I love it the day after a big game win comes around and yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Chelski really perked us up after a week or two of some pretty sad looking Arsenal faces everywhere.
Uni Emery has faced his first bit of questioning from fans in recent weeks and the disappointment over the omission of Ozil, coupled with some pretty rancid displays like last week away to West Ham, has led many of us to wonder if he knows what he’s doing with all the chopping and changing. But it’s fair to say he got it right yesterday and the result was one that gives Arsenal hope at least that we can chase that top four spot.
We are so Jekyll and Hyde though, aren’t we, because that result and the performance felt like a totally different team to the side that put in such an insipid display last weekend. Yesterday’s performance was the epitome of what we thought Arsenal under Emery was going to be all season: hard running, distance covered, graft, industry and a team who never gave up.
He named a changed XI and changed formation from the West Ham game and finally moved us back to a 4-3-1-2 formation with Ramsey returning to the side behind Aubameyang and Lacazette and we were on it from the off. The return of Bellerin to the team gave us a better wide right option and we dominated Chelski in the opening exchanges. The fact that we only had to wait 14 minutes to be ahead and yet by then we’d already had a couple of chances missed, tells a story in itself with the attitude and approach of the Arsenal players.
Chelski are known for their high press and drive in their final third, but apart from a couple of chances and one off the post right at the end of the first half, in the first half we pushed them back so they couldn’t initiate their high press and in the second half we stood our ground and remained steadfast in defence to keep that rarest of things: a clean sheet.
The second half was an interesting one because it felt like an Arsenal team who knew they had won the game in the first and so were happy for Chelski to have the ball and maintain sterile possession. And Chelski just couldn’t break us down. With Arsenal you know we’re always likely to concede and i was expecting us to at least ship one, but the performance of some of our defenders was brilliant yesterday.
Koscielny got a bit of a scabby goal but he was fantastic at the back too, winning headers, making clearances and showing that there’s still life in the old dog yet. He may be in the autumn of his Arsenal career but displays like yesterday show that he still has something to offer this squad.
I thought Kolasinac did well too, especially given that his best performances this season have come as a marauding full back, whilst on the other side Bellerin’s return showed just how good he is and just how important he is to the team. Which is why it was such a shame that he did what looks like a very serious injury to his knee towards the end of the game.It looked like a season ender and if that’s the case it will be sad for him, but it will also be sad for us, because we’re robbed of yet another player for the season having already lost Holding and Welbeck to big injuries. Emery must be cursing his luck this morning.
But he’ll be happy with the display and a performance in which we saw what his team are capable of. I’m pleased he shifted to a back four and although we didn’t create too much in the second half it felt to me as though there was a bit more balance about our play overall in that formation. For that formation to work you need someone like Ramsey – or Ozil – in behind the front two and so my hope is that Emery starts to use it more now with Ramsey or Ozil getting more game time. Last week I said he needed to swallow his pride and play our best players and my hope is that this performance will only encourage him to use those players more.
It’s a win, a bit of faith restored in the team, but there’s still plenty of work to do and I’m sure Emery knows that.
Before I go, a quick heads up for a close friend who lost his son Liam on New Year’s Day. Dave Seager and I do the Lovesport Arsenal fans show on a Monday night and he’s been a close mate for some years and to lose somebody who was so close to him, at such a young age, is a real tragedy. Dave has set up a fund in Liam’s name for the Willow Foundation – Bob Wilson’s charity – and if you feel like donating then you can do so here. We all get so worked up with things in life – football, work, etc – but when situations like this happen you realise it’s all pretty inconsequential and the fact that so many Arsenal fans are coming together to support Dave and the family at this difficult time has been amazing.
Catch you all tomorrow.