After an 11th consecutive victory we really should be getting any minor niggles and parking them right now I think, but it’s hard to completely ignore them, so I’ll quickly get them out of the way first and then we can start to talk about the good stuff.
Sporting Lisbon are – let’s face it – a pretty poor side and if we’re being completely honest with ourselves any worry that we could potentially come-a-cropper against the Portuguese side was quickly extinguished in that first have. Essentially, Sporting just sat off and allowed Arsenal the ball, clearly nervous of the threat we produced.
They created a few chances and the return of Sokratis probably should have seen him sent off for a foul on one of the Portuguese forwards, but like Holding on Monday with the handball, the ref didn’t see it and we got away with one. I’ll not bother mentioning about the statues behind the goal; they’re as useful as a chocolate teapot.
The first half felt like many of the first halves this season though; we struggled to bring together too much rhythm in our play and it felt like we were huffing and puffing a bit against an opponent who was at least a couple of rungs down the ladder compared to us in terms of technical quality and ability.
And that showed in the second half. From the moment the second half started we controlled possession, limited Sporting to pot-shots and the occasional ball swung in to the box, which Holding dealt with admirably. You could tell we had control of the game in that second half and on about 53 minutes when you’ve got a player like Nani hooking the ball into the sky from his own box you have an idea of how dominant we were.
But in the final third it didn’t seem to click as much as we would have hoped. Aubameyang had a couple of chances in the first half and was making some decent channel runs occasionally, but the front three of him, Welbeck and Mkhitaryan just didn’t seem to click. Added to that the fact that Ramsey didn’t seem to be venturing as further forward as he normally does and it felt to me like we were going to be in for a frustrating night.
But when things are going for you, they’re really going for you, and the slip by Coates that afforded Welbeck a chance on goal came at a welcome time. There would probably have been more time left for Sporting to make a comeback but the second that ball hit the net it felt like the game was over.
It was a really good finish by Welbeck. His first touch was inch perfect for him to stride on to the finish and whilst some might argue the ‘keeper could have done more, I would say that as a former stopper myself, some of the hardest shots to save are the ones drilled at your feet with pace. They’re also the worst because you inevitably get people asking the question about whether you could have done more but for me it was the quality of strike we should be emphasising.
Welbeck has been somewhat on the periphery this season but I tell you what, five goals so far this season in all competitions is nothing to be sniffed at. Successful teams have big name scorers that bag plenty of goals, but they also have players like Welbeck chipping in and he’s been a big part of this winning streak.
If he continues to drop in with goals here and there then there’s probably an argument for a new contract, although I think for now the club would probably park that idea, at least until January anyway.
What’s also pleasing is that Emery’s balanced rotation is working. Last year I thought Arsène’s complete change-around in teams on a weekly basis was best for the club but you only have to look at the momentum being generated right now to see that probably a better approach is the one Emery is adopting with this team. On Sunday we will surely have a fresh Mustafi, Bellerin, Monreal, Torreira, Özil, Lacazette and Iwobi who will probably all play and that means that seven of the 11 have been rested enough to take on Crystal Palace.
Plus we have the added benefit of the confidence that a winning run brings. It will no doubt end at some stage but right now it’s interesting because we’re enjoying what I would describe as a ‘functional’ bit of form. We’re not scintillating for 90 minutes in any way, shape or form, but the job is being done. And after seeing teams like Chelski do it under Conte two seasons ago – when they chalked up 1-0 after 1-0 on their way to the title – it kind of feels nice that we’re able to have a more practical approach to our game-winning football.
The players should be sky high with confidence at the moment and that is essential right now. We need to see if we can see if Palace and then it’s Blackpool in the Cup before the biggest test so far since the start of the season in Liverpool at home. If we go into that game with the winning run in tact then even I might give us a chance of beating the scousers.
Bit of football to be played before then though.
Bring on Palace.