Sunday, November 02, 2014

Arsenal Win 3-0; Sanchez Shines Again

Arsenal hosted the bottom dwellers in the league today at the Emirates, a Burnley team that had yet to register a win in nine tries this season. Most thought it would be an easy day at the office for a clearly superior team. And yet 70 minutes in, the game was still poised at 0-0, with Burnley actually scorning two decent chances to take the lead. Arsenal, who has been struggling with form and results all season, looked nervous and lacking in the resolve that saw them win these tight contests on a regular basis for over a year. Everyone on the pitch that is except our two best signings of the summer – Calum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez.

Sanchez has been on a tear for 12 games now, scoring 10 goals in that period, including the brace today. And Calum Chambers has acquitted himself well since being pushed almost immediately into the starting line-up, first as a centre-back and now back at his more natural right back position. And so it seemed apropos that it would be a Chambers cross that Sanchez would meet with a clever run between two defenders and an excellently placed header finish in the 70th minute. Arsenal were on the board and two minutes later secured the three points with a second. That was after Chambers followed up his assist with a fine finish from close in, after an excellent save from Burnley’s GK on a blistering Welbeck shot. Arsenal looked hungry for more, with sub Podolski (80 for Welbeck) going close three times within five minutes of entering the game, only denied by a great save, the post and a near miss. But it was Sanchez who finished the scoring for the day after a Cazorla pass was snatched by Gibbs and driven across goal, with the Chilean settling the ball before pounding it in.

And so Arsenal had only their fourth win of the season, to go with five draws and the sole loss, to the still undefeated Chelsea (who themselves won 2-1 against QPR). With those three points, they maybe surprisingly moved into fourth place in the table. Though they sit nine points behind Chelsea, they do appear to be settling in and with Walcott making a late cameo to a roaring ovation in the 80th minute, spirits must be up. One game against the bottom-dweller in the league should not be taken out of context of course, and Cazorla’s trouble scoring continued, with three good chances all spurned (meaning he has now failed to score in 10 months in the league), the defense almost exposed on at least four occasions, and all the passing, corners and shots in the first 69 minutes failing to yield a goal. Ox and Sanchez were lively throughout and Walcott looked good upon entering the game, but Arsenal need to find more goals from Welbeck and the midfielders, particularly in the big games where Sanchez will receive additional attention. They must also work on their set pieces and corners, as I can’t remember the last time they have scored from one even as they had 18 corners in this game alone! One problem is a lack of height, besides Mertesacker until Giroud returns.

One might also wonder if Wenger has been reading the papers, or noticed all the goals the team shipped early in the season, as he has played Arteta and Flamini side by side for two games running now. While it does appear to shore up the defense and provide a foundation for impressive possession domination (68 to 32 percent today), one could argue it also undermines the attack by making the buildup too slow and predictable, meaning the Gunners are trying to penetrate through seven to ten defenders around the box. It worked today, and might be sufficient to beat Anderlecht on Tuesday, but it is questionable whether it is a strategy that can succeed against the rest of the top seven.

The good news for the Gunners did continued when looking at their closest rivals though, with the exception of Chelsea and Southampton (who have now won 7 of their last 8 competitive matches). Everton drew yet again, this time against Swansea City at home, and Liverpool lost to Newcastle 1-0 on the road, with United and/or City sure to drop points in their derby tomorrow. After the Anderlecht game, the Gunners travel to Swansea next Sunday, before two key matchups at home, first against United on the 22nd and then with Dortmund the following Wednesday. If they can get through this stretch in good stead, they then have a series of winnable matches heading into the holiday season. COYG!

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