so to see him have more of a say in how the game plays out, that’s all any of us ever want. If he keeps performing like that then he’ll deserve a regular place and probably also get himself another England call up.
But this blog, so heavily laced with positivity, does have a bit of concern about it. That comes in the form of the Ox, who just couldn’t get anything right yesterday. He chipped one chance way over when through on goal, his dribbling just didn’t look effective at all and once again, with the Watford goal, you can’t help but think that if he was switched on more to support Nacho, we might have prevented the ball coming in on the first place. With Arsene confirming that Perez and Mustafi are on the verge of signing, the Ox is surely going to be the first to be cut from the first XI, I think. Giroud will come back after the international break and whilst Theo has done his chances no harm at all in the possibility of retaining his place, you can’t help but think that the Ox will give way to the Frenchman, with Alexis dropping left and Theo right.
It would be a shame to end on a less than positive note, so I’ll finish off by saying that Holding should get a mention too. The guy is a talent. He looked every bit as good as if it were Big Per alongside Koscielny yesterday and whilst we have a £35million centre half incoming, it wouldn’t surprise me to see Holding keep his place for the Southampton game. I think he’s earned his spot.
That, friends, is all I have for you today. Enjoy your Sunday and spend it with a smile on your face. For the Arsenal are up and running. Woop!