It was another nail-biting game in the league but Arsenal have managed to stretch our winning streak in the league to six games thanks to a narrow 3:2 victory over Swansea at home.
It should have been more comfortable but in the end we should be happy with three points, especially given that we had to play 25 minutes with ten men after Granit Xhaka’s red card. Results in other matches went pretty much our way so we are behind the league leaders Manchester City only due to one more goal conceded.
Here are the key points from the game.
1.Theo Walcott has transformed into a real poacher.
Whilst it’s true that Theo should have had a hat-trick from Saturday’s game, it’s unfair not to praise him for his goal-scoring form. He has scored five league goals and added two assists in the league with two Champions League goals to his name as well.
Theo’s goals are usually a result of his movement and pace but today it was more down to his ability to seize the opportunity opened by the opponents’ defensive mess. Theo has had a few false dawns in his career with a sunrise interrupted every time with a serious injury but this new resilient Theo looks like the real deal. Also, Theo opens a lot of space for Hector Bellerin who torments our opponents with his pace and surging runs. They have been too fast and too furious for pretty much every defence so far!
2.Mesut Özil has transformed from the ‘King of Assists’ to the ‘King of Volleys’.
The German No. 10 gave himself the best birthday present by scoring another lovely volley at the Emirates. Just like against Chelsea, a perfectly weighted pass from Alexis Sánchez led to Özil’s third league goal of the season. It was a goal that effectively won us the game and further proof that Mesut can score a lot of goals.
His lack of assists shouldn’t worry us right now as Mesut has found a more direct way to get us goals and his understanding with Alexis is the most exciting partnership Arsenal have had since the legendary Henry-Pires axis on the left wing. Each time Alexis made a great pass it looked like Özil was the only person in the world that knew where the pass would end.
3.Another jinx has been broken.
We have already seen three bad streaks coming to an end. Arsenal hadn’t beaten Swansea in the last four league games at home before today’s victory. Southampton (three) and Chelsea (six) hadn’t conceded a league goal against Arsenal for a while but we managed to fight against that bad habit and beat both of those teams.
It might be a sign that this season is going to be the one we have been waiting for since 2004. Yes, we will have to go through thick and thin to win the league – our November fixtures include a North London Derby against Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham (we haven’t won the last four of those in the league) and a trip to Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United (we haven’t won at Old Trafford in the league since 2006-2007) – but maybe this is the season in which The Curse of November is about to be broken too and in the most spectacular fashion.
Perhaps the real reason for this change of luck lies in our astonishing conversion rate. We have created just 89 chances and scored 19 goals (via Squawka.com) which means we need 4.68 chances per goal. Last season none of ten chances Mesut Özil created against Southampton at the Emirates was converted. This season we have scored three or more goals in five out of eight games while last season we scored three or more goals in just nine out of 38 matches.
Arsene Wenger may have not spent big on a world-class striker last summer but it seems that instead he bought us the killer instinct we have been missing for in a decade, spread it all over our team and decided not to tell us.
4.Granit Xhaka should be punished for his performance…by staying in the first eleven for another game.
There was a part of the Swiss midfielder’s statistics from 2015-16 that caught everyone’s eye. The former Borussia Mönchengladbach man picked up three red cards in the league and all of them by 31st October! His tackle on the excellent Modou Barrow was taking one for the team, preventing a counter-attack with a reckless challenge when the ball was nowhere near him. Xhaka got his marching orders and the team was left hanging for 25 minutes. However, let’s not pretend that we hadn’t been asking for that kind of player for almost a decade, someone who would be ready to make a vicious tackle if that is what it takes to win the game for us. Now we have that type of a player and everything that goes with him. It wasn’t the worse part of Xhaka’s game today – losing the ball and practically giving away a goal to Gylfi Sigurdsson was the worst. It was a cheap goal and a reminder to Xhaka that he should be more careful with possession, especially at 30 meters from the goal.
Still, given that we have two matches next week – against Ludogorets Razgrad and Middlesbrough respectively – I think it would be wise to keep Xhaka in the starting line-up against the Bulgarian champions with both/either Santi Cazorla and/or Francis Coquelin on the bench in order to stay fresh for the Premier League game.
The Bulgarians shouldn’t pose a threat to us even if we go into the game with Mohamed Elneny alongside Xhaka in the middle and Cazorla’s legs should be rested every once in a while. Given that Xhaka won’t be available for the game against Middlesbrough anyway, he should be used against the Bulgarians before we are forced to rest him.
We all know that the Premier League is a marathon that will require some rotation, especially when a mid-week match is squeezed in between two league matches. That also means Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, both of whom made a lively cameo against Swansea, and Lucas Perez could get a chance in the starting eleven against Ludogorets as well.
5.Whisper it, but Arsene Wenger actually reads the game well.
One of the weak spots in our game today was our left side of the defence. Ever since Alex Iwobi replaced Alexis as Nacho Monreal’s partner on the left flank, the Spanish full-back has struggled to repeat his performances from last season when he was arguably the best left-back in the league. Modou Barrow exploited him more than once and Wenger reacted by fortifying our left flank with another full-back in Kieran Gibbs. It was the right call as Swansea couldn’t find the space on that side of the pitch anymore.
All-in-all, we should be happy with how things are going. There is still a room for improvement but there are a lot of positive signs in the team at the moment and we should enjoy it.