After two nail-biting victories against the city rivals, the situation looks much better. We are back in the race for, well, at least a direct Champions’ League spot as we are only three points away from Manchester United at third and behind our next opponents Southampton only due to worse goal-difference (which is not a surprise given that they put eight past Sunderland this term). It is always difficult to keep a clear head after dropping two points like we did against Liverpool eight days ago but the boys fought bravely to secure two victories in less than 48 hours. Here are the pointers from those two games.
1. Alexis Sánchez is an incredible human being.
Much has been said and written about Alexis being in “the red zone” but his performances against QPR and West Ham suggest that those who call him the Mini-Hulk didn’t make a mistake. Against QPR, the Chilean managed to rise above the fact that he spurned a penalty and scored a header to give us the lead. Then he created a goal for Tomas Rosicky who doubled our lead while we were down to ten men. After Martin Atkinson gave QPR a life-line and awarded a penalty that never was, it was Alexis who was our first line of defence. It was amazing to see him playing a high-pressure game on Rob Green in the 92nd minute. Against Green’s former club, Alexis didn’t score or assist but was a constant menace and gave everything for us to preserve the lead and put all three points in our pocket. Given the importance of the match against Southampton on 1st January, I expect him to play but he should be given a rest against Hull City in the FA Cup.
2. Santi Cazorla has been tremendous lately.
One of the synonyms for the festive period is Santa and our Santi Claus has delivered some delicious presents for the Gooners lately. He earned a penalty and converted it to score his fourth goal in five matches against West Ham and was unlucky to be denied by the impressive Adrian in the second half. The thing is, Santi looks lively again, his mojo seems to be back and I can’t help myself but to think that impressive goal against Newcastle did wonders for his confidence. It would be a shame if Mesut Özil returns straight back to the starting eleven after his recovery – right now, Santi deserves to be a regular member of the first team.
3. Olivier Giroud did an incredibly stupid thing.
It’s easy to agree with everyone who thinks that Martin Atkinson is a terrible referee and that Rio Ferdinand should have been sent off for grabbing Giroud. However, the Frenchman should have known better and kept his head against Onuoha. Instead, he had a lapse of judgement and left his team-mates on the hook for over 35 minutes against QPR and for the congested period that would follow.
The thing is, it’s not the first time Giroud has earned a direct red card. He made a stupid tackle against Fulham in 2012-13 during our run-in. In one of the ugliest performance of Wenger’s Arsenal ever, we won 1:0 but had to go through the injury time without Giroud. He wasn’t available for the three following matches in the league either which reduced options for Wenger.
In Giroud’s defence, if there is a player that gets kicked without any real punishment for the offenders, it’s him but this violent conduct should be the last one. Use that head of yours to score goals, Olivier, not to head-butt pricks.
4. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finally created a goal for his team-mates.
I have been convinced for a while that The Ox will become at least twice as good as Theo Walcott. The Ox is strong with the ball at his feet, can make bursting runs through the middle, is strong like an ox, can make a perfect pass and has the ability to release long-range projectiles into the net. Given all that, it sounds unreal that his perfect low cross for Danny Welbeck was his first assist in the league after 22 matches without creating a goal. The Ox gave a strong performance against West Ham, was a constant menace and should have scored a goal as well but he could have picked up another assist instead if he had seen Alexis arriving in the box.
5. Francis can still save his bacon.
Yes, this is probably the worst (and maybe the only) pun made out of Francis Coquelin’s first name but it could have been worse if I had used his last name in combination with a “save bacon”-idiom. Anyway, the French midfielder gave a combative performance at the Boleyn Ground and received a lot of positive feedback for his display. During the absence of Mikel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey, Le Coq is supposed to form a double-pivot with Mathieu Flamini. A lot of Gooners were ready to write him off and it looked like Arsene Wenger did the same after Coquelin’s poor loan spell at Freiburg. Given for how long he has been with us, it’s easy to forget that Le Coq will be only 24 next May. Perhaps he is just a short-term option before we get a top-drawer defensive midfielder but given how reluctant Wenger is to spend the money on a defensive midfielder, I wouldn’t be surprised if Le Coq – as the cheapest option and the one that doesn’t need an adjustment period at Arsenal – remains our legitimate option in the midfield beyond January.
6. Danny Welbeck scored.
Nothing describes Danny Welbeck better than the run he made during the second half of the match against West Ham. The Englishman collected the ball in our half, used his pace to beat all West Ham defenders, ran into the box with the ball from the left side and instead of scoring in Henry-esque manner opted for a strong shot with his left foot.
Nevertheless, Danny gave yet another hard-working performance and ended his goal-drought with a tap-in after Chamberlain’s cross. He didn’t get the rest he needs due to Giroud’s stupid red card but at least he used the chance to inject some self-confidence.
7. Wojciech Szczesny looks better and better between the sticks.
The Polish goalkeeper hasn’t been on the route to retain his Golden Glove from the last term but his performances lately have been encouraging. Even if he did concede a total of five goals in the matches against Newcastle, Liverpool, QPR and West Ham, he can’t be blamed for any of them.
8. Laurent Koscielny makes our defence much better.
The Frenchman returned to the team and that’s the first big return that was expected during the festive period. With him in the squad we should get a clean sheet here and there.
9. Tomas Rosicky still has it.
The way Rosicky nailed our second goal of the game against QPR showed what we have missed this season. His directness, aggression and cleverness on the pitch are out of the question – it remains a mystery why – aside from the injuries – Arsene Wenger hasn’t used him on a regular basis this term.
Our next match is against Southampton away. It’s going to be a difficult one again – we haven’t beaten them away since their return to the Premiership and they are ahead of us due to superior goal-difference – but we can keep the momentum and return to the Top Four by beating The Saints.