Three points and a clean sheet from a relaxed but dominating performance in the Premier League after making five changes to the starting line-up is impressive.
Wenger isn’t always comfortable with rotating players in and out of the starting line-up, and over the last couple of years I’ve come to see such changes as a measure of his confidence in the squad to deal with the level of competition they’re faced with. In the last few years the most common games where we saw numerous changes typically used to be League Cup fixtures, or FA Cup ties against lower league opponents, or dead rubbers in the Champions League once the team had qualified. That Arsene Wenger has felt confident in shuffling his pack for important games – in terms of points and the need for maintaining consistency – like the one against Marseille and now this one against Hull seems to be an indication of the manager’s growing belief in his squad’s ability to express their ideas on the pitch while executing their defensive duties diligently even when personnel vary.
The Frenchman had openly stated that he didn’t expect Arsenal to be at the top so early in the season, particularly after that initial disappointment. In light of that it was understandable that he’d want to play his best players at every opportunity in order to consolidate the team’s lead in the early part of the season. Choices were limited by injuries too. As the Gunners head into a hectic period with many potentially decisive fixtures, the manager’s growing confidence and the fluid yet cohesive performance of the side despite notable changed to the staring eleven are extremely encouraging signs, particularly now that more and more players are regaining fitness.
That’s not to say that Bendtner should start ahead of Giroud in the upcoming big games, for instance, but it does give the manager more choices and even the players on the bench will feel confident that their chances are coming.
You could be wondering, I certainly was, whether resting Ramsey and Özil might have been a better option given the load they’ve been bearing. It could be that Wenger finds them to be his most decisive players and that makes them hard to replace given that one or two of the other big names are not getting their usual goals and assists. This is likely to change once other individuals have more of an end product against their names. The first goal that the Gunners scored should certainly help in that regard.
Not only did we see an excellent assist and a confident finish from two players who’ve a lot to prove, the entire build-up was top class.
When a side can incorporate five changes and still create a move like that – 16 passes, about 35 seconds of possession, all outfield players involved except the centre-backs – in the first minute of the game, people take notice either consciously or without realizing it.
It seemed to me that Hull certainly did and whatever game plan they had, if they had one, was rendered irrelevant as they barely put up a challenge for the rest of the game. At times it felt they were overawed by the quality of Arsenal’s football and were simply hanging in there.
At this point I’ve to say that one problem with the kind of write-up that has preceded this sentence is that it tends to overemphasize the positives of the side. There’s nothing wrong in enjoying such a win and the strong run but we are, as a species, too prone to resort to superlatives. It needs to be tempered because reality rarely dwells in the extremes.
One way to moderate any unbridled enthusiasm is to ask why the Gunners didn’t take full advantage of their visibly obvious supremacy to convert this into a much bigger win. Ultimately, it was again down to the decisive qualities of Ramsey and Özil in the second half.
Towards the end there were some moments of complacency at the back that I doubt Bould or Wenger would have enjoyed.
Job well done, yes. But it remains just another step in a marathon.
Each game is technically worth only three points. However, if we extend the season as a marathon metaphor, every single fixture isn’t exactly akin to equal strides. Some of the games are bigger and success in these takes a team farther towards its goals. Failure has the potential to have an opposite effect. Consider Arsenal’s win against Liverpool for instance, had the result gone the other way the Reds would have led the League by a couple of points right now instead of being four points behind the Gunners as they currently are. And that’s assuming all other results remained the same which isn’t always the case as such encounters affect a team’s confidence. We’ve certainly seen Arsenal stutter in the past to know not to take recovery for granted.
Arsenal’s next few fixtures have the potential to provide the team with the escape velocity that propels them into a healthy lead all on their own. Or they could be sucked down into the congested competitive space just below where six teams reside in a four point zone. The gravity of this matter cannot be taken lightly.
It can be argued that the game against Everton isn’t exactly a six-pointer in the title race as the Toffees have already dropped points against Cardiff, Norwich, West Brom, and Crystal Palace – teams currently in the bottom seven – this season. It seems fair when you consider that, at the time of writing, some bookmakers are offering 100/1 odds on Everton winning the title.
