Thursday, October 02, 2014

Three Things: Arsenal Win 4-1; Welbeck Shines

Arsenal have gone through one of the oddest undefeated starts to a season in recent memory, winning only two games in the league while drawing the other four. In the Champions League, they were crushed by Dortmund before getting dumped out of the Capital One Cup at the first hurdle (against a surprisingly impressive Southampton). So back at the Emirates in an almost must-win game, with injuries plaguing the team at key positions, they faced a Galatasaray team suffering through its own early season Blues. But it was the Gunners that took the game by storm, finding themselves up three nil at halftime, and cruising 4-0 with about 30 minutes left. And then the old Szczesny, the one we see less and less of these days, decided to make an appearance, coming out to try to collect a through ball that he had little chance of grabbing, instead fouling the player and being sent off as the penalty kick was rewarded. One might remember the same thing happened against Bayern last year, costing the Gunners any real chance of a victory in the Round of 16.

In any case, after giving up the spot kick, Ospina settled in and performed admirably, with four or five quality saves on the way to a still relatively comfortable 4-1 win. It was exactly the sort of victory Arsenal needed before the key matchup with Chelsea Sunday. And it saw the emergence of Welbeck as a force that could propel the Gunner’s attack to new heights. Three thoughts on the game.

1.    Welbeck Arrives: right after Welbeck signed for the Gunners in one of the surprise transfers of the summer window, he scored a brace for England in their game against Switzerland. It brought hope that maybe his wasteful ways in front of goal would finally be over. And then he did just that through his first few games for the Gunners, missing three great chances against Dortmund, a couple of more the following week, and then an absolute sitter against Tottenham (that Ox thankfully passed into the roof of the net behind him). But he did get his Arsenal account off rolling with a goal against Aston Villa and came into this game knowing he was facing a shaky defense. And he performed with real pace, power and poise, taking three of his five chances in the game, with two to the far corner one on one with the keeper and a third a nice scoop chip of the diving keeper. It was a coming out party for Welbeck, his first hat trick as a professional. Let’s hope it’s the beginning of a purple patch for the young Englishman!
2.    Ozil in the Middle: Mesut Ozil is a much better player when at his preferred number ten position. That was obvious as he decimated an, until then, strong Aston Villa defense. Why Wenger threw him back out on the wing against Tottenham is anyone’s guess, but he might have gotten the message after that draw – moving him back to the middle and watching him put on a great display, with five key passes and an assist to show for an impressive performance. It was made even more impressive in my mind, as he looked dead tired, with his languid style seemingly pushing defenders to miss the opportunity to crowd him on all but three occasions. He is certainly best in the middle and should stay there for the rest of the season.
3.    Pace is the Difference: Arsenal went into the game with several key injuries, beyond the long term ones to Giroud and Debuchy. Ramsey is out 3-6 weeks, Wilshere didn’t start, Monreal is still out, Diaby played a game and must now rest for six or eight months and Arteta is out for three weeks (I think). Many worried about the team sheet and who would start. Welbeck was a lock through the middle, and Wenger finally came to his senses and put Ozil in the #10, but would he start Suarez after he sat out the first half against Tottenham? Would he put Flamini in the middle, or consider giving Bellerin another chance at right back and moving Chambers into the DM role? Wenger more or less did what people expected, and it worked a treat. Sure Prandelli lined his team up wrong from the start, but the Gunners took full advantage. The most impressive thing, and something that was missing the past two seasons, was the pace at the front, allowing players to get behind the defense. Welbeck’s clever movement saw him outrun the defense on three occasions, Gibbs dribbled past defenders, Ox and Sanchez simply outran them and Ozil seemed to be the metronome we expected from the start. Pace matters in football today, particularly in the EPL, and Arsenal finally have it in spades, not even counting the soon-to-return Walcott.

We should not take too much from one game against a relatively beatable opponent from Turkey, but it certainly showed the finishing, resolve and will to win that seemed missing in other games in the young season. No it is on to Chelsea and the hope that the momentum carries them to a momentous victory! 

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