After the mauling of Chelsea on Saturday, the question on the mind of every one of Arsenal persuasion was whether that kind of intense, breathless and brilliant performance, spearheaded by Walcott, Sanchez and Iwobi, would be the template for the rest of the season or a one-off.
Arsenal, when in form, is capable of beating any team in Europe. Indeed, we have beaten mighty Bayern twice in the Champions League over the last four years. Arsenal is also the only team to have beaten both Barcelona ( 2011) and Bayern teams (2016) coached by Guardiola in the CL. It’s the consistency needed to become EPL or CL champions that has always been lacking.
However, the game against Basel last night reassured everyone that this current team seems ready to churn out performances of determination and technical brilliance in every game. The game was so one-sided, especially in the first half, that winning with only a two-goal margin was slightly disappointing.
Albeit, crucially, we have kept our winning run going and maintained our advantage of topping our group. That PSG won away, as expected, to Ludogorets reemphasizes that they are the main threat to our finishing top of the group.
ATTACKING LIKE BARCA
The best thing about our current attacking set-up is its fluidity. It is very difficult to man-mark any of our attackers or predict what they would do next.
In the past, Arsenal had players like Hleb who was a very good dribbler but highly unlikely to shoot even with a presentable chance. These current set of attackers are all capable of beating their marker, timing runs in behind, shooting, crossing and heading.
In Sanchez, we have a winger who is currently playing as a striker or false-nine, and in Walcott, we have a winger who can play as a striker and is a very good finisher.
As a result, when Sanchez drifts to the flanks and the defenders are expecting a dribble-through or cut-back, especially when Giroud is not playing, he decides to cross for an on-rushing Walcott (first goal against Basel) or Ozil ( Hull ) to head home.
Similarly, Ozil is no longer a playmaker who is only providing assists, he is also getting on the end of crosses and making runs in-behind. Iwobi, as well, is a very dynamic attacker with a wide array of weapons – dribbling, shooting, playing one-twos and picking through balls.
This is what has made Barca the best attacking team in Europe for close to ten years, especially since Suarez joined. Every one of their attackers is versatile and decisive. If you man-mark Messi, Neymar and Suarez would punish you, as they both capable of shooting from range, dribbling through or going through on goal.
I’m convinced many teams would still get the Chelsea and Basel treatment this season – provided injury doesn’t disrupt our current set-up.
IS GIROUD NOW PLAN B?
‘Arsenal have no Plan B’ is one stick that critics regularly and readily use to flog us. At the moment, though, not only do we have a Plan B, our hitherto ‘only plan’ (Giroud as target man) looks to now be the plan B. In that sense, we would have a very strong and reliable plan B.
The evidence on show, so far, suggests that Arsene is not likely to change our current attacking set-up any time soon. He has actually stated that he would give Sanchez every chance to become our own Suarez.
Or why would he want to change a winning formula or disrupt the ‘Barcaesque’ chemistry and telepathy developing among our attackers.
OG (Olivier Giroud) is a very competent striker and he will have his time and games once he overcomes his current injury. However, our current attacking trio of Walcott, Sanchez and Iwobi help us to play the Wengerball – the kind of fast-passing and pacy game that creates loads of chances and one-on-ones.
CAN WALCOTT SCORE 20+ GOALS?
One of the key ingredients of a title-winning team is having two players who can each score 18-25 goals a season or each contribute 25+ goals by way of scoring or assisting.
Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy each had a hand in about 25 goals in Leicester’s EPL campaign last season and that was crucial in helping them win the title.
Walcott has 5 goals in 7 games in all competitions so far, and at that rate, he is well on course to score more than 20 goals – a feat he has achieved once in his Arsenal career when he scored 21 goals in the 2013 season.
The best thing about Theo Walcott this season is that, he is not only scoring regularly, his goals are varied: shots, headers, tap-ins, chips.
The manager recently had this to say about Theo: ‘I always felt there is character and intelligence in this boy. He’s a guy with a good assessment of his performances and qualities. I said at the start of the season that we’d see a different Theo Walcott. I could see he makes a decision and sticks to it.’
Touch wood, Walcott enjoys an injury free season.
Do you think Theo Walcott can avoid injuries and score 20+ goals?
Share your thoughts in the comments.