Monday, 2 October 2017

Gunners back in the hunt?

Arsenal 2-0 Brighton

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Arsenal continued their recent run of impressive results with a comfortable home win against Brighton on Sunday.

The win was significant for several reasons,
coming as it did on the 21st anniversary since Arsene Wenger took charge of the Gunners and helping the Frenchman to surpass a record held by former foe Alex Fergusson, by securing victory against a 45th different side in the Premier League. However in the post-match press conference the manager cited the fact that this victory came just before the international break as most significant, as it highlighted the sharp contrast with the previous international break.

Having lost to Stoke and then heavily against Liverpool, Arsenal fans were rather downhearted the last time the club’s players departed to destinations around the globe to play for their respective countries. However since then the Gunners have won all their games apart from the hard fought and well-earned draw away to Chelsea. Arsenal are now only 6 points adrift of both Manchester clubs, who are regarded as having had excellent starts and only a point behind Tottenham, who have been heralded as potential dark horses for the title. Although it is still very early in the season, with only 7 games played, the picture does appear to be somewhat brighter than many pundits would have you believe.

Of course it is extremely unlikely that Arsenal will be able to mount a championship challenge, as despite the positive results, there are still issues which need to be addressed. Chief amongst them would be the defensive shape of the team. Although the victory against Brighton was routine there were moments, especially during the first half, when the away side looked rather dangerous and the Arsenal defence began to creak. Sead Kolasinac, in the left wing back role, was caught out of position a number of times during the opening period and the midfield pairing of Xhaka and Ramsey were neglecting their defensive duties and being caught up field, leaving the defence exposed. Brighton did therefore look dangerous at times and against a better side, Arsenal may well have been made to pay.

On a brighter note, Rob Holding built on his improved performance against BATE Borisov, in the Europa League and looks to be on the way to getting back to the impressive form he showed last season. Against Brighton he was brought in to replace Koscielny and the young Englishman kept things simple and showed the composure that his game had been missing since the start of the season. His decision making has also improved considerably and his confidence is returning too, which shows a great deal of character given the way he had started the season.

At the other end of the pitch Alexandre Lacazette continued to impress and could have added to his previous 4 goals at the Emirates, as early as the second minute. As the ball sat up nicely for the Frenchman, he too showed his growing confidence as he unleashed an unstoppable shot from outside the box which had Matt Ryan beaten all ends up. It would have been a wonderful goal had the ball nestled into the net, but unfortunately, the post would deny Lacazette as the ball came crashing back off it, much to the dismay of the Arsenal faithful.

When the Gunners did take the lead, it was from an unlikely source, with Nacho Monreal scoring his first league goal in four years. It was not the prettiest of goals with the ball bouncing around the box but the Spaniard certainly won’t be complaining, as a blocked effort saw the ball fall kindly for him and he slotted it home. It was a well-deserved gift for Monreal, given his excellent performances so far this season.

Arsenal were largely dominant but had Brighton managed to equalise with one of their own chances during the first half, with one free kick effort from Sully March coming back off the post, then it would have turned into a far more difficult game for the Gunners. Fortunately the home side managed to ride their luck with Cech also commanding his box rather well, coming off his line to claim a number of crosses.

Brighton did not pose much of a threat during the second half and when Arsenal scored their second of the game, the away side’s spirit appeared to have been broken. The goal, scored by Alex Iwobi, owed much to the skill, vision and downright audacity of Alexis Sanchez. As the ball appeared to get stuck between the Chilean and two Brighton defenders, Sanchez appeared to have eyes in the back of his head as without even looking, his back heeled pass found Alex Iwobi in acres of space inside the area. The Nigerian international only had the goalkeeper to beat and he did so in clinical fashion to seal a wonderful move, which underlined the World class quality of Alexis Sanchez.

Sanchez and Lacazette are also beginning to build an understanding together and Wenger must be hoping that Danny Welbeck will soon return to full fitness as those three as an attacking unit could pose a number of problems for any opposition defence. There will be an issue when Ozil also returns from his injury lay off with Jack Wilshere also looking extremely promising as he builds confidence and fitness from his own well documented injury issues. It will be difficult to accommodate Ozil into the side at the moment, as others appear to offer more, however, these are the kind of problems that managers love to have and Wenger will be relishing it.

After the game, Wenger declared that his side have turned the corner, but with only seven games played it is too early to arrive at the same conclusion. This side will face far sterner tests throughout the season ahead and must work harder on their defensive shape to make sure that the entire side has the same level of discipline when the opposition have the ball. There is a feeling that whenever Arsenal show they are capable of doing this, as they did against Chelsea, they then do not work on this aspect of the game as much as they should, with the management feeling that they have proved they can perform the dirty side of the game and there is no need to work further on it. The Gunners simply cannot afford to do this. They can hurt teams with their attacking threat but that soft underbelly does still exist and it still threatens to scupper any hopes of league success.

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