In what was something of a nervy performance, our boys managed to bounce back from the nasty defeat against Monaco on Wednesday night. We have kept our third spot by beating Everton in the league for the first time in six occasions, narrowed the gap between us and the second-placed Manchester City to just four points and widened the one between us and Southampton. It’s going to be a really exciting race for the Champions League places. Here are the key points from the match.
1. We managed to respond immediately after the shocking game.
Last season we had four big away defeats against the rest of Top 5. In the home matches that followed them, we managed to win just one (West Ham 3:1 after the defeat against Everton) while the remaining three were draws (Chelsea 0:0, Manchester United 0:0, Swansea 2:2). In all those matches there was an obvious handbrake in our game, a fear of defeat that tied our limbs and that’s how six points at home were lost. Remember, we missed out on the league title last season by only seven points.
This time, there was a handbrake in our game again but we managed to bypass it eventually and win the game without conceding.
2. David Ospina gave a heroic performance.
The Colombian saved the day for everyone – Arsenal, Gooners, Gabriel – except for Romelu Lukaku. The powerful Belgian striker came close to exploit an error from Gabriel when the score-line was still 0:0 but Ospina made a well-timed dash to punch the ball away and made a superb tackle you would expect only from a top central defender. Later in the game Ospina made two brilliant saves to deny Lukaku showing his reflexes and protecting our lead. He totally deserved a clean sheet.
3. Gabriel has two out of two now.
The Brazilian central defender got his first start in the league. It could have turned to a mare had Lukaku scored after Gabriel’s misjudgment early in the game but after that moment he didn’t put a wrong foot. The highlight of Gabriel’s game was a superb tackle just when Lukaku was prepared to pull the trigger. Those among you who have played Football Manager know that you can call the press-conference to unveil your new signing and, if there is a language barrier, there is a possibility for you to pick the answer: “I have no concerns, football is a universal language and Gabriel will get on just fine.” Well, that’s exactly what I have to say about Gabriel. It was Brazilian’s second start and second clean sheet kept.
4. Is Mesut Özil indeed a Juan Sebastian Veron v2.0, or is it that some people don’t know what really counts in football?
It’s very unlikely that Arsene Wenger is about to respond to the criticism of Özil by saying: “On you go. I’m no f**king talking to you. He’s a f**king great player. Youse are f**king idiots.” – as Sir Alex Ferguson famously did with regard to Veron. There are many things that two excellent playmakers have in common – both of them were expensive purchases, both of them came from the best league in the world at the time, and both of them were expected to conquer the Premier League. It didn’t work for Veron even if his numbers weren’t that bad – he looked off the pace and his spell at Chelsea was ridden with injuries.
Still, there is one thing about Veron that those who have followed the Premier League rarely remember: the Argentinian knew how to be invisible in big matches and yet how to win them with a single move. In one of the tightest title races in the history of Serie A, Lazio played consecutive derbies against Roma and Juventus respectively. Despite being the second best in both matches with Totti and Zidane dominating, Lazio won both games (2:1 against Roma, 1:0 against Juventus) and it was Veron who scored a perfect victorious free-kick against Roma and delivered a perfect cross for the match-winning header of Diego Simeone against Juventus in Turin.
Fast forward to the present day. Özil might have a poor body language and moves like a ninja but he has been involved in over a goal per game in the league since his return to the first eleven (two goals and five assists in five games). Against Everton, it was Özil who made the final pass before our goals. Say whatever you want about him but he gets the job done. If you can blame him for something, it was his too casual approach when through on goal when he should have put the game in bed but allowed the Everton player to block him.
