Sunday, September 21, 2014

Ozil eases Arsenal back into form at Villa Park

After a stressful Tuesday night in Dortmund, the 3-0 win at Villa Park was the perfect antidote for Arsenal. Too many games this season have been tight, tense and too close for comfort. There was nothing of the sort on Saturday. As soon as Arsenal took the lead in the first half, there was only going to be one result.
The win also silenced some critics and doubters of certain players in the Arsenal side. No-one deserved praise for the performance in Dortmund on Tuesday, but it was noticeable how the press reserved extra criticism for some.
Mesut Ozil, back in the centre of the attacking three behind the main striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation, showed his class with an excellent performance. The German was bright, looked keen to get on the ball and was refreshed without the extra responsibility of having to track back and cover in front of his full-back. Arsene Wenger gave Ozil the license to create havoc, and in his own calm, smooth and silky style, Ozil did just that.
The pace of Danny Welbeck stretching the defence in front of him, along with the control and options offered by Oxlade-Chamberlain and Cazorla, meant that Ozil had space and the players available to bring into play, especially during the devastating spell in the first half that sealed the game for the Gunners.
After an excellent passing move down the right from back to front, Danny Welbeck was able to turn and slide the ball in behind the Aston Villa defence for Ozil to run onto. The German steadied himself and rolled the ball past Guzan when one-on-one. Buoyed by the goal, Ozil looked transformed compared to his other early-season performances, and moments after giving Arsenal the lead, the German burst into space on the left after more swift passing, and he played a perfect low cross across the box for Danny Welbeck to grab his first goal for the club.
The combinations between Welbeck and Ozil were encouraging, with Welbeck offering the link-up play that gets Ozil in the game, but also offering pace to make runs that Ozil is an expert at finding. Even though it was only his third game, the way the modern football media reports things meant that if Welbeck hadn’t scored this weekend, a needless amount of pressure could have been placed on him. Instead, his emphatic finish squashed any of those concerns.
Arsenal scored a quick-fire double at a similar time in the game during the corresponding fixture last season, but the Gunners went one better on Saturday when Aly Cissokho diverted the ball into his own net from Kieran Gibbs’ mis-hit shot to make it three goals in less than four minutes. Arguably it was harsh on Villa, but it was refreshing to see Arsenal show a killer instinct and score three goals in a game for the first time since the Community Shield.
To make a change from recent weeks, Arsenal suddenly didn’t have to chase a game. The Gunners were able to control the match, with the fluid midfield coming to the fore. Apart from an excellent block from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the second half, Arsenal’s goal wasn’t really threatened for the rest of the game as the team gave an exhibition in how to kill off a match through possession and passing.
Even though there wasn’t too much defending to do during the game, the back four looked particularly composed, and managed to stop Gabriel Agbonlahor from isolating Per Mertesacker to try and beat him for pace. That clearly was part of the Aston Villa plan, but through cutting off the service to him, and by good defending, that was never an issue for the Gunners.
The only real concern from the match was the performance of Aaron Ramsey. Positioned as part of the midfield two alongside Mikel Arteta, the team was more balanced, with the Welshman always offering himself to receive a pass and be an option to the Spaniard. But things didn’t quite click for Ramsey. His shooting was slightly off, there were more than a few wayward passes and his decision making wasn’t sharp. As when he has struggled before, Ramsey didn’t hide and always wanted to be involved, but he’s still striving for form. With the likes of Wilshere, Rosicky and even Diaby available, Arsene Wenger has options if Ramsey’s form doesn’t improve, but as Mesut Ozil showed, it only takes one good game for the world to feel right again.
With the other intriguing results in the Premier League this weekend adding to the Gunners’ victory at Villa Park, suddenly Arsenal’s troubles in Dortmund seem a long way away. There is still work to be done with this team, but a confidence boosting 3-0 away win, with a return to 4-2-3-1, was a good way to get back on track.