It had been four games since Arsenal won a game convincingly in the Premier League, beating Chelsea 3-0, and last week’s home draw with Middlesbrough had both fans and cynics alike starting to question the mentality and belief of this latest Arsenal squad. However, beating bottom-of-league Sunderland yesterday, and convincingly so, as put those questions to rest – for now at least.
FIRST HALF A STROLL (GAME SHOULD HAVE BEEN WRAPPED UP)
With David Moyes’ recent career record, it’s hard to look beyond him for the reason why Sunderland has been so dismal this season, but Arsenal’s total dominance of the first half on their home turf showed an abject lack of quality in their squad.
Despite the draw against Boro last time out in the league, you could feel the confidence still flowing through the entire Arsenal squad, and in the 13th minute, Sanchez played in Ozil on the right side of the box 18, the angle was tight but he should have hit a firmer shot that could have at least caused a spill by Pickford.
14th minute, Coquelin broke through on goal and as he seemed set to shoot and perhaps open the scoring, Sunderland defender, Lamine Kone got in a tackle and scrambled the ball away.
Inevitably, the deadlock was broken in the 19th minute when a determined Oxlade-Chamberlain broke down the right and whipped in a delicious cross that Sanchez headed in.
The first half ended with just a goal lead and that was the only regret of an otherwise very comfortable opening half.
THE GIROUD SHOW (SECOND HALF)
You know in football, and especially the EPL, that a single goal lead is never enough, no matter how poor the opposition has been. In Sunderland’s case, besides set-pieces being their only realistic chance of scoring, having such a dangerous striker like Defoe on the pitch meant they could still manage to nick a goal at any time.
This concern came to reality when in the 64th minute the referee awarded Sunderland a very controversial penalty kick minutes after denying Sanchez what seemed a clearer one. Defoe beat Cech (does the superb Czech ever save penalties) and suddenly we needed to find a winning goal with just over 20 minutes left.
However, Wenger and Giroud had other ideas. The manager introduced OG and the big man scored with his first and second touches (wonder if that has ever happened in the league) and within five minutes of each other. Boy, how we have missed him!
Giroud might not have the pace to time runs through on goal or beat one or two markers and score a screamer from outside the box like some other players in the Arsenal squad, but when it comes to goal-poaching in the 18-yard box (headers and volleys) he remains our greatest weapon. He has the ability to find good positions in the box and he is, of course, deadly in the air.
Perhaps, if he played against Boro we would have found a way to score. After his goal, the entire Arsenal squad was again buzzing and it was now a question of how many more we would score. You could sense Sunderland had just steered the hornet’s nest.
Soon after, Giroud scored his second and Arsenal’s third with a trademark header from a Gibb’s cross. Two minutes later, in the 78th minute, Sanchez showed composure, strength, technique and precision to poke in our fourth and final goal of the game to cap up another inspirational performance from him.
COMPETITION PUSHING ARSENAL SQUAD TO ANOTHER LEVEL
The best thing about this current Arsenal squad is that it is hard to find any deadwood, and that’s exactly what is needed – from both injuries and sustained-form point of view – to challenge for the title.
In recent past, Arsene has, due to financial constraints, had to put up with players that were clearly not good enough for us. Players like Chamakh, Gervinho and Santos, to name a few, were patently inferior to others he managed earlier, including Henry, Pires and Ashley Cole.
That created a two-fold problem: The few decent players in the starting 11 would become complacent or suffer burn-out because, barring injuries, they were guaranteed to start every game. The other problem was that when players like Sagna got injured at right-back, his replacement was a cumbersome and non-dynamic Djourou, and tellingly, the team’s level and performances dropped.
Compare that to the situation with this current Arsenal squad: Homeboy and Hale End graduate Wilshere had to secure a loan move to Bournemouth at the start of the season. This was to set the tone for what has generally become a business-like approach from all Arsenal players in the starting 11 and on the bench. You know that poor form could relegate you even beyond the bench and as far as going out on loan.
The emergence of Iwobi last season relegated Walcott to the substitutes bench, culminating in his missing the Euros. The result is clear to see for all, Walcott worked hard in the summer, impressed the manager in training, and is now once again a regular starter, owing to his superb form and more determined showings.
Gibbs, Elneny and Oxlade-Chamberlain came in for Monreal, Carzola and Theo today and the team still won so convincingly away to Sunderland. Ospina has impressed in the Champions league to the extent that an injury to Cech doesn’t seem such a frightening prospect anymore.
All in all, the fierce competition in this Arsenal squad has ensured that we don’t feel the impact of missing key players as much as we used to (Sanchez musn’t get injured though. Lol)
ALEXIS STARTING TO HAVE HENRY-TYPE IMPACT
In the 2003, EPL’s G.O.A.T, Thierry Henry, scored 23 goals and also managed to assist 20 times (still Premier League record). That was the sort of impact the great man had on that Arsenal squad and the EPL in general. He was simply the best, he was great goal scorer and a scorer of great goals.
The Arsenal squad of 2002-2005 had world-class players in several positions – Cole, Campbell, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljunberg – and might still have won at least a league title within that period without Henry. It is however doubtful that they would have won the two leagues titles and three FA cups never mind the unbeaten season without a scorer cum playmaker of the highest standard in Henry.
Sanchez’ stats this season would suggest that he is beginning to have an Henryesque kind of impact. Ever since he’s been deployed as a striker by Wenger, just as with Henry, Sanchez looks like he will at least score or assist in every game. He has scored 8 times and provided a further 5 assists in just 13 games in all competitions this season.
Given that Arsenal plays an average of 50 games a season, Sanchez would finish the season with 32 goals and 20 assists if he maintains his current rate. His overall record of 50 goals in 107 games for Arsenal also compares favourably with Henry’s at the same stage of his Arsenal career.
The manager, after the Sunderland game, spoke about Sanchez’ increasing influence playing through the middle:
“He is doing extremely well and I believe that he enjoys it. But we can always play a 4-4-2 with two through the middle as well, because Mezut can play in behind or on the flank…”
[irp posts=”99″ name=”Hull vs Arsenal: Is Sanchez starting to resemble RVP? Iwobi continues to impress…”]
HOME FORM KEY TO ARSENAL TITLE WIN
If Arsenal has to win the league this season our home form has to improve drastically.
In 4 of the last 5 seasons, we have managed to win just 12 of our 19 home games. Indeed, the only season, 2014, where we won 13 home games was also the closest we have come to winning the league. We finished with 79 points, 7 behind City with 86, and the reason for that gap was also due to the points we started dropping at home from February after having topped the table for most of the season.
We have made a habit of dropping points or even losing altogether against teams like Swansea and Southampton. This season is already following a similar pattern with the home loss to Liverpool and draw with Boro.
In the period under review, 2012-2015, the EPL champions, with the exception of Leicester who had the lowest points tally of 81, have garnered at least 15 home wins. City actually won an impressive 18 0ut of 19 to finish with 89 points in 2012.
Hopefully, the availability of two competent strikers with different skill sets in this Arsenal squad of 2017 (Giroud and Sanchez) would help us unlock the stubborn defences that just come to park the bus at the emirates.
Can Sanchez emulate Henry and fire us to our first EPL title since 2004?
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