Compare his goal-involvement tally (three goals and six assists in twelve games) with the one of Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wilshere combined (thirty-one games, two goals and two assists) and you’ll see my point. It doesn’t gets much better for the Englishmen when you take all competitions in account as Chambo and Wilshere have made fifty appearances combined and got us four goals and six assists while Özil has needed eighteen games to score the same number of goals and create seven more for his team-mates. If there is a huge untold reason why England and English footballers haven’t made any world-wide success in fifty years, it’s underestimating players like Özil today and Pippo Inzaghi yesterday – look-lazy-but-extremely-efficient – and overestimating players who buzz around for ninety minutes producing a lot of noise and no honey. It would be interesting if Andrea Pirlo had ever signed for an English club. He would have been massacred by the media and fans that don’t get his football.
Oh, and the best part is: Özil was our player with the highest distance covered against Monaco.
5.Olivier Giroud had a special afternoon.
The French striker had been under fire because of his poor shooting performance against Monaco so he really needed a chance to redeem himself. He took it well with the goal from Özil’s corner to relieve the pressure before the half-time. He didn’t let that first miss of the game – a diving header – to ruin his confidence. Au contraire, he put a real shift on both sides of the pitch and proved that he is going to be a great asset for us in the remaining games. The Frenchman has scored nine goals in just sixteen appearances which means he is joint with Diafra Sakho, Eden Hazard, Wilfried Bony, Christian Eriksen, Danny Ings and David Silva on the tenth place of the goalscorer-list except our striker has had the fewest appearances among them.
Everything went well for Giroud except…
6.Coquelin’s injury is a serious blow.
As if we didn’t have enough injuries at present. Olivier Giroud and Francis Coquelin both went for the same ball and the younger Frenchman got his nose broken. Coquelin returned to the game but once the ball hit his injured nose, his game was over. It’s still unclear for how long we won’t be able to count on our midfield-revelation.
7.Theo Walcott’s absence is not a reason to be concerned about.
There was a lot of noise among the Gooners due to absence of Theo Walcott against Everton. There is no reason for that. There are a lot of matches to be played in the forthcoming period and it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who was wrecking havoc down the flank against Everton in our FA Cup victory and was one of rare players that came with any credit from that nasty defeat at the Goodison Park in April. Also, Chambo needed – just like Giroud – a chance to redeem himself after making an error that led to Carrasco’s goal on Wednesday. The sole fact Wenger put him in the starting eleven should help The Ox to overcome the demons of Monaco.
8.Captain Santi Cazorla ran the show again.
The Spaniard gave more battling than creative display against The Toffees. He defended, he tackled, he supported Coquelin in protecting the back four. He didn’t have the usual impact in the final third – fortunately, we have Özil to do that – but his performance was as mature as you want it to be.
9.Are we going to see more from Calum Chambers in forthcoming fixtures?
If there is an injury crisis, it’s in our midfield. Take a look at this: Mathieu Flamini, Mikel Arteta, Abou Diaby, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Francis Coquelin. All of them are central midfielders, and all of them are injured. That might mean Calum Chambers is about to start on his third position since joining Arsenal. After being a right full-back and a central defender, the youngster might now feel the gap in the midfield and replace Coquelin for the match against QPR. Of course, Arsene Wenger can shuffle the cards in a different way – Gabriel might be moved to the middle with either Mertesacker or Chambers returning to the central defence next to Koscielny. There is always an option with Tomas Rosicky – who scored a huge goal against Everton and came close to another one – in a more defensive role. I guess we have to sign at least 20 midfielders prior to next season in order to have a few of them healthy in March.
10.It’s squeaky-bum time, it seems.
There is no way to describe how much I despise Alex Ferguson and his set of values that he has installed in the Premiership (hello, Mike Riley) but I have to cite him for the second time in one article. After Liverpool won the game against City, the race for the Champions’ League places couldn’t be any more tight. We have been sandwiched between Manchester clubs – four points behind City and one above United, three points above in-form Liverpool, five ahead of Southampton and seven above Spuds (they have a game in hand though). We are still in the FA Cup and Champions League and the next three away games (QPR, Manchester United and Monaco respectively) in three competitions might set the route for our season.