Sunday, November 1, 2015

Gunners grab three points to start a big week

On seeing the dreadful performance and result supplied by Arsenal in the Capital One Cup at Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, people could be forgiven for thinking that all isn’t well at the club. But the signs are that the League Cup disappointment was a blip. Arsene Wenger rested players for that game knowing he had a huge week approaching, and as the manager’s key men returned, Arsenal started the week with a welcome three goals and three points.
The League Cup result also belied the brilliant league form Arsenal have shown of late, so a clean sheet and a relatively comfortable 3-0 victory against Swansea City shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise. The scoreline didn’t quite reflect how tight the game was in the first half, but as at Watford a few weeks ago, Arsenal quickly slipped through the the gears in the second half and seized control of the game. 
That it was still 0-0 at half time owed a lot to Petr Cech and Hector Bellerin, who combined to deny Bafetimbi Gomis when he was clear through on the Arsenal goal for the first half’a clearest opening. Cech made the striker hesitate before Bellerin flew back to make a covering tackle as the striker attempted to round the goalkeeper. 
At the other end, Olivier Giroud and Joel Campbell, making his first Premier League start with all other right wing options injured, both curled efforts past the far post from presentable left-footed chances. The first half was pleasing on the eye as both teams looked to keep the ball on the floor and build nice attacking moves, but it was quite cagey as Arsenal looked to still be getting the League Cup humiliation out of their system. 
The game came alive in the second period as Arsenal broke the match open. After not forcing a corner during the first half, the visitors won two in quick succession at the start of the second, with Olivier Giroud brilliantly guiding Mesut Ozil’s cross into the bottom corner from the second of those corners. It was the third set-piece goal in a row in the Premier League for Arsenal and the 2000th scored by the team under Arsene Wenger. 
Goals from corners haven’t been a speciality in the Frenchmam’s time at the club, but it does appear to be something Arsenal have worked on and are thinking about more than they have done in recent years. It helps having Santi Cazorla and Mesut Ozil providing good deliveries into the box with both feet, but the movement of the centre-backs combined with Olivier Giroud seems to have more of a plan to it. For example, for most of the corners the Gunners won on Saturday, they crowded players around Lukasz Fabianski, aware that the Polish keeper is prone to mistakes when put under pressure. When they then mixed up the tactics at corners, the Swansea marking went awry and Giroud took advantage with some good movement running behind Per Mertesacker before planting the header into the bottom corner. This sort of small detail contributes to the feeling that Arsenal are in much better shape to mount a sustained title challenge this season.
Having gone 1-0 up, Arsenal had to make sure they didn’t allow Swansea the chance to get back into the game. Petr Cech had to make a smart save to deny Sigurdsson, and Bellerin performed heroics on the line despite Ayew being offside, but otherwise the Gunners held the hosts at arms’ length.
It was another example of the game management improving from Arsenal as the Gunners are throwing away very few leads this season. In the corresponding game last season, Arsenal also went 1-0 in the second half but they ended up losing 2-1 as they allowed the match to become stretched and they lost control of it. That wasn’t in danger of happening on Saturday as Cazorla and Ozil dictated the tempo of the second half with a dominant midfield display.
The lead was doubled when Lukasz Fabianski dropped the ball under pressure from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, allowing the centre-back to tap in a second goal in as many matches. I have some sympathy for Gary Monk in his protestations about the challenge on the goalkeeper as those instances are usually given in favour of the keeper, but on this occasion I think Fabianski just jumped over Koscielny and dropped the ball. Having suffered at the hands of the Pole before, it felt good, if a little cruel, to be the beneficiaries of a Fabianki error.
Arsenal continued the trend of scoring goals quickly after one another as Joel Campbell had time and space to find the bottom corner for his first competitive goal for the club. It followed beautiful link-up play between Ozil and Alexis, with the German claiming a hand in all three goals.
It was also encouraging to see Joel Campbell perform well, and score, partly because the team will need him in the coming games because of injuries to others, but also because he’d been so poor on Tuesday in Sheffield. He wasn’t alone in under-performing in the Capital One Cup, but it was hardly the ideal preparation for him ahead of an unexpected run in the team in some huge matches. It’ll still be difficult for him to hold down a regular place in the team in the long-run, but he’s finally got a chance to prove himself at Arsenal at the highest level. Playing alongside the likes of Ozil, Alexis and Cazorla, he didn’t look out of his depth on Saturday.
You wouldn’t have known that Arsenal were missing eight players on Saturday given how confidently they played. Minds could have wandered to Munich and Tottenham in the coming week, but the focus was good and a second 3-0 away league win in a row was well deserved. There’s no real scope for changing the side for either Bayern or Spurs this week, but the Gunners couldn’t have started a big week any better.