Few Angels As Arsenal Battle Their Way To 3 Points

Online Ed: Welcome home win v Burnley sends Gunners into a Merry Xmas

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Ashley Barnes delivers Burnley’s Xmas greeting to Guendouzi

Let’s start with a different tack in reviewing the 3-1 home victory over Burnley. I was interested to hear the comments that Roy Keane made on BBC Radio 5 Live when discussing what had went wrong at Manchester United this season. Footballers have changed since his playing days. “I was very lucky with the dressing room I was in,” he said. “There were good men, good leaders and characters, but that is in shortage in the game now. It (referring to the lack of effort perceived in United’s players under Mourinho this season) would not have happened in our dressing room. We would not have tolerated lads not putting a shift in.”

Ironic then, that Mesut Ozil was named captain yesterday on his return to a first team starting place in the Premier League for the first time in over a month. However, what I wish to take away from yesterday’s game, aside from the impressive finishing of Aubameyang, is the know-how and… well, cynicism of a couple of experienced pros. Specifically Lichtsteiner and Sokratis. These guys have got all the dirty tricks, and it’s no wonder Arsene Wenger, with his purist ideals about football would not have contemplated signing such players. But you know what, everyone else is doing it. It’s a combination of pretending they’ve been fouled, subtle fouls on the opposition, disrupting momentum through stopping the restart of the game and winding up the opposition. It’s the kind of thing I see in spades when Arsenal play abroad against Spanish opposition. The bearpit of Valencia’s Mestalla stadium comes to mind, and more recently Atletico’s Wanda Metropolitano.

It isn’t pretty, but it’s effective. A card in Arsenal’s deck they have lacked for far too long. If football was played fairly, there would never be any fouls. So, yes, I accept Unai Emery’s team may not have impressed many yesterday, but I could see a method in the chaos. And three critical points at the end of it.

The starting line-up has become a subject of fascination these days, rarely predictable. With the return to fitness of Kolasinac, who had a decent match in my view, and can occasionally use the dark arts himself, we started with a back three of Sokratis, Xhaka and Monreal. This is undoubtedly now the favoured formation for Emery. Monreal got injured during the first half, so Stephan Lichsteiner replaced him, with Sokratis moving into the middle and Xhaka shifting left. A clean sheet was more than we could hope for, although in truth, Burnley should have scored in the opening minutes, so things could have been worse.

Arsenal’s first two goals were nicely fashioned. The opener in the opening 45 minutes saw a good combination from Ozil and Kolasinac to tee up Aubameyang. The second saw Kolasinac breaking to play the ball to Lacazette who laid on Aubameyang for his second. The contribution of the wing backs in Arsenal’s attacking play, especially Kolasinac, cannot be underestimated. Their impact is the reason for the change in formation, but the team will not function at their optimum until they have the right personnel available to play in the back three. Burnley’s goal was a result of some ping pong in the Arsenal box with the failure to clear the ball. It put the jitters into the crowd, but at this point, I think the game management came to the fore. It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough. Sub Iwobi’s goal in injury time after Ozil’s shot was blocked eased tensions and ensured the win. Ozil seemed peripheral, but it can’t be denied he played a big part in two of the goals. I think he will start at Brighton, but his role is a quandary. If he does not contribute to the creation of goals, he becomes a total luxury in Emery’s system.

Mohammed Elneny started in midfield for the first time in the league this season. This was as much about giving Torreira a rest as anything. We wait to see whether Guendouzi is given a break at Brighton. Elneny didn’t pull up any trees, but was efficient enough. In fairness, he is an example of a squad player who the club need to improve on if they are to progress, but against Burnley, you can get away with playing him. Torreira replaced him in the second half to add some bite to the Arsenal midfield.

Sean Dyche didn’t seem to want to listen to Unai Emery’s pleasantries at the end of the game, and was unhappy with some of the gamesmanship of Arsenal’s players. He should take a look at his own players, such as Ashley Barnes stamping on Guendouzi’s chest. One wonders if this had been committed by an Arsenal player whether it might have been a subject of some discussion on ‘Match of the Day’. As it was, it was not even shown.

It wasn’t Arsenal’s most authoritative performance. The game was often scrappy and niggly. However, winning was key after the recent setbacks and it gave Mesut Ozil the chance to re-establish his match fitness. The number 10 looked shattered at the end. They now need to improve their solidity at the back with a controlled performance on Boxing Day so that they can at least go to Anfield with some hope of stemming the flow of Jurgen Klopp’s side. Four points from the next two matches would be a fantastic return.

Even if the crowd was at least 10,000 light with so many prioritising other things, the supporters go into Christmas with a win under their belts, and the players will be feeling happier about going into training while the rest of us have our feet up.

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  1. Made Up Stat

    Dec 24, 2018, 15:56 #112738

    Really, really good to see (for the most part) Arsenal players with a backbone. Agree totally that we would not have won this fixture last season. We would have folded under rough house tactics. The state of our injuries had a kind of Wengeresque effect upon the game, I think, in so much we hung on for a 3-1 win! Let's hope Emery can get the dosh for meaningful signings next month.

  2. markymark

    Dec 24, 2018, 15:01 #112737

    Unless anyone can tell me different I’ve still not heard One anti ref statement from Unai. When Guendouzi was grabbed by his hair . Response was “Should of got his hair cut” On Saturday he gently enquired to Dyche “Did you not agree with the referee? as Sean Dyche stormed off in a hissy fit. This is so refreshing after the constant ground hog Wenger moans. The month it would take to recover from a perceived injustice and the ongoing whacky conspiracy theories on Untold which look even more pathetic when the Manager is refusing to hide behind referee decisions. We do have our Arsenal back, as are dark arts of defending . Long may this continue!

