Monday, May 4, 2015

Free-flowing Gunners show why hopes are rising for next season

It is easy to always just say “there’s always next season”, especially without winning the league for a while. But there is a growing sense of optimism around Arsenal that the current squad do have the potential to launch a truly serious challenge for the title in the next campaign. The form in the second half of the season has been superb, and the football has often been sumptuous. Monday night’s stroll at Hull just served to emphasise the optimism.
The relegation-threatened hosts had won their previous two games, and would have been hoping to follow victories for most of their relegation rivals over the weekend with one of their own. It looked set-up to be a game where the underdog gets stuck-in, ruffles Arsenal’s feathers and causes them problems. Instead, Hull rarely got near the ball, especially in the first half, as Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil in particular, orchestrated a beautiful Arsenal symphony.
With the pace of Alexis Sanchez and the guile of Aaron Ramsey in support, Arsenal’s midfield put on an exhibition. When Hull dallied and panicked in possession, Arsenal were quick but calm in regaining the ball and launching devastating attacks on the bewildered back three.
Arsenal’s first half lead was gained with some fortune as Michale Dawson deflected Alexis Sanchez’s free-kick over his goalkeeper, but the original foul was made following Ozil’s sharp work to release the Chilean to run dangerously towards the box. Arsenal’s second goal was also aided by a deflection, but there was beauty in the build-up to the goal.
Santi Cazorla, almost playing like an American Football quarter-back, took one look from the halfway line and clipped a perfect pass with his left foot over the defence, for Ramsey to run onto off coming off the right wing. The Welshman’s control was excellent, allowing him to manouevre into a shooting position in the Hull box. Via a flick off Robbie Brady, the ball nestled into the net.
Aaron Ramsey was again selected on the right of midfield, and while it still doesn’t quite seem right, he is completely justifying why Arsene Wenger is trying desperately to find a space for him in the team. Ramsey has developed the very useful knack of making things happen, and for someone who is considered to have had quite an average season, his goal return from midfield is very healthy, reaching double figures again.
Moments after going 2-0 up, Cazorla played another stunning though ball, slicing open the Hull defence to put Alexis through. He was denied by a good save from Harper as he tried to chip the ball over the goalkeeper. The Chilean wasn’t going to be denied again before half-time though, as Ozil jumped on a loose pass from Huddlestone to release Ramsey, who in-turn fed the perfect through ball to match the diagonal run from Alexis. With Dawson left trailing in Alexis’ wake, Sanchez strolled around Haper and rolled the ball into the net for a thoroughly deserved 3-0 lead.
Hull did sneak a goal back in the second-half through a Stephen Quinn header, but that owed more to David Meyler not being penalised for a poor challenge that left Laurent Koscielny injured in the build-up.
The Gunners never really looked in any danger of throwing the game away, and on another day would have scored plenty more goals. There were a few passing moves that led to chances which, had the finishing been better, would have of been candidates for goal of the season because of the flowing football that proceeded them.
There were plenty of flicks and one-touch passes, with one outrageous no-look flick from Ozil to Alexis during a counter-attack really standing out. The German was named PFA fans player of the month for April, and it’s clear he’s filled with confidence. He’s working hard for the team off the ball, and producing brilliance when on the ball. It’s no coincidence Arsenal’s upturn has coincided with his return from injury.
Speaking of returns, it was good to see Jack Wilshere make a reappearance in the first time-team following injury. He replaced Ramsey on the right and looked very sharp with some direct running and excellent footwork. Knowing he’s not first choice in midfield at the moment should spur Wilshere on to make an impression whenever he gets an opportunity, and he definitely did that at the KC Stadium.
Hull may well go down, but growing optimism for Arsenal about next season isn’t just founded on beating a relegation-threatened team 3-1. It has come from the winning nine of the last ten games, and doing so in some considerable style. It might have taken slightly longer to occur because of injuries and the players becoming accustomed to playing alongside each other, but put Cazorla, Ozil, Alexis, Ramsey and Giroud in the same team, and magic can happen.
Oh, and happy St Totteringham’s day. 20 years in a row.