Sunday, September 10, 2017

A return to winning ways but in a strange atmosphere

After a dreadful start to the season, a comfortable 3-0 home win against a poor Bournemouth side was just what Arsenal needed. No drama. No wailing and gnashing of teeth. No major negatives. It doesn’t mean that all is good in the world again as the real judgement will come when they got to Stamford Bridge next week, but I don’t really want to think about what the reaction would have been like had Arsenal not picked up three points on Saturday.
Overall, the performance was good and Arsenal looked lively from the outset. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain gone and Arsene Wenger sticking to the back three, Sead Kolasinac was finally able to play a Premier League game in his proper wing-back position without getting shuffled into a back three role, or with Hector Bellerin playing on the wrong side. Of all the selection questions in the last couple of games, the picking of the wing-backs has really irked me so far this season, so it was a great relief to finally see the correct two picked.
It immediately paid dividends as Kolasinac showed the attacking intent that made him stand out in pre-season with a great run forward and deft chip into the box for Danny Welbeck to head/shoulder into the net. See what happens when you play players in the right position, Arsene?
If the first goal came with a slightly scruffy finish, Arsenal’s other two were very clinically put away. Reinstated to the starting XI after strangely being left out at Anfield, Alex Lacazette showed what a predator he is in front of goal. His overall game looked in good touch with some pressuring from the front and good link-up play, but ultimately he’ll be judged on putting the ball in the net. He reminds of Eduardo, who was a ruthless finisher before his terrible injury.
For Arsenal’s second goal on Saturday, a lovely deep ball by Ozil was worked into a one-two with Welbeck by Lacazette, before the Frenchman took one touch and swept the ball home over Begovic from just outside the area. He emits a confidence in front of goal that meant it seemed inevitable he’d score as soon as he worked the bit of space. Amidst the doom and gloom of the start to the season, there’s a lot to be excited about with Lacazette.
Danny Welbeck isn’t renowned for his finishing as it is the one area of his game that lets him down as an attacking player, but buoyed by the confidence of his earlier scruffy goal, he produced a much more clinical finish at the start of the second half to make the game safe. Fed by Aaron Ramsey down the left, Welbeck struck a perfect side-footed effort into the bottom corner past Begovic.
But while the action on the pitch was good, I found the game slightly odd. With the start to the season that Arsenal have made, it felt like an end-of-season game when the title has already gone and there isn’t much to play for. The atmosphere felt quite flat for a lot of it, almost with fans fearing that these sort of games could be as good as it gets this season. It also highlighted to me how much the players have got to do to get the fans truly back on side and believing in them again after that Anfield performance. There’s a lot of work to be done on all levels of the club, but for the players, that defeat to Liverpool, but more importantly the performance and the effort put in, has burned a lot of bridges with some. Even if they lose next Sunday at Stamford Bridge, the players will have to put in a performance that shows they care and are willing to leave everything out there for Arsenal Football Club.
The other odd thing about the atmosphere was the reception for Alexis Sanchez. On the whole, it was quite good with fans aware of the messy situation Arsenal and Manchester City made at the end of the transfer window, but most still appreciative of the fact he’s a great player and can still be important for us this season.
But there was a minority who decided to boo the Chilean, with one man in the row of front of me getting particularly irate when he came onto the field. Now I understand why some people are upset given that Alexis wanted to leave, but he wasn’t alone in that stance this summer with reports of Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil and Shkodran Mustafi, of those still at the club, all looking to move as well. Those players weren’t booed, so why should Alexis be? He was the most high-profile, but ultimately I don’t see why Arsenal fans would want to make him more unhappy at the club by being volatile towards him. The transfer window has gone, we might as well get behind those players left as they need it at the moment. It’s in our interests to as well because getting the best out of Alexis can only be a good thing to help the team make anything of this season.
The chap in front of me made the point that he’d rather see Reiss Nelson out there instead of Alexis because he wants to be at the club and that keeping Alexis is blocking his development. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as excited as anyone about Reiss Nelson’s talent and his potential, and hopefully we’ll see him in the League Cup and the Europa League, but you can’t seriously say that a 17 year-old kid would be better at this stage than the guy who scored 30 goals for the club last season. It was a pretty ugly ending to the transfer window and no-one comes out of the whole Alexis/Lemar situation with much credit, but whether he likes it or not, the Chilean is stuck with us this season, so lets make the most of him while we can.
Next up is Arsenal’s first Europa League/Uefa Cup match since 2000 with the visit of Cologne on Thursday. It will be interesting to see how seriously Arsene Wenger takes the competition as it is one that could be realistically won, but with Chelsea coming up this weekend, I expect and would like to see wholesale changes. Those deemed first choice this season haven’t covered themselves in glory, so there is a real opportunity for a squad player or a youngster to stake a claim in the Europa League and get some regular football. I hope the likes of Per Mertesacker, Calum Chambers, Jack Wilshere, Mohamed Elneny, Alex Iwobi and Reiss Nelson get the opportunity to make that competition their own and play with a freedom that we haven’t seen from Arsenal in recent European seasons. There isn’t the pressure of the Champions League so hopefully that brings out some positive performances.
If nothing else, a fresh team would give the fans something new and something different to be excited about, as the 3-0 win was great on Saturday, but the players have a lot of work to do in the coming weeks to get people to believe in them again.