It’s been a week of positive progress with two victories, two clean-sheets, and two key players returning to the starting line-up in the form of Giroud and Koscielny. After the disappointment of defeat against United, which was compounded by the news that Wilshere’s ankle did require surgery thus ruling him out for three months, it was exactly the kind of week we needed.
Victory over Dortmund on Wednesday confirmed our progress to the ‘Round of 16’ and also kept alive our slim hopes of topping the group. However, despite the German sides awful league form (which now sees them sitting bottom of the Bundesliga) I fully expected them to win at home to Anderlecht, which would mean another second place group finish for ourselves. And if that’s to be the case you’d surely be looking for us to draw the winner of Group C (Bayer Leverkusen or Monaco) or Group H (Porto) as opposed to the heavyweights of Madrid, Barcelona, or Munich.
In terms of the game it was a far more accomplished and disciplined performance graced by two stunning goals. Sanogo opened both the scoring and his Arsenal account after just 72 seconds following a cute back heel one-two with Cazorla. He should have opened his account at Goodison Park last season, but saw his goal incorrectly rule out for offside. On this occasion he benefitted from an incorrect call, slotting home from an offside position. Fair to say he probably couldn’t care less and will feel like things have evened themselves out. I have a real soft spot for the Frenchman so was really pleased for him, and I think that with a little more confidence and a run of good fitness there is a very talented player that lies within; another diamond for Arsene to polish. It was therefore sad to see him removed with a hamstring issue, but the good news is that he should be back tonight.
As for the second goal, it was that man Alexis Sanchez again! A wonderful curled effort from outside the area made it 10 goals in 10 games for club and country and he’s just a joy to behold. My one fear is burnout, but with the return of Giroud (and hopefully Walcott soon too) I’m hoping Arsene will manage his workload accordingly, especially during the busy festive period that’s nearly upon us.
And so we headed up to The Hawthorns will a little more spring in our step, with the return of Koscielny certainly providing a large chunk of that extra bounce. We looked far more settled and solid, with a much better shape and focus on our defensive duties, whilst at the same time playing some lovely attacking football. Cazorla, in particular, was fantastic; the quickness of his feet, his range of passing, his movement, and the assist for Welbeck’s goal were all truly brilliant. If only he could now find his shooting boots!
Having failed to score in his last 6 Arsenal games it was good to see Welbeck back on the score-sheet. The hang-time for his header was phenomenal and he applied just enough power to ensure Foster’s efforts were futile. In addition, the interchanges between Welbeck, Giroud, and Alexis were extremely positive given this was their first outing together and it’s certainly an interesting ‘all-out attack’ option, in particular for home games where we know the oppositions approach will be to come and park the bus. And as well as Cazorla played there was still a large part of my licking my lips at the prospect of Walcott joining in the fun and Özil supplying the ammunition!
The league table is looking very bunched up now and with United and Liverpool both winning last night it’s imperative we beat Southampton. They left the Emirates victorious in September, but you’d like to think our starting eleven and performance will both be stronger than displayed in the League Cup that particular night. Nevertheless, they’ve been in fine form this season and will be extremely dangerous, so nothing but our best and continued defensive discipline will deliver the three points required. Man City cast a doubt over the Saints’ ability against the ‘bigger’ sides with a resounding 3-0 win at St.Mary’s on the weekend and it’s important that we hammer another nail into that coffin, especially as victory either way will result in the difference between a 3 point gap or a 9 point gap.
In terms of team news we have nobody due back, but another three in doubt. Gibbs, Monreal, and Chamberlain will all require fitness tests having picked up knocks against West Brom, with Wenger stating he was hoping at least one of the left-backs would make it. Who would play left-back in the event neither recovers in time doesn’t bear thinking about. However, on a more positive note none of the injuries appear to be long-term and in addition, Debuchy and Ospina are set to return to full training next week. The more hands, or should I say feet, on deck the better!