Wellety, wellety, wellety. Welly, welly, welly. Wellington. Wellington. Wellington. Didn’t expect that from the last round of Champions League matches in our group, did we?
No-siree we didn’t. But we got what I think Arsène had described as a ‘small miracle’ and both the Arsenal team put out yesterday, as well as the Ludogorets team fighting for pride in Paris, did their jobs and we finished first in our group for the first time in donkeys years. And we did it without losing a game too. 14 points, a +13 goal difference and a performance with enough swagger to suggest that the team is absolutely riding the crest of a confidence wave right now.
Before I go in to the lyrical waxing – and oh yes, there will be plenty – though, let’s just take a moment to sigh at the absolute stupidity that is the ‘head-to-head’ rule in the Champions League. I can say this now because we won and so I don’t just sound like a biased and bitter fan, but the ruling is ludicrous really, isn’t it? I mean, had PSG managed to score an extra goal in injury time, they’d have topped our group having:
- Scored less goals
- Conceded more goals
- Had a poorer goal difference
So despite the fact that over the course of six games Arsenal were the better and more ruthless team, we would have fell second based on a stupid ruling that should be scrapped.
I won’t dwell on that though. I just wanted to get my two-penneth worth in.
Now, how about we talk about that performance, because I don’t know about you but I thoroughly enjoyed watching that yesterday. The team were good from about five minutes in right through to the end. We were ruthless in the execution of our game plan and even though at the time I thought that it didn’t really matter (how wrong that turned out to be by the way!), the players still made the game enjoyable to watch by their utter control and domination of the ball.
The stats showed a little more of an even game, but my eyes must be deceiving me, because from the first goal it looked like we had Basel exactly where we wanted them. Our passing seemed quicker, more cohesive, with purpose and insaw plenty of movement from all of our players. Including Kieran Gibbs, who I thought was superb last night. He caused all kinds of problems as an auxiliary wide man and the fact that he got three assists (im counting Perez’ third as one, as Alexis only just touched it and I’m not sure it was he who it was intended for) only further serves to highlight just how well he played. That left back position is now probably the hardest one for Arsène to pick because to my mind both Gibbs and Monreal are neck-a-neck when it comes to being first choice. That’s a fabulous headache for Arsène to have and it shows just how good Gibbs has been that Arsène has taken every opportunity to play him this season. His run for the first goal was well timed, as was it for the second, and he did enough with his balls in to the box to make Lucas Perez’s job nice and easy as he tapped it in.
Perez himself was also a star of the show, bagging a hat trick and notching his fifth goal of the season. That’s a pretty good return for a guy who didn’t arrive until late in August and also spent a good month out injured. For somebody who hasn’t established himself as a first team regular, he’s certainly given himself a good chance of fighting for the starting slots now. And the goals were real ‘poacher’ ones too. The first two were two-ins inside the six yard box, with the third one an instinctive strike with his weaker foot. His overall game wasn’t exactly a barnstorming one, but I think what we did see from him is exactly what his game is: lots of endeavour (he did a lot of running and closing down) and some good finishing. If he can be like a Poldi mk.II, but with more movement and closing down of opposition, I definitely think he’ll be an asset for us this season.
Arsène chose to rotate his players yesterday and whilst I lamented the inclusion of Alexis and Özil initially, with hindsight you have to say it was a master stroke by the manager. Shows what I know, eh!?! He got the balance between over-rotation and under-resourcing quite right. Ospina had little to do but did what was needed effectively. Holding looked assured and the more you see him the more you think he’ll be stepping up as a regular within the next couple of years. He doesn’t look 21. He looks like a seasoned pro. He had a couple of hairy moments and sure, he was a little wasteful in the run up to our concession of the goal, but you can forgive that when you’re four up. Had we been one up, perhaps he’d have focused on going route one.
The midfield pairing of Xhaka and Ramsey worked too, although I think that was more to do with the superb performance the Swiss had against his former team, than the all-action running of the Welshman. I thought Ramsey did ok, but along with Gibbs and Mesut Özil, I thought Xhaka was one of our best players.
And so it is I come to Mesut. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, and Mesut Özil takes my ‘ho-ho-ho’-o-meter up to ‘full Christmas’ happiness. He’s a magician. He dictated our pace, gave Iwobi the simplest of tap-ins, looked like he was having fun and quite frankly, made me swoon every time his foot caressed the ball. We are on form at the moment and he is in the eye of that particular storm. He’s brilliant.
And so has the last five days been. I tweeted last night that the team had scored nine goals in four days. Nine. It’s almost as if November’s curse is real and the second the players stepped out of it, they’ve been lifted, performing on another level and bagging goals as a result. And we should have had more yesterday too. Alexis off the bar is one that pops straight in to my mind.
It’s all clicking at the moment. Let’s hope that continues in December because we have some very tough games and if we can come out of it on the 42 points I have suggested and hoped for in a blog earlier in the week, then I think we’ll be in a very good position to be talking about a proper attempt at a title come May.
Lot more football to play before then though, so I’ll try to contain myself for now.
Right, that’s me for another day. You have a good one, ya’ hear?