I am happy. I am happy because this Arsenal does ‘The Football’, rather well at the moment, doesn’t it?
It’s lovely to see the team popping the ball around with such consummate ease. Alright, the opposition weren’t exactly Barcelona last night, but “can only beat what’s in front of you” etc, etc, yada-yada-yada…
It all felt very reminiscent of Saturday evening, didn’t it? I mean, we were swift in transition from front to back, we scored early, our players rotated with their positions well, which all came together beautifully to give us the first three points of the Champions League season and a team that seems to have found its ryhtmn both domestically and on the European stage.
I liked what I saw. Ok, we should have probably have won the game 14-0, but we’re not playing Harlow Council under-11 division 2 stuff here boys and girls. This is Europe’s top competition and sometimes you just need to appreciate that your team is dominant and be happy for the three points.
The initial reaction to the team line up wasn’t really one with any surprises, wit Ospina and Xhaka starting, as we probably could have all guessed. Big Dave O didn’t really have much to do, in truth, and I found myself wondering whether he’d be happy with that of not. I mean sure, it’s great when you can say you’ve kept a clean sheet, but I bit there’s a bit of Big Dave that would have hoped to have had some worldie saves to add in to the old scrapbook. Still, none of us will complain when our ‘keeper has little to do other than kick the turf from his boots.
Xhaka however, found himself with plenty of ball time, to which I think he performed superbly. The way he pops the ball around seems effortless at times and he and Santi worked well as a partnership, I thought. Santi’s a joy to watch too though, isn’t he? His change of direction, his ability to drift past a man, it’s lovely to watch when he’s on form and anybody who thought he was finished just over a year ago, is surely wondering why they would ever think such madness.
Everything is clicking at the moment and for that first half we got another display of quick movement, passing and a nice early goal set the tone for the evening, ensuring that our opponents do not just sit back and contain for a goalless draw. When you score early against opponents like Basel, I always feel it does make life a little easier, as you have to draw them out. Basel didn’t know whether to stick or twist so when Theo nodded in that first, I think deep down, most of us knew that it was probably game over.
Perhaps that seems a little premature to say and perhaps its laced with a little too much hindsight, but defensively we looked so good as well, which is why I never really felt too worried all evening. Koscielny and Mustafi are building a very tidy partnership in the heart of that defence I must say. Both are aggressive in the tackle and they’re complimenting each other well. Whilst the opponents were hardly going to trouble us all evening, you still have to do the business by maintaining shape and discipline and I thought both did that.
In attack we also had the team purring and for the second game in a row we saw the benefits of a mobile front three. It’s like Theo has suddenly realised the positions that Alexis is operating, so has taken the responsibility to tuck in and fill that centre forward void when Alexis goes wandering. And he’s profiting from it too. His goal on Saturday was from a centre forwards position and his first goal last night was the same. His second goal was very much of a Walcott right wing vintage and as soon as the net rippled I really did feel like it was all over.
Thereafter it became a game that I hope we see more of this season: an exercise in control. We retained possession, our passing was slick and we were able to dominate the thirds of the pitch. We could have scored many more, but it’s ok not to be too worried about the fact that we didn’t, when you know that the job had already been done and the players didn’t need to force the issue. It was the same on Saturday too. We knew the result was ours if we remain tight at the back and so on Saturday we let Chelski play the ball in front of us and last night at times we let Basel have a touch. But not for long, because it felt like we had the ball a lot more than they did throughout the game.
I’m liking the confidence and swagger at the moment. When this Arsenal engine is firing on all cylinders it’s a joy to watch, as players find pockets of space to play the ball in to, knowing a teammate will get to the ball ahead of the opponent. But it’s not just the passing that is working, the pressing is too, and last night I saw us win the ball a lot higher up the pitch at times, especially compared to last season.
Arsène is right to play down our ability to win the league or Champions League. We have to have another dozen games where we haven’t lost before we can start talking about real momentum, but the important thing is that we’re winning and playing well now, which is enabling us to build some momentum.
Long may that continue.