It took a while on Saturday to break down Burnley, but I don’t think that there was too much anxiety in the stadium and that 3 points always looked likely, and I think it always says a lot when the opposing keeper is their best player.
Sometimes you feel like that it was going to be one of those days but that feeling certainly for me didn’t arise on Saturday.
Obviously Sanchez was a star and more on him in a moment but I wanted to highlight a player who for me has played way below his expected level for the last few weeks but managed to reverse that form on Saturday. That was Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain. Welcome back Ox. He was electric, each and every time he picked up the ball he was positive, his mazy dribbles and his link up play with Alexis was brilliant. I wonder if the pressure of a fit Walcott and Ramsey is making him raise his game to try and hold his place. After Saturday you would struggle to remove him from that side for Swansea next week or Anderlecht tomorrow.
You could start to see that on Saturday we played with much more belief, and remember we were still handicapped in the centre of the park with Flamini and Arteta. I know I rattle on but they really are passengers. For Flamini I fear for every time he is near the ball as you cannot be certain that he won’t make a mistake, and for Arteta he rarely gives the ball away but the problem with him is that he has no legs so its easy to play around him. We have far bigger games ahead, most notably with a well drilled Swansea next Sunday side that is athletic and well drilled. They will identify these weak links, so lets hope Ramsey or Wilshere or both can replace at least one of these.
Also, another clean sheet. Not bad for a team with a defensive crisis as Wenger I am sure would be too happy to let you know- but I just hope he doesn’t think that a couple of clean sheets against a deflated Sunderland followed by a team that is yet to win a league game means that all our worries are over. We still need to buy in January and we need also to be lucky to make it till then without any further losses. Monreal you have to hand it to him has played well at centre half. For someone to be just thrown in and be expected to play in a position that is foreign to them really isn’t on and hats off to him.
So to Alexis, people say it may be a bit early to speak of him in the same vein as an Henry or a Bergkamp. Well for me he’s a completely different player but just as effective. The goals he has already scored for us this season, especially in the Champions League qualifier has already paid back his fee. He is an animal, never stops running full of energy, always wants to ball and terrorises defenders and is a very similar player to Luis Suarez. He literally could be a legend of this club. This side is yet to hit its top form and we are yet to have all of our best players playing together but with Alexis you can see that his approach to the game is rubbing of on other players too (apart from Ozil perhaps) .They are all working much harder at defending and chasing back much higher up the pitch which certainly improves the chances of a clean sheet and I am sure our make shift defence is appreciative. Let’s hope it continues and this winning run carries on.
We are still in this league and there is still 75% of games yet to be played. A lot of teams who also fancied themselves this season like Utd with a new manager and Liverpool after doing so well last year are struggling far more. And we are fourth with a huge amount of injuries. Chelsea aside there is no team that is doing well. With no disrespect to West Ham or Southampton I am only speaking of team that are likely to be in these positions come May.
One other point from Saturday which was very positive was the introduction of Lukas Podolski. He looked up for it in his cameo 10 mins at the end. He could have scored twice but for a fantastic save from Heaton and for the width of the post from a fantastic volley. He’s got great technique and a left foot like a hammer. What was great to see in him though more so was his movement and he looked very spritely. Again I wonder is this down to a certain Chilean beast we have at the club showing the way? hmmm, I wonder.
Also, Theo coming back was a great thing and he will guarantee us much more creativity and goals in a very important part of the season.
Tomorrow night we face Anderlecht at home. Its a game that would all but assure us qualification to the knock out phase of the Champions League. With the new seeding for that competition coming in to play next year I believe that we need to go all out in trying to top the group, especially when you look at where Dortmund sit in Bundesliga this year. With the new rules, regardless of our previous experience in the competition favour of seeds will go to those who have won their domestic leagues. Now, to be fair I think that should be how it works too. It just doesn’t help that as an Arsenal fan and having been seeded for so long that it is now taken away.
To me, knock out of the Champions League is a lottery. You need to do all you can to ensure a good draw initially and that means winning the group. Look at some of the recent winners we have had most notably Chelsea who that season finished 7th in the league. It shows a lot can happen and form goes out of window in a knock out competition.
Let’s smash Anderlecht tomorrow and hope that our players are unscathed and ready for a difficult away match to Swansea on Sunday, but for now enjoy that there is more good than bad at our club…. Just ask Luis Van Gaal or Brendan Rodgers.