It was a positive weekend for The Arsenal, with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over the Orcs of Morder and the returns of Mesut Özil and Aaron Ramsey, albeit with a substitute appearance for the former and remaining a spectator on the bench for the latter.
We started very brightly, with Alexis and Rosicky both bringing good saves out of Begovic. But the Bosnian keeper was soon beaten when Koscielny headed home from a perfectly timed and weighted cross from Alexis. The lead was doubled before half-time when Alexis pounced on a loose ball, played a quick one-two with Rosicky, and twisted and turned the Stoke defence inside out before firing in at the near post. It was a fantastic finish from the Chilean; low, powerful and deceptive in direction with many (myself included) expecting a curler to the far post.
The game was wrapped up early in the second half when Alexis bagged his brace with a free-kick from the edge of the area. A strike made all the sweeter by the fact the Stoke wall refused to retreat ten yards, the referee failed to force them, and that the Stoke wall then walked in front of the foam line.
It means Alexis has now been involved in 19 goals (12 goals, 7 assists) in just 20 Premier League appearances, which is quite phenomenal. Plus of course he has another 6 goals to his name in all other competitions (4 Europe, 1 FA Cup and 1 League Cup). Not bad statistics for his debut season.
And it’s not just his statistics in the goals and assists columns that provide the wow factor. His finishing, vision, technique, speed, movement, work rate, and tenacity are all of the highest quality. He’s a born winner. Even on a bad day you notice him; he doesn’t hide away or shirk his responsibilities. He’s an absolute gem, and to have finished the game with him playing number 9 and Mesut Özil behind him in the number 10 role was a bloody marvellous sight.
Whilst Alexis has been the stand out player of the season he is, of course, also part of a team. And credit must be given to those around him, who in recent weeks have really started to raise their game. I thought Chamberlain, Rosicky, and Cazorla were outstanding on Saturday and Koscielny once again proved how vital he is to our back line. Even Monreal, belittled often and by many, continued his fine form this season with another solid display.
The disappointment of the weekend was the injury to Debuchy, which has resulted in surgery and a three-month recovery period, his second of the season. I really feel for him and I find it astounding that the FA have refused to take further action, and that the media (or Arsene for that matter!) have not created more of a storm. It was a clear shove in the back by Artamovic that caused the injury; a sly and needless challenge that has caused serious consequences. Once more an opposition culprit walks away while we’re left to pick up the injury pieces.
The club confirmed that Mikel Arteta has also undergone surgery, on his problematic ankle, and he too will be out for three months. If a central defender and holding midfielder weren’t already on the shopping list then I’d imagine they are now…in underline and bold. And if they’re not then they bloody well should be. Arsene said in his press conference he was hoping to make “one or two signings” this January, so fingers crossed we’re all on the same page!
For now though everyone’s transfer cravings will have to feast on 17 year-old, Krystian Bielik. The Polish defensive midfielder, and his current club Legia Warsaw, have both confirmed he’ll undergo a medical at London Colney this Friday. As Arseblog has rightly pointed out, the signing of promising young talent and much-needed senior reinforcements don’t have to be mutually exclusive; we’re allowed to do both. It may be a little frustrating, the thought that time spent on Bielik could have been spent elsewhere, but deals have to be done as and when they’re ready. If his was ready before the defender or more senior defensive midfielder we need then c’est la vie.
Returning to matters on the pitch, and this weekend we have the rather daunting task of a trip to the Etihad Stadium to take on champions Manchester City. Although, I say daunting, in reality it’s probably the most optimistic I feel going into one of the big away games. Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge seem to deliver déjà vu performances and results, whilst Anfield always seems like a tough one to call. But, despite their recent wealth, we don’t have that bad a record against City (home or away) and even in the games we have lost (including last season’s 6-3 defeat) you often sense we were at least in the game, or had half a chance.
That said, it will still be a very tough game and a very big ask to get the three points, even with Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfred Bony away on African Cup of Nations duty. From our perspective I’d like to see Bellerin continue at right back. I’m not yet sold on Chambers as a right back, and whilst Bellerin may also be prone to youthful errors I at least have the comfort factor that he has the pace to get him out of trouble.
The rest of the defence picks itself (depending on the fitness of Gibbs), whilst you’d imagine Ospina will continue in-goal. In midfield I’m expecting to see the return of Ramsey alongside Coquelin (despite the recent fine form of Rosicky), with Chamberlain, Cazorla, and Alexis providing the attacking support for Giroud. But regardless of who Arsene decides to go with, everyone needs to be on their game. Anything less and it will be another fruitless visit to one of our top four rivals.