Morning. James here, with a long overdue match report. We haven’t spoken in some time – partly due to work commitments, predominantly due to the savaging I received over my Coq-bashing. I’ll behave better from now on, I promise.
Leicester is one of my preferred away days, mainly due to the short travel time. Unfortunately I paid the thick of end of £100 to get there and back, due to various cockups, so that aligned with a stinking cold and chest infection had me questioning whether it would be worth it. Serendipitously, it was, as the Gunners produced their most scintillating attacking display of the season.
In terms of the line-up, Cech, Bellerin, Monreal et al came back in, whilst Flamini’s banterific performance at the Lane earned him his first league start since 1992. Once again I was disappointed to see Ramsey start from the right as, without wanting to sound like a broken record, he is Arsenal’s best central midfielder and as such, he should play there.
Nonetheless, we started the game with a decent rhythm, but defensively we looked shaky. There were early warning signs as Cech made a decent save from Vardy, before the same player’s shot was deflected onto the post. Their goal when it came was a bad one to concede. A long ball was played from deep to Vardy who accelerated into the space vacated by Bellerin. From the stands it was pain inducing seeing him run into our box, unabated, and given time to bend a shot into the far corner. Per was the nearest defender and the only explanation I can put forward for not engaging Vardy sooner was a fear of being beaten for pace. In Per’s defence it was only his second game back since a five week layoff with a cold.
Things nearly went from bad to worse, as Vardy was able to loop a header onto our crossbar. However, such is football’s wont, we immediately countered and scored down the other end without 40 seconds and it was a magnificent move. The ball fell to Ozil midway inside our half. Under pressure he had the strength to hold off an opposing player and the vision to sweep the ball wide to Alexis, who played an incisive ball between the lines to Cazorla. Santi took a touch before slipping a slide rule pass between Leicester’s centre-halves for Theo to sprint in on goal. His side footed finish was perfection. Game on.
Shortly after the goal, Flamini hobbled off to be replaced by Arteta, which catalysed our on-going improvement, particularly in terms of our efficiency when we had the ball.
Mesut Ozil was pivotal to the second goal too, as his divine back heel found Bellerin, whose cross ricocheted to Alexis for a simple finish at the back post. It was a huge relief to see the Chilean break his duck for the season. It may purely be perceptual, but it felt as if he immediately simplified his game after the goal. In the preceding games he has veered on selfish in his desire to get off the mark – which is totally understandable – but the goal seemed to free up his game. From thereon in, he stole the show.
Going in at the break 2-1 up, I felt relatively content, but the feeling loomed that we would need another goal to seal it. We didn’t need to wait too long and the goal was a thing of real beauty and highlighted the genius of Ozil – he sees things that other players simply don’t – it must be the eyes. Alexis played the ball out to the corner of the 18-yard box, continued his run, and Ozil with barely a glance chipped the most subtle of crosses for Alexis to leap ahead of Schmeichel to give us the two goal cushion. What added extra delight to the goal was the utter Neanderthals sat next to me and my friends who had been coating off Ozil (and pretty much all of our players) for the whole match, who prior to the goal screamed words to the effect of “useless c***” for not shooting in that position. I gave them a wry smile.
Alexis sealed his hat-trick in real style, with a flick past a hapless Leicester defender before twatting an absolute belter into the bottom corner. It bodes well for the proceeding months to see him get his mojo back. He was magnificent yesterday, combining his effervescence and work rate with incisive passing and clinical finishing. Long may it continue. He also became the first player in history to score top flight hat-tricks in England, Spain and Italy. Well done to him – his dogs will have had a nice time last night, I’m sure.
Leicester were able to steal a second goal near to the death, as a deep cross drew the best from Petr Cech. The rebound came to Vardy who was given far too much time to pick his spot, bending the ball into the far corner. What was noticeable from where I was sat was Oxlade-Chamberlain standing and watching events unfold a good 20 yards from the action. Having only just entered the field of play he couldn’t blame his inaction on fatigue – it’s a mental block in his game, which needs to be remedied before he is considered as a starter against the best opponents.
We were able to add further gloss to the score line, as Ozil released the excellent Monreal down the left whose first time cross was swept home by Giroud, who had missed his customary sitter moments before. All in all, a deeply satisfying win against a team who hadn’t lost until yesterday and a relief to see us finally release the attacking shackles.
Alexis will, deservedly, take many of the plaudits but there were other outstanding performances worthy of mention. Mesut Ozil had a hand in all five goals and he is in my view, our best player. He sets our attacking tempo and is unerringly reliable with the ball. He isn’t bombastic in the mould of Alexis, but it doesn’t make him any less brilliant. He’s been in super form this season – lets hope the upward trajectory continues.
Theo also deserves credit for his performance at centre forward yesterday. Against two super-sized centre backs he held his own and he seems to be growing into the position. He came for the ball at the right times and his hold up was much improved, whilst his movement was very intelligent indeed. As he has shown consistently, he is also an excellent finisher when he’s had a run of games. Theo has waited for the best part of nine years to play consistently as a striker – he deserves time to grow into the role and at the moment he looks a better option than Giroud.
A word too for Monreal who shut out one of the league’s form players – Mahrez – and was generally perfect in all he did. From a player many had doubts about in his early months at the club, he is now arguably the league’s best left-back.
Our next game is at home to Manchester Utd and it’s a big one (with Olympiakos sandwiched in between). In my view, it’s a game we have the quality to win and should we do the business, it could be the catalyst our season needs. I’ll leave the build-up to Pedro so he has something to talk about in the week. I’ll be back with a match report after our mid-weeker.
Until next time x
Give me a follow on Twitter @BeardofPires