A captain’s redemption, nutmegs and one touch football.
Project 24 is well and truly in motion as Arsenal gained their 21st points in the league, keeping pace with the league leaders while playing some scintillating football along the way. Not many would have predicted the levels of improvement made by the Gunners at this stage of Emery’s tenure but the signs do look good so far.
Monday night’s match against Leicester showed that while the team still has deficiencies, they have it in them to blow away any opponents by sheer firepower. Below are 5 observations from one of the best games of the season yet.
Ozil The Captain
My man of the match. I was surprised to hear that Ozil got the armband. I can’t say that he’s at the top of my list when it comes to being a “leader”. All too often, he does fade into the background when the going gets tough.
Monday night against Leicester, I was glad to be proven wrong. Once Arsenal chased the game after going a goal down, there was no turning back. Ozil led the way from this moment– starting moves from deep, pulling off body feints to go past defenders and dictating Arsenal’s best offensive moves.
He played in his preferred role behind the striker, the first time in a long time this season, and proved why he’s one of the best in the world in that position.
Ozil scored the equalizer, but not before driving through the centre of the park with the ball and playing a one-two with Bellerin to receive the ball in the box. That nonchalant one touch finish to the bottom corner looked easy but don’t let that fool you. Not many have the composure and technical ability to stroke it so calmly into the bottom corner while running at pace.
The “pre-assist” for the second goal required military level radar capabilities to spot an overlapping Bellerin. And for the final goal, Ozil’s orchestration of the entire move was sublime. He started it by casually backheeling a layoff to Guendouzi before sprinting forward to demand for the ball from the flank. Somehow, he knew that Lacazette was behind him as he let the ball through his legs for the French striker to tee him off as he burst again into the box to receive the pass. The pièce de résistance was the composure to dink the ball past an onrushing Schmeichel with the outside of his left foot for Aubameyang to tap in.
Ozil’s vision, drive and technical ability was evident today for all to see. On the evidence of this match, it would be tough now for Emery to shunt him to the right wing.
Arsene Wenger spoke during the international break about how he was worried that with Ozil’s international retirement, he might lack new goals to work towards and it might stunt his drive to maintain a high standard of performance.
Perhaps, being one of the leaders of this Arsenal team could bring renewed focus and responsibility that would finally see him put in more performances like this.
A Case for Pierre
That’s 4 goals in 2 games as a substitute for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He may not have Lacazette’s aggression or hold up play but I’ve not seen such an elite penalty box poacher since Pippo Inzaghi and Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
If Aubameyang was an X-Man, he would definitely be Nightcrawler. He seemingly teleports into space and evades the eye of opposition defenders to pounce on simple tap ins.
Lacazette has been crucial in keeping the game ticking, pressing defenders and also scoring decent goals for the team. But you can’t deny that Aubameyang is a pure striker who, with an in-form Ozil and co providing ammunition, can challenge for the golden boot.
It’s a tough call for Emery but also a good problem for the Arsenal coach. With the team now improving with their “automatisms” going forward, I’d like to see Aubameyang given a run of games to see what kind of impact he can make for Arsenal.
Iwobi, the Prince of Nutmegs
How things have changed for Iwobi. He seems to be one of the first names on the team sheet in recent games. He looks fitter, sharper and is one of the rare players in the team who can dribble and carry the ball forward. Against Leicester, he was voted to be the man of the match as he showed great drive and invention to push for a win.
he Nigerian international seems to also have developed a penchant for nutmegs and other freestyle skills on the pitch. Who is this guy and what have you done to the real Alex Iwobi?
In all seriousness, Iwobi fully deserves the plaudits coming to him. He’s been excellent and I hope he can keep up his standard of performance as he looks to secure that left wing position in the team.
Is Mustafi… Playing Well?
Mustafi is a mystery to me. He can be excellent in some games when his sliding tackles come off but miserable in another when he loses concentration and/or takes unnecessary risks that jeopardizes the defence.
In Sokratis’ absence, I have to say Mustafi has been relatively decent and he continued his solid performance against Leicester. He hasn’t been as rash in his decision making and has done the basics fairly well. Part of it, I’m sure, is down to the improved protection in front of him in the shape of Torreira. But Mustafi has been a 7/10 with his defending and has also been good playing the ball out of the back. I don’t recall the pacey Vardy getting a big chance on his side of the penalty box.
This may be his last season to prove to the fans and the management that he’s not a ticking time bomb at the back. Fortunately for him, he’s taking his opportunities to prove his worth in the absence of senior players such as Koscielny and Sokratis. More strong performances may give Emery a good headache when all the defenders return from injury (if we are so lucky).
Weak first halves vs strong game management
What is it with poor first halves and strong second half comebacks when it comes to Arsenal this season? The team has ridden their luck through this winning run, giving numerous chances and ceding the initiative to the opposition during most of the first half. Could it be due to Emery’s tinkering from game to game? Or perhaps his unfamiliarity with the opposition that has made it tough to prepare a tactical plan?
Whatever it is, Arsenal almost always come out all guns blazing in the second half and this game was no different. After going ahead, Arsenal’s game management was excellent – slowing down the game at will before switching gears to hit on the counter when an opening arises. Even the redeployment of Xhaka at left back didn’t seem to affect him, with enough cover to protect him on the rare occasion Arsenal lost possession.
I’m liking how Arsenal has been more pro-active in managing the game instead of being stuck on “gung ho” setting no matter the situation. Arsenal hardly gave Leicester a sniff in the second half by controlling the game maturely.
This shows that Emery is very adept tactically and is capable of reacting to the opponent’s shape and plan. If only Emery could come up with a way for Arsenal to start strong too. Let’s hope that’s not too far in the horizon.
Hatta is a Singapore-based Gooner, a purveyor of the latest football boots and kits and founder of BOOTHYPE.com. You can also find him on Twitter at @chatwithhat.