On a beautiful late winter Sunday afternoon at the Emirates there was no doubting there were a couple of uncomfortable moments in yesterday’s 2-0 victory over Southampton, but the sheer number of decent chances created by Arsenal outweighed those situations, and Unai Emery’s team climbed to fourth place as a consequence of Manchester United drawing at home to Liverpool and Chelsea not playing due to their involvement in the Carabao Cup Final.
The team selection suggested an element of rotation. Having not played for so long, Mesut Ozil was rested after his 90 minutes against BATE and came on from the bench. He is likely to start on Wednesday evening against Bournemouth. Aarom Ramsey took his place in the team yesterday, whilst Alex Lacazette came in for Aubameyang. Given the number 9 is now banned for the two legs of the Europa League tie against Rennes, I expect he and Aubameyang will both start against Spurs and Manchester United, but that one will start against Bournemouth on the bench.
There was rotation at the back as well, with uncertainties over Laurent Koscielny’s fitness after leaving the pitch against BATE. Sokratis came in to partner Mustafi in a back four. It should be noted that both Kolasinac and Lichtsteiner had decent matches, both defensively and offensively. We wait to see what happens when Ainsley Maitland-Niles returns from fitness, but it made a nice change to see the Swiss international not blow his lines, and contribute in attack.
Both goals were nicely taken, and converted in the first 20 minutes. After that, it was mostly one way traffic and let’s simply be thankful that the team were creating a lot of chances, even if they could not finish them. Yes, they will have to be more clinical when facing better opposition, but at this stage, at least the chances are coming. That hasn’t been the case too often of late. In fairness the absence of Mesut Ozil from proceedings until late on did not seem to hamper the side’s creative edge. What seems to be the distinguishing feature of a lot of the side’s best performances under Emery is to work the ball from wide, get behind the defence. It partly explains why he seems to prefer the three at the back, giving extra insurance to his wide defenders. It certainly creates more panic than playing the ball across the width of the pitch 15 yards outside the opposition penalty box and waiting for an opening.
Aaron Ramsey was replaced by Ozil after 63 minutes. The Welshman had played his part in the good things the team achieved and the knowledge that he will be paid £400k a week puts him in a new light (even if a good portion of that is compensation to the player for Juventus not having to suffer a transfer fee). It was good for him to get a start, and he was warmly applauded off the field. Were he going to another team in this country, that might not have been the case, but in that scenario, one doubts there would have been any news about a deal until the season was over. Ramsey could still play a big part in the remainder of Arsenal’s season.
Alex Iwobi left the pitch injured, subbed instead of Lacazette when Aubameyang made his entry. Iwobi does offer danger going forward, but his careless loss of possession put his team in danger twice yesterday. It’s a side of his game that needs work. Elsewhere, Torreira was noticeable for his aggression and forward forays. He adds a bite to Arsenal’s midfield that has been missing for far too long. Already a crowd favourite, I don’t see this particular love affair going stale anytime soon.
Granted, we can mitigate how good Arsenal’s performance was with the reality that the opposition are in the drop zone, but they weren’t pulling up many trees when they defeated Emery’s side back in December either. The team need to build confidence and get into a groove, and not losing to Spurs and Manchester United in the very near future would be huge in this respect. Let’s hope they raise their game for these two matches. With enough points, both of these sides could be overtaken by Arsenal. Emery’s team could finish third and they could finish sixth. It is dependent on putting together a run.
Three points were key from yesterday’s match. In the preview piece on the game I highlighted that I felt Arsenal would need 26 points out of the 36 available to them in the remainder of the campaign to achieve fourth place. So far three out of three, none dropped, 23 from 33 now required. I’ll keep a tally of this for the remaining matches this season. Bournemouth on Wednesday is certainly another they have to take maximum points from. It’s a fact they have only suffered one league defeat at home so far this season, and that was on the opening day. At least that side of things seems to be developing nicely. Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea combined have only taken a point away in those three matches. So it’s away from home that the real uplift will be required. Fingers crossed…
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