On the heels of Arsenal’s first defeat since (Everton away in) April, many an observer–even would be supporters–have trotted out the usual narratives. Wenger has lost the plot, we’re playing the wrong players in the wrong positions, there’s no tactical flexibility, our record signing Ozil(shaven) can’t be arsed and the sky is–literally–falling.
We’re entitled to these reactions and living in the moment, but scanning my science blogs, I could find no evidence that the sky was–literally–descending upon us. Could it be that daylight is waning and the weather merely getting a bit worse in on our part of North London? It may, of course, have something to do with the calendar. Still with only a single match remaining before the official start of Autumn, the trip to Villa Park loomed larger, perhaps, than it might at another time of year. That we couldn’t match their current point total in the league–no matter the result–also did not bode well.
Admittedly, the defeat at Dortmund did feel a comprehensive one and many suggested the 2-nil score-line flattered us. Another narrative is that Arsene’s Arsenal simply cannot play against the bigger teams. With Villa having beaten Liverpool at Anfield and having the week off (whilst we took our full body blow), nerves amongst Gooners were understandable. Looking at the table alone (which, I’ve been told, “does not lie”) they had to be considered as one. With our next two league matches being derbies–Spurs at our place, Chelsea at theirs–the result, at the very least, seemed, er, rather consequential.
Here in the mountains of California, the smoke from our annual wildfires only barely clearing with a little lucky wind, I awoke to a line-up I liked. Alexis Sanchez, even if he’s already become a huge fan favorite, was rested in favour of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Santi Cazorla came in for Jack Wilshere (who took a knock late on at Dortmund). Calum Chambers, recovered from his sore throat (tonsilitis), was the preferred 19 year old at right back (over Hector Bellerin), and both Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta (both just back from injury and/or a respite…) kept their places.
Danny Welbeck, who had spurned scoring opportunities in his first two matches for Arsenal, also remained the point of attack. Curiously, younger forwards, including Yaya Sanogo, Chuba Akpom and Joel Campbell and the all-purpose defender, Isaac Hayden, called for by many a Gooner in the wake of the Dortmund disaster, didn’t even find a place on the bench. Perhaps in the Capital One Cup to be played in midweek?… On my television feed, the line-up was even listed as a 4-2-3-1 rather than the much maligned 4-1-4-1 we’re (supposedly) playing even if Ozil persisted on the left of the 3 (Santi in the middle, Ox on the right) and Ramsey was the player (nominally) brought back to help out the Captain. I’m not a stickler for formations and I tend to buy the idea that the number of players at the back is (more or less) all that matters and all else flows from there. I’ll leave the discussion of what was actually played to others. To borrow my favorite English saying (heard mostly in the Tube…) “Sorry…”
The match itself started with Villa on the front foot and Arsenal struggling to string passes together. Ramsey looked a central figure but first touches appeared overly aggressive if not just plain heavy. Additionally, the air in Birmingham looked lighter than the players favour and several long balls flew into touch. As such, as in Germany, possession was lost cheaply and Villa looked to be creating more menace throughout the opening stages. That several corners were conceded (the source of the last league goal scored against us in the league) did not help settle nerves. Another set piece provided their most dangerous moment (in the 23rd minute), after an unwise challenge from Calum Chambers, which earned him a yellow for his troubles. The cross sailed over all defenders and allowed a well taken chance for Kieran Clark with a diving header. Szczesney moved out of his goal mouth but maintained his feet and used his entire frame to block with his left leg and right hand. A pivotal moment, especially given the way the opponent kept Liverpool at bay a week ago after an early goal.
The truly pivotal moment happened nine minutes later. Playing the ball deep out of our own half (Chambers protecting the ball like a more experience player and exchanging passes with Mertesacker began the move) a series of lightning fast one touch passes between Ramsey, Cazorla and finally Welbeck sprung Ozil off the shoulder of the Villa highline and he finished calmly with his better foot.
Now Villa had to attack, and the 2nd goal came almost instantly. The camera was actually on Wenger as Gibbs took possession and passed smartly to Ozil who one-touched to Ramsey before receiving a lovely return ball out wide. Scorer and assist maker reversed roles with an inch perfect cross from Ozil and an easy finish (no shin this time) from Welbeck to break his (Arsenal) duck. Ozil in the center, Ozil on the wing: the record signing who just doesn’t care, suddenly everywhere?
Narratives turned upon their heads as well as points secured. Villa, shocked by the turn of events were still unable to get back to work. Kieran Gibbs, who was key in dispossessing Villa to start the lightning move on the 2nd, again played a key role, poaching another pass even deeper in their territory and crossing to rampaging Ramsey at the far post. Defender Cissoko, caught, needed the most precise of clearances, but found his own goal instead. 3 nil.
That would be all the scoring in the match but Arsenal would secure the points through possession and trying for more. Our best 2nd half chance was likely a throughball from Oxlade-Chamberlain to Ramsey but the latter’s first touch was a near whiff. Late on, after gorgeous one touch work on the left from Ozil, Cazorla and subs Jack Wilshere, Lucas Poldolski and Tomas Rosicky–What? 3 attackers subbed in when we have a score-line to protect?!? — I guess Wenger felt the need to get more attackers involved (and we have far more of them healthy as compared to defenders) and, maybe, the score-line was doing the protecting–of the manager–in this case.
So, a result to freshen the spirits after the poor showing in Europe or a mere papering of cracks?
Amongst the players there could be some realignment of opinion about our record signing, given that he both scored and assisted. Our newest signing might also gain a measure of confidence having done likewise. Already (previous post comments), we’ve seen some debate about the relative contributions of Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain. I’d give a shout out to the emerging right hand partnership of Chambers and the BFG and the two Spaniards who performed their duties well and showed a bit of their “technical superiority,” especially as the match moved on. Kieran Gibbs and Koscielny on the (much) pacier (left) side of our defense (American spelling there…) also had good matches. Szczesny stood tall in his one moment of true examination. Best of all, maybe, is that we appeared to finish the match without any fresh candidates for the physio room.
Of course, that’s only amongst the players who actually played. (Abou Diaby even looked alright after a full 90, even if it was only on the bench…) A new group will surely come in for the midweek cup match to reveal further truths about the depth of the squad… Do we move on to predictions for that one or continue to breathe sighs (of relief) or dissect this one?
What say you Fine Fellow (maybe not Freaking Out–if only for a moment…) Gooners?
Written by: 17highburyterrace