Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Arsenal rotate but stay on track

It was always going to have to happen at some point. Olivier Giroud needed a rest, and with crunch games with Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea to come, a home match with Hull City in theory presented the best opportunity to bring in Nicklas Bendtner. Within two minutes of kick off at the Emirates Stadium, you wondered why Arsenal fans were worried about having to play the Dane up front.
Carl Jenkinson whipped in a superb cross from the right and Nicklas Bendtner just had to get his head on the ball to redirect it past the goalkeeper. The Emirates Stadium crowd erupted in surprise as much as joy when the ball hit the back of the net.
For the rest of the game, whilst Bendtner clearly didn’t offer the Gunners as much as Giroud has done this season, fans were more forgiving towards him because he’d got the early goal. There was a poor miss following a rebound and odd misplaced pass, but Arsenal fans couldn’t have hoped for much more from Bendtner. Giroud was able to rest and Bendtner got some confidence, not that he’s short of that normally though!
The central striker wasn’t the only position that Arsenal rotated in as Arsene Wenger made five changes from the win over Cardiff. The two full backs were changed with Jenkinson and Monreal playing, with Flamini and Rosicky also appearing in midfield. The changes didn’t affect Arsenal’s fluid style of play, and by scoring so early, the team were quickly into their stride. With Arsene Wenger using most of the players that came into the team as regular substitutes, most weren’t rusty so were able to slot into the side.
Hull weren’t up to much during the game, emphasising how poor Liverpool must have been at the KC Stadium to lose there on Sunday, but that was mainly because Arsenal dominated possession. Flamini and Ramsey kept things ticking over in midfield with Rosicky, Cazorla and Ozil occupying the three attacking midfield positions and constantly rotating to move the Hull defenders around.
The German stood out and added a goal to go with his two assists at Cardiff. His goal was calmly taken with a calm finish following a sublime Aaron Ramsey pass. Whilst it wasn’t the most intense game, the match was another good lesson in English football for Ozil. He’s still adapting to the Premier League game, but for someone that had been criticised by some for struggling, he’s scored three goals and assisted six in the top division this season.
Santi Cazorla hasn’t hit the heights that he did in his first season during this campaign, but he was busy against Hull and showed signs that he’s getting used to the rotation in Arsenal’s attacking midfield three. Last season, virtually all of Arsenal’s serious attacking moves went through the Spaniard in the centre of the pitch, but now there are more options for the Gunners when going forward. Whilst it has benefited the team, Cazorla hasn’t shined as much. He was much improved on Tuesday night, and it’s encouraging for the rest of the busy festive period to have a confident Cazorla.
Just finally, Arsenal kept a clean-sheet, again. The combination of Szczesny, Mertesacker and Koscielny excelled once again. It was clear in the last ten minutes, even with the game looking beyond Hull, how desperate the Arsenal defence were to get another clean sheet. Even against a team that posed few tests, the concentration of the defence was excellent to keep their good run going.
The game definitely felt like one that Arsenal just needed to get out of the way before the tougher tests in December, but that didn’t stop the team putting in a professional performance. A clean sheet, a rested striker, some effective rotation and three points. A good night’s work for Arsenal.