This time last year, we were tearfully licking our wounds after being spanked by Palace in the same fixture. This year, we’re not licking any, instead, we are banging our chests at the rebirth of an Arsenal side that on their day can easily, most certainly, sometimes, win games. Confidence inspiring, right?
I have to say, the starting line up didn’t fill me with excitement. We had Chambers in the back three, Kolasinac and Bellerin as wingbacks, and we’d stuck with Xhaka and Jack in the middle with the standard offering up top. I was wrong to worry. Some of the football in the opening 45 was sublime. The interplay between Xhaka, Jack, Ozil, Lacazette and Sanchez was an absolute joy to watch.
The team were obviously well-informed that they couldn’t roll out of bed for this game, Ozil was particularly forceful with his play, making surging runs and leading like we know he can. The opener came from defence, Lacazette made space and rifled a high shot off from right, Speroni tipped the ball wide where Mustafi was lurking like peak Franny J to slide home from a deliciously cute angle with a first time shot. My word that was a world-class finish!
The second half, wasn’t the formality we’d hoped for. Palace pulled a goal back when Zaha took the easy route to our goal down our sleepy right-hand side, the Ivorian cut the ball back, with Andros T on call to bury his shot back across goal at Cech’s far corner.
We didn’t quite cave, Chambers floated a wonderful ball to Sanchez in the Palace box, the ball was nodded down to Lacazette who couldn’t do anything so unselfishly teed up Sanchez to smash into the far right side of goal.
The goal of the night wasn’t really about the goal, it was about the assist. Jack Wilshere took a very unArsenal route 1 view, launching a 40 yard through ball that was so perfectly weighted, Sanchez walked into it and only had to sweep his foot to claim the goal.
The drama post goal was that half the players went over to celebrate with Sanchez, the other half to Jack. I’m not sure I read too much into it. The ball was so long distance, it would have been a concerted effort for one half of the team to follow Alexis. Secondly, it’s pretty obvious why there weren’t many players who wanted to join a player who has given the ball away more than the Gunnersaurus at a kids party in a local hospital. If you’re a shit behind the scenes, don’t expect people to give a rats arse about your goal.
Palace still had chances, in fact, they scored another in the 88th minute. A late corner that saw 4 of our defenders barely jump as Tomkins and Zaha steamed in at pace. Shoddy keeping as per usual as well.
Anyway, we weathered the storm, picked up a solid three points and we’re within striking distance of the top 4 heading into 2018. Exactly where we need to be when the games start getting easier.
So what did we learn?
Alexis Sanchez can turn it on when he fancies it. He put in his best run of the season, he hustled, he involved others, he was clinical and he suddenly decided that he wanted to be part of the team when he scored his goal. Do I hate him? Not really. I keep reverting back to being a fan in this situation, flummoxed as to why he could be so switched off. Then I’m reminded by people around me that this was entirely predictable. Alexis is thick and he is selfish. He plays for himself. He was never going to drop an RVP/Suarez like final season and he never should have been allowed to stay past May. This 4 month period is on Wenger, and I’m really glad we’ll never see a shite decision like this again with adults joining the football side above the manager.
One player who slinks under the radar for being awful is Hector Bellerin. He put in another average performance, making mistakes and plodding like he’d rather be preening his hair for another council-estate-chic photo shoot in Elephant & Castle. He wanted to leave as well last year, he didn’t win permission, so he’s in a funk. Wenger should drop him for Debuchy, see how he feels about that heading into a World Cup year. Remember, Debuchy isn’t a bad player, he’s just had horrendous injury luck. People I speak to behind the scenes say he has a fantastic attitude and he’s an out and out warrior.
Jack Wilshere was standout. I had my doubts he could recover his confidence and fitness, but I’ve been proved wrong on both counts. Last night he quietly dictated play. He was the most fouled player on the pitch, which is always a worry, but he certainly didn’t shirk the fight. His passing was disciplined and spectacular at times. I also thought his positioning was complimentary to Ozil. He sat deep, timing his runs a lot better than we’ve seen in the past. The big worry is always his fitness, let’s hope the medical team keep an eye on him and don’t let Wenger run him into the ground.
PLUS: Is Gareth Southgate really going to ignore a player like him for the World Cup? Jack or Henderson? Is it really a question when you have players like Alli and Sterling making runs?
I also thought Ozil played with a steely determination. He showed true leadership when more often than not, he’d hide in a tough game. The team felt balanced, dangerous and mostly comfortable.
I think the overarching issue we have is a lack of managerial leadership. There’s one game plan and we roll with it. We don’t change our style depending on how we’re playing. We just keep plugging away. Wenger’s response to maintaining our lead was to bring on Coquelin and change nothing else. When does that ever work? When does he ever stabilize us? It’s just poor management. But hey, that’s our plight.
We’re level on points with Spurs, 6 points off 2nd. In any other season, you’d be pretty excited about tracking that closely to the league leaders. When the CL starts up again, we’ll find our form, and if we keep our best players fit, I am very confident we’ll make top 4 again.
… and that’s what it’s all about (for the time being).
See you in the comments.