Well, that went well yesterday, didn’t it?
Eventually, I mean, because the first half was a little ropey and we had to come from behind to hit top spot in the league. But a bit like a fine port, it took a little time but the end result was a fine flavour and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Arsène’s squad selection was pretty much as could be expected. He named the same XI as he did against West Ham, rewarding those who had delivered the goals, and for the first 15 minutes or so it looked like we would get what we wanted eventually. I thought we controlled possession of the ball well, we looked like we could handle the physical presence of Arnautovic, but we were also getting in behind their full backs. Less so with Gabriel, obviously, but certainly with Monreal on the left and the Ox.
I thought the Ox had a really good game. He’s been criticised for his final ball and I’ve spoken to a couple of pre-match beer-swilling companions who think he’s a little to quick to let his head go down, but he provided end product today and no more so than the fantastic ball to give us the lead via Mesut Özil.
But no ordinary Mesut Özil goal, oh no, a headed one. His second of the season and under normal circumstances you’d probably call it a collectors item, but these are the positions that Mes is cropping up in these days, so perhaps we need the accept it. He’s such a majestic footballer. Once again he dictated the play, always calling for the ball and having a massive impact on us getting the three points. It was lovely seeing him get assist after assist last season, but I much prefer the goalscoring Mesut. And I’m pretty sure we’re hitting his best season in terms of goal return.
But the goals aren’t just coming from our star players this season. It’s not like the RvP days where we looked to him to take us forward. Now we have options not just all over the pitch, but throughout the squad. Epitomised by the fact that our third goal was scored by a substitute who has been taken out of the limelight, in Alex Iwobi. At the beginning of the season Arsène played him regularly and it looked for a time like he was starting to suffer as a result. When you’re at a club like Arsenal you’re not really given the chance to have many off-days. But he’s found himself a squad player recently and the result of that is that he’s having to rediscover his form, which thankfully he’s doing, so we can all just be happy about that.
All this chatter about the second half, and I haven’t even mentioned the first half, probably because it was a lovely second with high pressing and goals to send us top. Whereas the first half was a little frustrating. Frustrating because we shouldn’t have been behind. I don’t know whether Joe Allen made a meal of the contact from Xhaka, but having watched replays again I really can’t see how that coming together of the two players was a penalty. I’ve certainly seen a lot worse on a regular basis at The Emirates. But then again, we are talking about a bizarre world in which Lee Mason is allowed to referee football matches. The man is a joke and not content with incorrectly sending Xhaka off against Swansea at The Emirates a couple of months back, he thought he’d give a penalty away this time. I bet Granit has nudes of his wife. That’s the only explanation I can think of.
Anyway, the important thing is that it didn’t affect our Saturday evening, did it? As we all went home happy in the end. We didn’t even have to be to angry at half time thanks to Theo’s lovely front post knock in after a Hector Bellerin low ball across. That’s just what we’ve been missing on that right hand side. Boy, it’s good to have Hector back, although the cause of his arrival is less splendid. Mustafi looked to be holding his hamstring as he went off, so whilst we might hope that it’s nothing serious, if it’s a strain it wouldn’t surprise me if we didn’t see him until the new year. That will mean a chance for Gabriel to prove himself, and the fact he had 50 odd minutes alongside Kos in the middle of the defence will have done him no harm.
So all-in-all, it was a good day at the office for the players. Three points, three goals, top of the league and looking good. I’m a happy bunny today and I’m sure you are too. There really isn’t much more to say other than me signing off with a quick bit of praise for Granit Xhaka. The guy was excellent all game. He controls the pace of our game in a similar way to Mesut Özil – but from deep – and we’re all seeing what he brings to the team when he keeps us ticking over like he does. It really is him plus one other now, isn’t it? Today it was he and the also excellent Francis Coquelin and I must admit it worked. Coquelin pressed higher – especially in the second half – and Xhaka pulled the strings behind him.
We’re suddenly looking like a cohesive unit. It’s great. Long may it continue but for now, we look to Everton away in midweek and hope that the team can continue to purr.
Catch you tomorrow.