With Olympiakos and surprise league leaders Manchester United on the horizon, last week’s turnaround in form and fortunes was vital.
The last time I put pen to paper, trips to Zagreb and that small club in East Fulham had left feelings of frustration at our inadequate squad building and the inadequacies of match officials in the absence of technological support.
But then, as is so often the case, better performances and an absence of incompetent and petty referees has helped us all feel a little better.
Despite a fair amount of pessimism on t’internet, I was confident of winning both games last week, as they were both exactly the kind of games Arsène Wenger has always been brilliant at winning. Blips very rarely turn into tailspins at Arsenal, and when we actually give it some clear focus, whether for blooding kids or needing a result, the League Cup is often a welcome diversion. In much the same way, Arsène’s record of giving a reality check to unfancied early season high fliers is pretty good too.
Obviously two wins in a week, scoring plenty of goals and leaving the Lane of broken dreams with a win is always going to be a good week. But there were more positives than just the results.
The win over Spurs saw the continued re-building of Calum Chambers’ confidence, building on his solid substitute display against Chelsea. It seems funny saying that after an own goal in each, but the one at Stamford Bridge was just ill fortune and the one at Spurs more a collective lack of communication. After the sheer terror in his play in the first half against Liverpool, it’s been important to see him recover some of his prior composure.
Obviously Flamini’s all round performance and goal scoring exploits at SHL were heartening, given that he had become the club’s forgotten man. This is tempered by his hamstring injury at the weekend, but at least he showed enough to remind us he can contribute when fit. Oh, and we were reminded that Joel Campbell is still here if we hit a forward line injury crisis…though his work rate outweighed his quality in midweek.
Both strikers getting goals at the weekend is obviously a massive plus, particularly when viewed in the context of Theo’s all round performance. While Leicester’s back line is hardly their strong point, and they left space in behind, his exploitation of that space, link and hold up play was much improved. What I liked most was his general quickness in all round play and his excellent movement regardless of whether the defensive line was high or deep. His shooting boots were still a little off from range, but it was probably the second time since that ill fated appearance against Spurs 20 months ago that he really looked a potential Arsenal striker.
Speaking of shooting from range, with two goals (and a shot that generated a scoring rebound) from outside the area, it’s good to see some of the players having the confidence to take a chance when other options are limited.
Part of this is the massive boost that Alexis has returned to goal-scoring form. Having taken more shots than anyone else at the club, the mini-drought was always going to end soon enough, but it was clearly starting to prey on his mind. After an impact off the bench against Spurs, the elevation in his performance after his first goal at the King Power Stadium (had to stop myself writing Filbert Street!) was noticeable. The usual trojan work ethic was suddenly coupled with relaxation, and for the latter two-thirds of the match he was brilliant as s creator, finisher and continuity player.
Another, less obvious plus was the liquid like performance of Mesut Özil. Afforded a little space by Leicester pushing on, his exploitation of said space (and it has to be said, defensive work rate) was a joy to behold. At times he appeared at left-wing, right-wing, central midfield and centre-forward, and knitted play together brilliantly. In addition to his eye-catching assist, there were at least two of the pre-assists that he is so brilliant at.
Assists for both full-backs is always a sign of the team’s set up functioning well, and tactically Ramsey on the right makes more sense when Theo is the striker of choice and Bellerin is providing width. It’s also nice to see Santi regain his place as top assist maker since his arrival in England.
So everything looks rosy, right?
Um…sort of. Despite all the positives, none of the questions from last week have been answered, bar confirmation that Mertesacker is our leader far more than anyone else, and that Arteta’s ability to delve into the darker footballing arts no longer makes up for his lack of legs.
Ramsey’s robustness of character and work rate are still not quite compensating for his uncomfortableness out wide. The Ox still seems to alternate between defensive responsibility and disinterest seemingly at random, and flits in and out of games in a manner to be expected for his age. More worryingly, Debuchy is still a million miles from his pre-injury form, and we are still vulnerable to quick counter-attacks.
It seems churlish saying it after seven goals in two away games, but there is still much wastefulness going forward. Our build up through midfield remains a thing if beauty, but with better finishing and decision making with the final ball, Arsenal could have hit double figures against Leicester.
But now is not the time to put a dampener on things. Certain frailties may remain, but it is a lot better to be heading into two massive home games (both potential six pointers) with the team feeling good about itself, and re-discovering their ‘click’ going forwards.
And as recent results across the league have shown us, all the other big clubs have areas of weakness, so the title remains open if we can put together a good run of results. Another two wins this week would be very welcome indeed. Fingers crossed….