Arsenal responded to defeat in Dortmund with an emphatic 3-0 victory at Villa Park on Saturday, providing both the performance and the result many demanded. I’d spoken of my desire for Cazorla and Oxlade-Chamberlain to get an opportunity from the start, which they did, but in the end the most pleasing return was that of last season’s formation and approach.
The 4-1-4-1 and high pressing game which has caused me concern so far this season was replaced by last season’s 4-2-3-1 and a slightly more conservative defensive approach. It was therefore no coincidence that the team looked more comfortable and more cohesive.
Other positives from the weekend were the performances of Özil and Welbeck, and the nature of the second half. With regards to Özil many will argue his performance was the result of playing in his preferred ‘number 10’ role. Whilst I agree it’s his best position it shouldn’t be the driver for a good performance; losing possession, not working hard enough, and so forth, should not change so drastically based on position. Quite simply he has been out of form. Thankfully both his position and form were mute discussion points on this occasion as both criteria were met; best position and a top class performance.
His finish was cool and composed, after a delicious flick from Chamberlain and a perfectly weighted through ball from Welbeck. Roles were then reversed inside 79 seconds, as Özil crossed sublimely for the England international, who fired home from close range to open his Arsenal account. Welbeck’s overall play was superb; one assist, one goal, and excellent hold-up and link play, as demonstrated by his 97% pass completion. That pressure was starting to build having not opened his account in his first two games for us was pathetic, so I’m glad he put that ‘issue’ to bed so empathically.
In terms of ‘the nature of the second half’, I list this as a positive because it was reminiscent of years gone by when, with the benefit of a healthy half-time lead, we would come out for the second half and just control the game, kill it off with simple, but effective, possession football. For some it may have been dull to watch; 80% second half possession but no shots after the 53rd minute. For me it was joyous. 3-0 half-time lead followed by a calm and controlled second half? Yes please!
Finally, with regards to the Villa game, is a special mention for Szczesny. I’ve been rather critical of him in recent weeks, often for the minutest of details. But credit where credit is due, at 0-0 he produced a wonderful save from Clark that kept the scores level and provided us the platform for our ruthless four minute onslaught that followed shortly after. Well played, Wojciech.
We were back in action last night with the League Cup Third Round tie at home to Southampton. Arsene made ten changes from the weekend, with only Calum Chambers keeping his place. The result was a 2-1 defeat and, from what I’ve read (I say read because the League Cup isn’t televised here in Australia and I’m still awaiting the Arsenal Player highlights), a disjointed performance where many of our squad players failed to make a serious impression. That Alexis Sanchez was the stand out name in the match reports, and the scorer of a brilliant free-kick, probably sums it up for me; one of the few regular starters in the team yet it was he who gave his all and led the way.
I have no issues with Arsene making so many changes, particularly in defence where we’re very short on numbers. After a short and world cup disrupted pre-season it’s been a busy and tough start to the season with the Community Shield, Champions League qualifiers, plus games against Everton, City, and Dortmund. When you then take into account our next three games are Sp*rs, Galatasaray, and Chelsea, and that they will be played within eight days of each other, there really was no alternative.
After 90 minutes for the U21’s last week I was pleased to hear Abou Diaby got another hour under his belt last night. Before his broken ankle he looked a real prospect and he confirmed the belief I have in him during the 2008-2010 seasons when he made 76 appearances, scoring 11 goals and making 8 assists. Sadly serious injuries have plagued him ever since, with yesterday only his 42nd appearance since the start of the 2010/11 season. But before his ankle break and during that 2008-2010 spell of 76 appearances, Abou proved what a truly wonderful player he is, a joy to watch, so I for one hope the remainder of his career offers him some good health and happiness.
All eyes are now on Saturday and you can already feel the tension and excitement building because it is, of course, North London derby weekend. And the home fixture always seems to carry more pressure for me; the thought of them leaving our manor with three points is nightmare inducing. You’d expect all of the big guns to be back and I’m looking for big performances from one to eleven. Do that and we’ll have far too much quality for them, proving once again that North London is red. Anything less and they have enough quality these days to punish us. Please don’t let me down Arsenal, make sure they remain firmly in our shadow. Up The Arsenal.