Three on the bounce feels lovely this morning doesn’t it? It certainly felt good when I knew the game was over and on the surface, this new formation looks decent, with three victories and an Arsenal team that look like they’re building their confidence to play it more and more with each game. Whether it’s enough to get anything against that scummy lot round the corner at the weekend I don’t know, but let’s just focus on yesterday evenings events, shall we?
The line up was probably as you’d expect – plenty of rotation after 120 minutes of football on Sunday – but when the Sky Sports ticker appeared initially in the pub there were certainly a few raised eyebrows. Monreal and Gibbs? Of course Nacho was being used as part of the three and whilst he had another good game and got the (deflected) winning goal we can all be pleased for him, I did wonder why Big Per appears to be out in the cold.
Still, it’s hard to argue with the team selection, when the defence has just kept a clean sheet. As I wondered yesterday morning the wing backs were essential in this game and with the energy they have to expend going forwards and backwards you could see why Arsène rotated. I thought both Gibbs and Bellerin played really well actually; both got forward and seemed to relish the ability to play as auxiliary wingers for large swathes of the game. In the first half in particular Gibbs got in behind Leicester’s full backs again and again and I thought the Englishman was the best player on the team in the first half.
However, his efforts weren’t rewarded with a goal, for which therein lies the challenge with this formation that this team are going to need to find an answer for. Whether or not it’s a personnel problem, or just getting used to the formation I don’t know, but in the final third we were pretty poor yesterday. We all knew Leicester were coming to the Emirates to frustrate, he compact and hit us on the counter and that was obvious from the first time Schmeichel picked up the ball and looked to Vardy or Mahrez for a long diagonal kick. He hit that kick all evening and it was pretty much all they had. But Gabriel seems to love this formation and with three at the back we had more than enough to cope. It was just in attack that we were having problems.
Alexis had a pretty shocking game overall, but he’s a man with a moment of magic in him, typified by his rattling of the crossbar just before halftime. However Theo Walcott was utterly anonymous all evening. If ever there was an example of how a professional footballer can go missing in plain sight, it’s Walcott, who offered little to nothing for his entire duration on the pitch. What typified the type of Theo game that we were witnessing yesterday was when Welbeck got in behind on the left, then slid a delightful ball right to the centre of the goal where the six yard spot was. It was prime poacher territory and had Welbeck, Alexis, Giroud been in the same position they would have moved in centrally for the tap in. Not Theo though, oh no, he decided to lightly trot in to the edge of the box, behind the left full back, offering no danger whatsoever, then just looking on as the ball was cleared.
You can blame the formation if you like, but Theo has been doing this for some time and surely even Wenger has to act, sooner rather than later. Walcott being on the pitch yesterday was a waste of a player. We were effectively playing with a man down.
As is the same for Coquelin in terms of the wrong player on the pitch, although I have a tiny bit more sympathy for him because he actually has some visibility. Coquelin against Leicester is a relatively redundant exercise. He pressed and he hassled, but in truth we were totally dominant in possession and when you’re playing with the ball, Coquelin is not the man to partner the excellent Xhaka. A game like yesterday would have been better for someone like Elneny, who retains position and keeps the ball ticking over as we probe. Ramsey is a runner and offers more of a threat going forward, but he played on Sunday so I could understand why he didn’t make the starting XI. But Coquelin starting was a puzzler.
Still, defensively we were only really troubled once in the first half, which forced an excellent save from Petr Cech as Mahrez struck from point blank range. Other than that, Cech had relatively little to do.
So the emphasis was on our attacking play and whilst Özil was ok, Alexis and Theo weren’t, and you’d have to think given Welbeck’s impact in the last two games we’ll see him again against that horrible lot at the weekend. Actually I tell you a lie, Alexis did do something other than lose the ball, he forced the red mist to envelope Fuchs and when you’ve seen the final whistle blow you can always have a chuckle at that. And he got a fat lip for his troubles too. Har-dee-har-har.
So it’s a win and that’s the most important thing. I don’t think we’ll get anywhere near the top four so my expectations are already low enough for the weekend, but at least we’ve seen the team pick up a bit of form, ahead of what is sure to be an massively difficult game against arguably the best team in the league (*throws up a little in mouth*).
For now, let’s just enjoy another win, and be grateful that the side seems to have stumbled upon a set up which is helping us to get back to form. Catch you all tomorrow.