Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The Rebirth Of Theo Walcott

Wednesday 28 September 2016
Arsenal 2 FC Basel 0

Off the back of a statement 3-0 win against Chelsea at the weekend, Arsenal rode that momentum into their second Champions League tie of the season against FC Basel and tore them apart in a dominant 2-0 victory.

The goals came courtesy of Theo Walcott, who looks like a new man this season. He now has 4 goals in his last 3 games, taking his overall tally to 5, a hot start to the new campaign for the Englishman. It's not just the goals, it's his confidence and the way he's become such an important cog in the attack. Theo has a habit of going missing in games, lost for long periods in matches, but this season he's been involved heavily in each of his appearances and tonight was no different. At the end of the first half he had the most touches of any Arsenal player and was a constant menace to the Basel defenders. Theo has always been one of those players that has hot and cold spells but so far this season he's brought a sense of consistency that was lacking last season. His link-up play with Alexis Sanchez tonight was impressive, as both forwards found each other regularly, particularly in that flawless first half.

Arsenal's first goal came after 7 minutes, from a pinpoint Santi Cazorla pass finding Sanchez close to the byline. Alexis controlled the ball perfectly and scooped the ball over the Basel defence into the path of Walcott who couldn't miss, heading home to give the Gunners the lead.

The second goal arrived 20 minutes later and felt inevitable. Walcott started a one-two with Sanchez who laid the ball back into Theo's path. The Englishman shifted between two Basel defenders into space and didn't hesitate. He put his head down and struck through the ball, giving the Basel keeper no chance.

In the second half Arsenal clearly relaxed. They still dominated possession but started to get a bit cute with their passing, a bit of showboating here and there. Basel finally came into the game but could only force Ospina into a couple of saves. You could see the Arsenal players had taken their foot off the gas, perhaps saving their energy ahead of the trip to Burnley on Sunday.

With a 2 goal cushion Arsenal kept pressing for another goal but the Basel keeper Vaclik kept the Swiss side from being on the wrong end of a rout. Sanchez in particular was unlucky not to find the back of the net but Ozil, Iwobi and a host of others should have done better in front of goal. If I have any negatives from tonight it was how wasteful we were after grabbing the 2-0 lead but that's nit-picking. Arsenal were in complete control from start to finish and that's all you can really ask for.

I can't fault any player tonight, as each and every one of them put in a real shift and hardly put a foot wrong. Despite my previous concerns earlier in the season about playing Sanchez as a lone striker, things seem to have clicked now. Whether the squad has adjusted to the change in tactics when the Chilean plays through the middle or maybe Sanchez himself has upped his game, whatever has happened is working wonders at the moment. Long may it continue.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Point Rescued In Paris

Tuesday 13 September 2016
Paris Saint-Germain 1 Arsenal 1

Arsenal's first Champions League game of the season didn't really go as planned but the result can be considered a successful one. The Gunners never really found their rhythm, with many players looking out of sync and off the pace but a 77th minute strike from Alexis Sanchez rescued a hard-fought point against French champions PSG.

Arsene Wenger chose an interesting starting eleven (to put it nicely), omitting Petr Cech, Granit Xhaka and Olivier Giroud. David Ospina made his first start of the season and despite many fans before the game questioning the manager's decision, the choice paid off as Ospina was undoubtedly the man of the match and kept Arsenal in the game. He made multiple saves throughout, denying Edison Cavani on more than one occasion with point-blank saves. Arsenal could have been behind by 3 or 4 goals but for Ospina.

PSG scored early, before a minute had even passed, Cavani glancing a header home after Koscielny was caught too high up the pitch and Mustafi couldn't recover. Ospina had no chance, even Cech would have been helpless. It's clear after two games that Koscielny and Mustafi are still developing their chemistry, and it will take some time for them to form a partnership. But it was a really sloppy goal to concede defensively and the Arsenal defence should not have been so out of position after 40 seconds.

Arsenal didn't exactly respond with any urgency. Despite having a good deal of possession the Gunners were unable to seriously threaten and never troubled Alphonse Areola in the PSG goal. Yet again Alexis Sanchez was chosen to lead the line up front on his own and again it didn't work. I'm not sure why Wenger insists on this strategy, it hasn't worked in any of the games this season and Sanchez becomes far too isolated. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Iwobi flanked Sanchez on the wings but the trio couldn't link up effectively. The Ox had a great pre-season and started the season off with a marvelous solo goal against Liverpool but he has been very average ever since. Iwobi impressed but is still somewhat raw. He saw a great opportunity saved late on.

I just couldn't understand why Giroud was rested for the weekend game against Southampton but didn't start in his homeland in possibly the most important game of our Champions League group. Without a target man of any sort (Sanchez just isn't that kind of player) the team couldn't find any space to operate. When Giroud was introduced with just under half an hour left, it changed the game instantly and Sanchez became far more dangerous as a result. Unfortunately the Frenchman picked up a second yellow card deep into injury time after a needless clash with Marco Verratti, and both men were dismissed from the pitch and Giroud will be suspended for the next group game.

I didn't understand why Xhaka was left out of the lineup either; why was he rested on Saturday but then left out of the lineup last night? Coquelin was chosen instead and saw a lot of the ball, and was regularly getting forward. But isn't he supposed to be the defensive shield? Out of the two players at the base of the midfield it should have been Cazorla in those positions, the far superior offensive player. Again, the team's tactics didn't add up and PSG were happy to let us camp outside their box. Mesut Ozil, our superstar playmaker, had very little impact on the match and was largely disappointing as he could find no way to break down the PSG defence.

Ultimately Arsenal can count themselves fortunate to rescue a point from this fixture. I couldn't see any semblance of a plan or tactical strategy out there. This squad appears to be a huge work in progress. Arsenal face Hull at home on Saturday and could really do with a confidence-boosting win after a couple of lacklustre displays post-international break.

Thanks for reading.