I geared up for misery yesterday. I had it all planned out. 2 episodes of Game of Thrones, I was going to start The Jinx, then I was going to finish the night listening some early years Radiohead, curled up in a ball, nursing my teary red eyes with whatever the America version of Kleenex is…
So you can imagine the shock when we pulled off the most impressive victory, since, what, Manchester City away from home a couple of seasons ago?
Chelsea set out with a strong squad. We had the shadow of an on-form ex-captain, Cesc Fabregas, hanging over us. We had Diego Costa snarling to stab at our psyche. We had our disgraceful record of not scoring against them in six and not taking points off them competitively since 2011.
The line-up didn’t surprise. Wenger opting for what he knows right now. Coq-Caz through the middle, Alexis up top… Theo on the right… Iwobi on the left. You couldn’t argue it was a bad team. It was very strong. I just had worries about Santi’s legs through the middle and Coq getting torn to shreds with his high press.
It was not to be. We cruised the game. Utterly dominant in every single way. I can’t remember seeing a Chelsea side so shocked into submission. We had more heart, more structure about our play and way more purpose. Conte mentioned in the press conference after we beat them tactically and physically. LOVED hearing that.
I’m not as good as the others at writing match reports, but I’ll just give an overview of what I liked.
Firstly, star man of the day, and there were many, was Laurent Koscielny. What and absolute hero he was. His day built with an agenda in mind. Nullify Diego Costa like a silent assassin. The Brazilian was so deep in his pocket, he was suffocating on the lint. He was totally bossed. He was roughed up. He was outsmarted. He didn’t get a sniff all day. A beast of a performance. Mustafi next to him was also a powerhouse as well. Quite incredible considering he’s only a few games into his career. Straight in the mixer. Big shout out to our new scouting team, looks like we’ve nailed a bit of that vintage Leicester ‘who the fuck is that?’ with our signings. Going back to the classsic days!
Alexis Sanchez looked the part through the middle. I’m still not sure if it’s a long term solution, but flanked by Iwobi and Walcott, he looked very happy. He opened the scoring through some superb ferreting, he managed to beat Cahill’s foot to the ball, charged through on goal and dinked the most perfect chip into the far post over Courtois.
Theo Walcott had an banger of a game. The boy, as it stands, looks like a man. What’s with this new found love of tackling? He made 5 attempts and won 3, our most successful defender! The guy was a quiet beast out on the pitch. All that personal training over the summer has paid off. Maybe the realisation that he’s got to make something of his career jolted him? Maybe he just watched a video of himself against West Ham last season? Whatever it is, he looks a different player. He landed the second with some fox-in-the-boxing. Iwobi made some lovely exchanges in the middle of the park, threaded Bellerin into the box, the Spaniard crossed first time to Theo who was on hand to slot home. A very Arsenal goal.
Iwobi really does make me smile. He’s the most exciting youth team player to drop into the side, since, Bellerin? He makes fast decisions, he boasts stunning composure for someone so young and he’s adding productive habits to his game. He’s the Nigerian Alex Hleb… with goals, and a smile.
Our final goal started with Koscielny passing to Ozil, the German turned Kante like an absolute hero, ran the length of the pitch, laid off Sanchez who shipped a pretty horrible ball back, but Ozil watched the ball over, expertly drove his volley into the ground and over Courtois. What a finish. What a performance!
Other notable names… Hector Bellerin added another £5m to his price tag. He’s such a good young pro. He never shirks responsibility, he’s a beast going forward and he’s fast becoming critical to our play like Ashley Cole was back in the day. That last ditch tackle towards the ends was spectacular.
It was a shame to see Coquelin hobble off. Nothing more disappointing for a player in good form to pick up an injury. He looked utterly broken, like he knew it was something bad. Hopefully it’s not. Good thing is we now have a squad capable of dealing with that sort of injury. We have a squad capable of dealing with most things now bar maybe Alexis and Ozil… but jeez, how many teams could deal with those two picking up injuries?
Xhaka had a solid game when he did land on the pitch. He’d made the third most passes of the game by the time we’d finished, nailing 93% of his 49. It’s a good time for him to drop into contention. We have a fairly nice run of games in the Champions League, League Cup and League. I think you’ll see him cement his place and I think you’ll see a more free-flowing style of football start to develop over the next three months.
Listening to the managers after the game was chalk and cheese. Wenger praised the collective pace of the team and the commitment of his players. Conte said his players didn’t have the right attitude and said his team are only good on paper these days. Oh how the tables have turned. Arsene Wenger deserves a lot of praise for that performance out there. He stuck it out with Alexis Sanchez, a man many don’t think suits the central role, he persisted with Theo Walcott again and he looks a different beast and he threw Iwobi into the mix who is super young and green. He was rewarded.
As for Chelsea. Let’s talk Cesc. Pulled off on 54 for a young defender? Nothing says ‘I hate you’ quite like that. I liked that the Arsenal fans applauded him off. We might not like that he went to Chelsea, but remember, we bought Ozil instead and we didn’t give him a route back to England where he wanted to be with his kid. He’ll always be one of my favourites from a pure skill level, it’s sad to see him in an unloved situation, but glad we’re not gunning for him in a hateful way, we’re better than that.
I’ve had people messaging me, asking if we’re going to win the league. I’d say enjoy the moment. Enjoy beating a team we’ve not tanked in ages… and in the most cliché possible way, take it one game at a time. This is an incredibly strong league this year, with the best of the best competing. It’s going to be a long slog like last season. Question for me is, do our players have enough commitment to put in performances like that all season? Do they have the energy to care in every game? Does Wenger have the nous to elevate their skills?
Lots of ifs… but what a day. Savour it. Let’s move onto the next!
Also, big middle finger to Rob Beasley. His book release strategy was about as impactful as a Jose Mourinho personal review.
UNTIL TOMORROW X