Monday, 2 February 2015

Five Star Gunners

Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa

14/15: Arsenal 5-0 Aston Villa - Theo Walcott
Arsenal got themselves ready for Saturday’s North London derby in perfect fashion with a fine display against Aston Villa, recording their biggest result of the season so far as they defeated Paul Lambert’s side 5-0.

Much has been made of the form of Alexis Sanchez since he joined the Gunners, with many pundits suggesting the great Chilean has been carrying the side, leading both the scoring and assist charts at the club. When Wenger announced at the pre match press conference that Sanchez would not be available for this game due to a hamstring injury, alarm bells began to ring for all Arsenal supporters. How would the Gunners cope without their talisman?

However the most impressive aspect of Arsenal’s fine recent form has been the pressure it has placed on all the players within the squad. As soon as one man is out, another is ready to step in and take the reins. The effect has been particularly striking with Mesut Ozil, who has returned to the starting line up with a seemingly different attitude and renewed passion for the game. Without Sanchez the perception was that Arsenal would struggle for goals, but with Ozil well on the way to firing on all cylinders, the Gunners scored five goals, with five different players getting their names on the score sheet.

Ozil was instrumental as Arsenal took the lead as early as the 8th minute. A clearance from Per Mertesacker fell towards Ozil, but rather than bring the ball down and assess his options, as most players would in that situation, Ozil showed supreme vision and skill to deftly flick the ball over the top of the Villa defence, sending Giroud through on goal. The big Frenchman virtually had the entire half to run into and therefore had plenty of time to decide what to do. However just as he approached the penalty area, Giroud seemed to get the ball stuck under his foot, but fortunately managed to readjust, just in time to flick the ball over the advancing Guzan and into the net.

Having taken the lead, Arsenal were threatening to run away with the game, but just could not get their decision making right in the final third and clear goal scoring chances were not being created. In fact as the half wore on, Villa appeared to be growing more and more into the game, even enjoying more possession than their hosts. In previous years and even earlier this season, such a situation would have caused great worry for the Arsenal faithful. However since the emergence of Coquelin, the Gunners appear far more solid at the back.

The young Frenchman enjoyed another excellent performance, sat right in front of his central defenders, marshalling the area perfectly. Each and every time the ball enters this space, Coquelin is there to intercept the pass, sweep up in front of his defence, tackle the opposition player, or hustle them out of possession. The excellent screening job he is doing for the team is also helping his defence to perform better as they find themselves under less pressure. The fact Coquelin is also a player who is happy to bark orders at those around him also ensures the attacking players are constantly aware of their defensive responsibilities and track back when the ball is lost, maintaining the defensive shape.

The presence of David Ospina in goal has also had a calming effect on those in front of him. The Columbian is enjoying his run in the side and is more than willing to take the pressure off his defence by coming out and claiming dangerous crosses. Ospina’s distribution is also very good and his save in the first half to deny Weiman an equaliser on Sunday was superb, adjusting his body position in mid-air to block the Austrian’s header. If Ospina can keep up his fine work, Szczesny will have an extremely difficult time trying to get back into the team.

Again, the competition for places at the moment is pushing each and every player to perform at their best. Hector Bellerin for example has been given his opportunity to shine as a result of Debuchy’s injury and the Spaniard has seized the chance with both hands. Bellerin is getting better and better game by game. His defensive work has really come on leaps and bound s and compliments his already excellent attacking play, which on Sunday culminated in his very first goal in Arsenal colours. Coming in injury time, Bellerin sealed the 5-0 win with a fine controlled finish, passing the ball into the bottom corner of the goal, past the reach of Guzan. At this rate, Debuchy will also struggle to get back into the team when he overcomes his latest injury.  

Sandwiched in between the first and last goals of the afternoon where two excellent strikes and a Santi Cazorla penalty. Eleven minutes into the second half, Arsenal doubled their lead as Giroud returned the favour to Ozil, with the French striker turning provider as his through ball found Ozil on the edge of the box. The German still had plenty to do, but showed his top level quality as he expertly guided the ball past Guzan and into the far corner of the goal.

Theo Walcott got in on the act seven minutes later to make the score 3-0. The Englishman picked up a pass from Cazorla, which was probably intended for Giroud, and drove into the centre of the area. Once there, Walcott curled a shot around Guzan and into the net for his first goal at the Emirates since his horrendous injury last year. The joy amongst the home crowd was palatable, as Walcott celebrated with his teammates.

As the game entered the final twenty minutes, Wenger decided to rest Giroud and give young prospect Chuba Akpom a chance to shine. It was nice to see the players attempting to set up Akpom at every opportunity, but unfortunately the ball just would not fall for him, as last ditch tackles and passes just behind or in front of him prevented the youngster from getting on the score sheet. He did still manage to have a positive impact on proceedings as within six minutes of coming on; he was brought down by Guzan in the area, leaving the referee no choice but to award the penalty. Cazorla almost had his penalty saved as Guzan stood up and got a hand to the ball, but on a day when everything went Arsenal’s way, the goalkeeper could only turn the ball into his own net.

So Arsenal march on, into Saturday’s North London derby, in high spirits. There is a sense that the atmosphere around the camp has improved significantly over recent weeks. The newfound defensive stability has gone a long way to achieving this and the results on the pitch speak for themselves. The Gunners must now go into the next game 100% committed as Tottenham are also on a good run and will be no walkover. 

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