  3. Newpark

    Dec 24, 2018, 12:05 #112736

    The Christmas period is hard, hard work. Players get injured, tired, rotation is both key but potentially detrimental and i'd be shocked if you saw any single team play the same 11 over it. We had to battle, grind it out, take the aggression and physicality shown by Burnley and give it back. We did that, we got 3 points, job done. Chelsea needed to fight it out, they lost, Man City for all their quality lost. Our main concern now is players getting injured at the back, we can't cope with just Sokratis at centre half so badly need Musti to return and Koscielny to get up to full speed - something he looks a way off. Brighton will be the same, it will be a battle so we have to stand up to it.

  4. Seven Kings Gooner 1

    Dec 24, 2018, 11:17 #112735

    Well summed up as usual Kev - It seems that Ozil can only ever be played in home matches. I cannot see him starting at Anfield it is too risky. Thought Arsenal got it just right against Burnley, went 2 - 0 up, eased off because of the many fixtures coming and saw it out, if it were the Spuds, Lineker and Co would have called it "the new maturity at Tottenham". Gooner Ron, nice of you to mention Lauren, he was a mean hombre, there is great youtube footage of him putting Giggs onto the cinder track at Highbury, not a flicker of emotion from him.

  5. The Man From UNCLE

    Dec 24, 2018, 09:25 #112733

    Took our eldest on Saturday. Burnley - a Championship side playing in the PL. With championship tactics to match too (how did Ward stay on the pitch?) . I was furious when that sloppy goal was let in but let's face it they had a couple of other near misses before that too (not forgetting that Leno save in the first minute!) but overall a good win and the side showed a bit of steel too. It's always good when the opposition manager runs off to his media pals to complain afterwards, they don't like it up 'em.

  6. gooner.ed

    Dec 24, 2018, 06:08 #112731

    Lanes - re: a Kindle version, there used to be one, but I am not certain there still is. Check the Amazon kindle magazine store. If they have stopped, email me at the editorial address (click on contact at the bottom of the page). I can send you a pdf each issue. Mind you, truth to tell, it wouldn't count towards the 1,000 needed for the print version... and if there is no print version, there won't be an electronic one.

  7. Bard

    Dec 23, 2018, 17:35 #112730

    Good article Kev. I am also loving some of our new recruits with their feisty attitude. For too long we have performed as if it's a gymnastic display with points for style and no room for 'nastiness'. We fought fire with fire yesterday and I loved it. Ozil is an enigma but my view is that he is a gonna unless he morphs into a worker and I dont see that happening. We do need players in the window without a doubt. Good post GoonerRon.

  8. GeorgeBung

    Dec 23, 2018, 16:13 #112729

    Not the greatest of games but a good solid win. Agree with the Ed that if the dark arts are used by others against you then you need to reciprocate in kind otherwise we become a soft touch like last season. Thankfully the personnel are being allowed to do this. Quality reinforcements are needed in defence as soon as poss. Not quite sure how we are going to get them with an owner who has no intention of putting his hand in his back pocket. I can see our makeshift defence getting a hammering against the bin-dippers, let's hope not. LAHK

  9. mbg

    Dec 23, 2018, 16:07 #112728

    The perfect game for Ozil to make his return, lets see how he does against Liverpool yes it's good to see us win ugly and give as good as we get at times, the sore loser Dyche certainly didn't like it.

  10. GoonerRon

    Dec 23, 2018, 13:54 #112727

    Was mentioned on MOTD ‘if you give Ozil time on the ball he can hurt you’. It completely misses the salient point that 99.9% of players, even with time, wouldn’t have had the vision to see the pass to Kolasinac, let alone the dexterity to pull it off. That’s why he’s such a quandary - his natural style doesn’t fit Emery’s ideal yet he gives us something offensively that no other player does. MOTD’s analysis of our game got my blood boiling last night. They chose to indulge Sean Dyche’s post match toddler hissy fit about Arsenal ruining football for millions of children by showing Xhaka’s ‘dive’ (something that every defender does when the ball is running toward their own byline and feels some contact), and Lich going down easy. Not one single mention of Barnes’ headlock on Sokratis, very snidey knee in Guen’s kidney, his attempted stamp on Guen or Burnley’s general shithousery. It was unbelievably one-eyed analysis. Overall though, I feel like we passed another test yesterday. Dyche obviously went there thinking his inbreds could rough us up (especially with a patch work defence) and his reaction after the match is driven by the fact his bullshit ‘tactics’ didn’t work and we fought fire with fire. I’m really liking this backbone Emery has implanted in the team and, Kevin is right, it is experienced players like Sokratis and Lichtsteiner (plus Kolasinac, who is our modern day Lauren - a full back who is hard as fuck) that brings it.

  11. Lanes23

    Dec 23, 2018, 12:23 #112726

    Hi Kevin, I’m willing to renew my Gooner subscription for next season, but would prefer a Kindle version. Would you be able to arrange this for the 2019-20 season?

  12. Lanes23

    Dec 23, 2018, 12:23 #112725

    Hi Kevin, I’m willing to renew my Gooner subscription for next season, but would prefer a Kindle version. Would you be able to arrange this for the 2019-20 season?