First game of December had me struck down with fear. November was tough in the head, December is tough on paper. West Ham have been pure banter this season, failing to adapt to rigors of having a big stadium and the manager failing to hit the heights of an above average season last term. But they did manage to draw against United, that said, they did also manage to make them look like a good football team.
I needn’t have worried, the pregame narrative of Arsenal lacking creative productivity were alleviated as we absolutely destroyed the east Londoners. Alexis Sanchez, Ozil, Coquelin and to be fair, Chamberlain… all had superb games that put Slaven Bilic’s head on the chopping board steaming into the holiday season.
Wenger opted for pace and power in the front three, choosing Chamberlain and Theo to flank Sanchez. Any concerns the Chilean had run out of energy were well and truly obliterated as he hustled and menaced West Hams back line. At times, he looked like he was trying to the do the job of the entire front three, switching in from right to left, dropping deep and making a nuisance. He’s banging in goals for fun, making a hattrick was impressive enough on its own, but to see him create 5 chances in the process shows you that he’s far more than the striker we didn’t expect him to be.
You have to give a shout out the Alex Chamberlain. Maligned by the fans as wasted talent, the young popstar dating sweetheart had a tough opener to the game. If he wasn’t falling over, he was putting too much on simple balls or shanking shots for throw-ins. He didn’t give up. He channeled his inner Adebayor, got his head down and made it happen. He contributed to the creation of 4 chances, he made 6 successful take-ons, he scored an absolute monster of a goal, cutting some space and rifling across goal and he landed an assist. A very good game. He needed that confidence boost and we needed him to have that, I sense that if we want to beat City, menacing their back three with a high press is our way in and he is going to be part of that.
Coquelin also proved his value in our midfield with a very positive, buzzy game. He made 12 ball recoveries, 5 tackles and a whopping 6 interceptions. He reminds me of one of those oxpeckers that buzz around elephants cleaning up. Non-stop doing the dirty work to free up the rest of the team to deal out carnage on a big tree or something similar that elephants do well.
Xhaka also had a good game, but I think there was so little to do for him because West Ham were so open to us doing what we liked, his role was slightly marginalised. He still clocked an impressive 90% pass completion rate and racked up the second most passes in the game (just behind Ozil). The range of passes on his pass map was impressive as well. Constantly trying to break the lines, always pushing the team forward.
Shout out to Gabriel at the back today. A quiet day for him, but he didn’t put a foot wrong, took a knock to the leg, then found himself wiped out again a bit later on. Good to see him getting a start. I also thought Nacho Monreal had a good game.
Bit of a shame we didn’t keep a clean sheet and a bit of a shame a keeper of Cech’s experience stopped for a whistle rather than defend the incoming shot. Shouldn’t he have been taking the ball hitting the bar a little more seriously?
What we learned today
The team clicked big time today. Our best performance since Chelsea. Very important considering it was a derby and very important considering the run we have coming up. I think it’s key to not run too far with the ‘we’ve turned a corner’ because West Ham look like a team in trouble and the manager looks like he’s lost the dressing room. Getting rolled by a number that large at home is not good and I think what’s worse for them is that sort of performance is par the course this season. However, you need to take a game like that, it was a beutiful thing and a perfect tonic to recent issues we’ve faced.
Teed up for Rotation
We have a mostly pointless game against Basel this week, it’s the perfect chances to send a League Cup team over there and not worry too much about PSG getting beaten by a pub team (even though Montpellier are beating them 3-0 as I type). I think Stoke will prove a tough game next weekend, but it’ll be far easier if we give our big names a week off and take advantage of early qualifying.
Dortmund rotated yesterday, putting in a beast of a performance. I think we saw with Chamberlain today that if you give players a bit of love, they’ll reward you. I think we should consider using the Stoke game to freshen players up for the big two games we have the following week against Everton, and then Manchester City. Both teams are beatable, and if we take three points off either, we’re in a good position if we keep the rest of the period respectable.
I really, really, really, hope Wenger doesn’t send a full team to Basel. Margins are fine in football, we need to give our first team the same advantage Conte and Klopp are getting at the moment, this is a great opportunity for us to do so.
The guy is on another level at the moment. He’s hitting Thierry in his pomp form. He scored one from range, one because he’s an opportunist and one where he dropped a step-over to chip… a move that was new to me. He’s playing with confidence, aggression and fight. Wenger and that fitness team need to keep him in good shape, don’t milk the cow dry before you need to and make sure he doesn’t flatline in the back half of the season like he did last year. He and Ozil are so, so, so important… but the great thing based on yesterday is other players are putting their hands up and want to be integral too.
Talking of fitness, we’ve seen Ozil fade in the back half of the last two seasons, I wonder if there’s a plan for his usual dip this season?
A superb win. We have 21 points that we’re playing for this festive period (Jan 3rd). I think 15 points would be very good and we’ve just landed out first 3 points. Onwards and upwards, DO NOT LET STOKE SPOIL THIS.
Have a great day.