On the other hand, Martinez’s side has already beaten Chelsea and United while drawing with Liverpool and Spurs. Most of those results are at home but their win at Old Trafford came at a location where the Gunners have already failed. Furthermore, as we’ve seen in recent years, Arsenal are one of the few teams for whom the home or away difference isn’t always that significant (Wenger’s team are 4th in the home table and 1st in the away table as of now).
A lot has been made of points gained by the Gunners in corresponding fixtures from last season and this is one where a win would see them better the draw from 2012-13. Man City are the only side that have beaten Everton and it’s always helpful to match or better the direct rivals in tougher games. Dropping points in this game will certainly lead to increased pressure in the other big games coming up.
Everton are a different team under Martinez, although they still have to prove they do better in terms of points and position at the end of the season. Their possession stats are up from 52.9 to 56.5 percent while pass completion has gone up from 79.4 to 83.3 this season. The Spaniard focuses more on technique and ball retention and it shows in the choices of their players. They aren’t as eager to gain territory (longer balls to Fellaini under Moyes an excellent example) but take their time building attacks. As a result their total number of shots per game has gone down a bit (14.9 vis-a-vis 16.7) despite better possession and passing accuracy figures, but they are getting more shots on target (5.7 vs 5.4) and average 1.57 goals a game compared to 1.45 last year. The differences aren’t too big, nor is the sample size, but they do hint towards better quality of chances being created.
The Toffees also have the second best defence in the League behind Arsenal with 0.93 goals conceded per game. Last year this figure was 1.05. They already have 8 clean sheets in 14 games and are likely to better the mark of 11 from the previous campaign very soon.
In truth, that doesn’t tell the whole picture as they’ve conceded 12 goals in 5 of the remaining 6 games. Many of their games, particularly against the big teams, have been open and entertaining with both sides having good chances of scoring. I believe Arsenal will not find them as hard to penetrate as some of the Moyes sides.
In order to do that Arsenal will have to win the possession battle – or play a really efficient counter-attacking game – against a team that’s managed to see more of the ball away from home (58.9 percent) than the Gunners have at the Emirates (54.9 percent). The first goal is likely to have a decisive bearing on these figures for this game.
Everton have some very exciting individuals and this could lead to fascinating duels all over the pitch. Lukaku is making a name for himself and his sheer power is going to test the likes of Koscielny who enjoys going tight to the striker. The Belgian is also good at changing direction, although he tends to cut inside more often, and the defenders will have to be alert to that when covering behind their teammates.
The likes of Mirallas and Pienaar are capable of running in behind a high line so I won’t be surprised if Arsenal start dropping deeper when possession is lost. This would give the visitors a greater foothold in the game but could prove to be the safer choice. As ever though, it’s going to be a matter of maintaining optimum spaces between the lines while playing with a cohesive defensive approach – press together or drop back as a unit. It’s an area where the Gunners have improved tremendously and can again be the foundation of an important result.
Barkley against Arteta is also going to be an enjoyable battle. The youngster is faster and perhaps stronger while the Arsenal man is more experienced and technically superior. We have to see who is able to express his strengths better than the other.
Everton also have quick, hard-working full-backs who could pose a threat if Arsenal’s fluidity in attack leaves the wide areas exposed on transitions. We often see discussions about numerical superiority in certain parts of the pitch because of the movement of players, but it’s worth remembering that in a 11-v-11 game if one side has an advantage in a certain part of the pitch, their opponents will have a similar opportunity in another. It’s going to be a battle with fine margins.
Wenger again has some choices to make for his starting line-up. He could rest different players in this game while bringing in those who were left out against Hull. For example, Arteta and Wilshere could come in for Ramsey and Özil. That way the Gunners would have the freshest possible legs, which could come in handy in a battle that will leave players leggy by the time of the final whistle.
I have a feeling he will go with his strongest side on current form and make changes against Napoli.
We might see,
Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Giroud, Cazorla.
That said, I’m hoping we will see one or two of the regulars rotated with the likes of Rosicky and or Flamini retained in the side.
It’s understandable that most Arsenal fans would be buzzing and feeling positive about this tie but until the Gunners go through a whole season performing week in, week out, there will some butterflies in more than a few Gooner stomachs.Follow @goonerdesi