Don’t look now, but Arsenal are back in it. After an odious start to the season, in which the team lost two of their first three matches sent many fans into an early depression and gave pundits the license to talk about one of their favorite subjects: the demise of Arsenal, the Gunners have turned their season around. Since being thoroughly embarrassed at Anfield, losing 4-0 to Juergen Klopp’s men, Arsenal have found their stride and just reeled off 3 wins in a 7 day period.
Coming after a Thursday night slog to Belarus, Sunday’s match saw a surprisingly active Arsenal team, who thus far have been able to fully rotate their squad for European and Cup ties. Against Brighton on Sunday, the Gunners started fast and on the front foot, immediately putting the pressure on the visitors in their own end. The match ran through Alex Iwobi early and Arsenal looked most threatening down the right flank and through the middle. The post was struck once by both teams in the early stages of the match with Alexandre Lacazette ringing a powerful one-time strike of the post and Solomon March did the same for Brighton off of a free kick. However, it took a corner kick and a bouncing ball to break the deadlock, when Nacho Montreal got on the end of a twice blocked ball after a Xhaka corner and buried it for the second Premier League goal of his Arsenal career. Brighton responded with increased energy of their own, and took the Gunners to half time in a much more even affair than was advertised.
Brighton’s growth into the match only continued in the second half despite Alexis Sanchez also deciding to influence the match after the break. In fact, it was Sanchez who made the day’s highlights with a sublime back-heeled assist to Iwobi, who rocketed his effort into the roof of the net to double the Arsenal lead. Even with most Arsenal attackers sniffing around the box for more goals, Brighton was able to stymie the Gunner efforts and even create some more chances of their own. The 2 goal lead was evidently satisfactory, as Arsenal looked content to play out the rest of the match with the score as is, giving the Gunners the 2-0 victory.
Clean Sheet Streak Continues
Not only have Arsenal not lost a match since their drubbing at the hands of Liverpool, but they have not conceded a goal since that disastrous day in the dying embers of the transfer window. Obviously disgusted with their performance on that day, Arsenal have shown a united front, and their results have improved dramatically. The Gunners have now. not allowed a goal in league play in the last 373 minutes, an impressive total for any club. Though most of the matches have been winnable, Arsenal were clearly the better team when they played Chelsea to a 0-0 draw, which was likely their most difficult match during the streak.
Arsene Wenger has brought his team back to basics after opening the season with an overly attacking and lopsided first XI. The sale of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain undoubtedly shored up the Gunner defence, as the Ox was not a natural or particularly instinctual wing back. Sead Kolasinac has brought the team a rock solid defensive stopper on the left side, with his combination of pace and power a rude awakening to opponents on a weekly basis. Tactically, e Gunners have gone towards a much more conventional 5-3-2 when defending in their own half and have incorporated more pressing into their defensive front. With difficult matches coming up after the international break, it might be difficult for the streak to continue, however, the signs of change and improvement at the back have continued to be positive.
With Mesut Ozil still recovering from an apparent knee issue, the bulk of the creation on Sunday was left to youngster Alex Iwobi. He played a very active game, often finding himseld in the middle of Arsenal’s most promising attacking moves. The side moved far more fluently in the first half through Iwobi, rather than Alexis Sanchez, who struggled to make an impact for much of the first half. Iwobi was deserving of his goal based on the way he played, and it was taken with some real authority, which has lacked in many of his previous attempts. The Nigerian is deceptive and crafty with the ball at his feet, and has noticeably increases the speed at which he plays this season. With the team performing so well, especially defensively, in Ozil’s absence, Iwobi could very well be playing himself into more opportunities later this season. Once the Hale End graduate finds consistency on a weekly basis, he will become a difficult name to scratch from a start every week.
…But Alexis Gets the Accolades
Good for Alexis. It must be nice showing up to one’s job and performing well for only 10 of the 90 minutes it lasts, still earning the accolades and Man of the Match consideration along the way. In truth, Alexis was not very good for the entire first half. He has fallen into the bad habit this season of trying to create a goal whenever he touches the ball, leading to his alarming turnover rate. He appeared disinterested and frustrated for most of the first half, with Alex Iwobi looking the far more threatening of the two wide men. However, the start of the second half saw a rejuvenated (and free roaming) Sanchez ready to make an even larger impact. His influence culminated in Iwobi’s goal after a lovely back-heeled pass from the Chilean, but the memory of that highlight will soften the blow of what has largely been a shocking start to the season. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain not here to keep him company at the top of the team turnover charts, Sanchez must improve his efficiency. Right now, Sanchez is still a shadow of the player he was last season.
Back Where They Belong
Ah yes, taste that crisp sweet air up here above the majority of the pack. 4th place (or the Wenger Cup as I shall affectionately call it) again, and it was hardly even noticeable. The pundits have been especially slow to catch on, with weekly discussions about the ckub’s demise seeming to still find the light of day. As any real Gooner will tell you though, those questions will continue to follow Wenger and his team around until they have proved capable of putting together an entire season of consistent play, without the ice cold stretches and total loss of belief that seem to occur every winter or early spring.
To most in the football media, the club’s decision to cut excess out of the wage bill and ultimately net over £15 million in the transfer market this summer was not a recipe for a return to the top 4 and success. However, this Arsenal team have shown a determination to prove their worth as a group, and have responded to their critics and displayed a surprising defensive resiliency. The team is far more balanced than it was last season, and both new additions have already proved their worth to the club. Who said Wenger had lost his eye for a good value?
A Good Time For A Break?
As always seems to be the case right when the season starts really heating up, another international break is upon us. With the Arsenal defense in particularly good form, there is some concern amongst fans that the break will stunt the team’s momentum. Having clearly benefitted from their month of uninterrupted team training, the coaching staff will hope that the focus, determination and tactical cohesion they have built will remain. However, the break will also be a good time for the team’s recovering stars, with Mesut Ozil and, potentially, Danny Welbeck and Francis Coquelin, slated for a return shortly after the break. At least this time when the team returns, the challenge of returning to a competitive state in the league will appear far less daunting that it had the last time. If the current trends continue, there is no doubt that this Arsenal side will be a factor come the end of the season. Maybe…