It’s really enjoyable writing a blog after almost everything has gone right in the game on the previous day. I love it. I get to praise, ‘big up’, congratulate and back-slap. All more preferable than the usual written form of grimacing that comes after a really poor performance.
So today, I am a happy Gooner, as I am sure you are too. We’ve scored four goals in a week, maintained our good form in league and cup and have seen a rotated squad of players demonstrate a level of dominance that every Arsenal fan expects when you play a team from a lower division. Arsène’s team selection was a good blend of rotated players and young players – perhaps an admission that last season he didn’t get that blend right against Sheffield Wednesday – but last night he did absolutely nail it and should get the praise he deserves for picking a side that in the end, were utterly dominant against Forest in their own back garden.
I did think we’d see Ospina and Debuchy in the starting XI, but whether or not Arsène didn’t want to risk Dave, or Debuchy was actually fit, we don’t know yet. I would suggest not. Having said that, I thought Maitland-Niles had a very decent game at right back, but so too did all of the players. In defence the return of Gabriel and Holding did OK, although Gabriel had a couple of moments that raised my eyebrows a bit, whilst Gibbs on the left hand side was his usual self, getting forward, tidy on the ball and he’s clearly not that far off Nacho.
But it was the midfield that I thought was he most impressive and made the most difference, when you compare it to the defeat last season in this competition, because that’s where we controlled the game. Last season it was Camara and Flamini and it was a disaster. This season we had Xhaka and Elneny and both were two of the best players on the park I thought. Xhaka in particular, gets my vote, because he was composed on the ball, always available as an outlet for the defenders and other midfielders and kept everything ticking over. So too did Elneny. It is not surprising at all that it is midfield where we are best stocked and with games like this happening in midweek, it is actually a benefit for us to be playing more games, because it keeps those players not playing on Saturday up to speed in terms of match fitness.
Whether or not Xhaka will now be given a chance to shine in the Premier League remains to be seen, but his second wonder strike in a week won’t have harmed his chances, as well as the performance itself. He’s got to be close, surely?
In front of those two metronomic players retaining possession, we had Jeff, who had a very assured game for one so young. He just oozes class on the ball. Young players do tend to be a little more hurried in possession in games like this, as they try desparately to impress the manager, but Jeff looks like a first teamer who knows he’s going to play loads more games this season. I love the way he glides past players in midfield so nonchalantly. He’s so strong physically too, so doesn’t get shrugged off the ball and surely he’s a guy who needs to get more game time soon, depending on how deep we go in to this competition. If we don’t, he should get a loan move, because his ascension at this rate will be rapid.
Flanking either side of him was Akpom and the Ox and yesterday was one of those games in which you just knew the Ox needed. He still wasn’t back to his best, but he showed some good touches, had a few decent runs and got himself on the score sheet. Hopefully that does him the world of good. He needs it.
Chuba did well too. He was involved in the penalty decision and was busy throughout, but I am wondering if we’re getting to the stage where Akpom’s future might be elsewhere, because there’s always a conveyor belt of young prospects who are waiting to be the next big thing. It sounds a bit harsh, because he’s only just about to turn 21, but he needs something to fall in to place for him, because I don’t see him getting too much game time in an Arsenal shirt, outside of this competition that is. He’s a good player, but whether he can make the grade I’m beginning to have my doubts, which is harsh because he didn’t really do a lot wrong yesterday.
Who knows though, right? I mean, this time last year it was Iwobi who came on against Wednesday and got a few minutes and I’ll confess that at the time I never thought that a year later he’d be a regular. Yet here he is, probably to be involved in some capacity on Saturday evening, so it might just be a case of biding his time. And for certain planets to align, of course.
Then up top we had the goalscoring arrival of Lucas Perez in to the mix, as our new Spaniard notched up the penalty Chuba won, but more impressively a very good goal for number two, dancing past a defender and the ‘keeper to make it 3-0 and pretty much seal the game for us. I liked what I saw with Lucas, but I think he still needs a little more time to adapt to the English league, because I don’t think there are any Premier League central defenders who will be nudged off the ball like Mancienne was for Lucas’ second goal. Still, the fact that we’ve got somebody willing to get involved in that physical battle is a good thing, so we can only be positive about Lucas’ contribution. Perhaps he’ll have earned a nod at the weekend?
This was a performance that was what we always hope Arsenal can produce on a regular basis. We bullied Forest with our dominant possession. Against PSG a few weeks ago, I said that the French side made the pitch look larger when we had possession and smaller when they had it, and I felt the same but in reverse yesterday. I just hope to see more of those performances in the Premier League.
So we go in to the Chelski game in form and with a couple of big wins to boost morale. I hope we get to Saturday and are popping the ball around with the style that has often been associated with Arsenal teams of the past. We’ll need that swagger in abundance against the Chavs.
See thee tomorrow.
P.S. All this talk and not one mention of ‘The Lord’. Shows we had a good game, eh?