Alexis and Coquelin celebrate
It took the best part of half-an-hour but Arsenal finally got back to form last night. Okay, we haven't lost in any of the games since hammering Liverpool but we certainly haven't played well. The closing down high up the pitch has been absent since the moment Ramsey scored the early winner at Burnley. When it returned last night, with Ozil and Alexis pressuring Huddlestone in to showing his lack of quality, Arsenal were 1-0 up less than a minute later. It's no coincidence that putting pressure on in the final third of the pitch presented us with opportunities to play our football, and we went on to play some of the best we've seen all season at times.
Not for the first time we were starting slowly last night, without really coming under a tremendous threat from our opposition. I must remember one of these days to count how many times one of our attacking midfield players passes the ball back to Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny. There is no more certain sign that we aren't playing properly than the sight of Mertesacker with the ball at his feet every few seconds. It amazes me that the talented attacking footballers we have feel the need to play the ball to their centre-back with quite such regularity. For me there are few things more soul destroying than seeing Mesut Ozil, with all that ability, receive a pass around the halfway line and then look up and decide to pass it ten yards back to the BFG. I don't know what causes us to be like that when it's so obvious that we play so much better once we start to work on harassing opposition players in their own half and/or playing the ball forward and creating some space by attacking people. As Jack Wilshere showed when he came on, and he was looking super sharp, by running at a defender you create openings.
We had some luck with the deflections for the first two goals (I did wonder if Lampard had suddenly joined us) but that showed that actually going for goal might end up with you scoring once or twice. In the second-half there wasn't enough of that and that's one of the reasons we didn't add more goals to the tally. For Aaron Ramsey's goal the finish may have been slightly fortuitous in the way it looped in to the corner (though Alan Parry somehow missed the deflections for both of the first two goals on commentary) but the pass from Cazorla was superb. The control, though, of Ramsey was even better. As first touches go it was truly exceptional and I though he had a much better game last night coming off the right. He then decided to outdo Cazorla with his pass for the third goal that was expertly put away by the wonderful Alexis Sanchez. I would have no argument if Ramsey was to come back to form in the next few weeks ahead of the FA Cup Final, though I'm still very unsure of him on the right of midfield - if The Ox was fit I'd have him back in there straight away, while Ramsey can't play ahead of Cazorla or Ozil in their positions.
At 3-0 up at half-time I wanted us to come out and humiliate Hull in the second-half, hopefully sending out some kind of warning for Aston Villa. However, Wenger's sides all too rarely push on when comfortably in front early in a game and last night was no different. Hull got themselves a goal thanks to Mr Mason somehow missing something approaching a red card tackle that took King Koscielny out of the game momentarily. After that we were never really threatened as such. We could and should have had more goals. Ozil and Cazorla and Wilshere all refused to shoot at times, while Jack was denied two clear penalties by Mason again. Alexis might have passed to Theo in the last minute but chose (rightly, in my view) to try and get his hat-trick. Ultimately it was a nice win, with one of the absolute highlights being an amazing flicked volley by Ozil to send Alexis away down the left in the second-half. When we're like that in a game then we are great to watch.
I just want to say a few words on Jimmy Greaves who has suffered a severe stroke. People of my age grew up with Greavesie on the TV, whether as a co-commentator or studio guest on ITV or on the magnificent Saint & Greavesie show. Jimmy was a real character who oozed a fun personality. He was far removed from the all too serious coverage and punditry of modern TV football. One of ITV's biggest errors when they had the rights to the Premier League was to not bring Saint & Greavesie back - instead of them we had Gabby Logan and Barry Venison on a Saturday lunchtime.
As a player he was most famous for his time at Chelsea and at Tottenham. He was the exceptional goalscorer of his generation and, despite missing the World Cup Final in 1966, a legendary England striker. He would go on to suffer with alcoholism but, unlike certain other former footballers, he worked to fight it and recover from it. Maybe that's why he was able to be so irreverent in his view of football when he was on the TV screen. What a breath of fresh air he'd be now when Roy Keane or Jamie Carragher are bemoaning people having fun.
His autobiography is one of the finest I've ever read with his honesty jumping off the page when he describes his personal problems and the effects of his actions on his family. It takes some kind of person to do that in the public arena.
Jimmy Greaves is also famous for a quote he made about Arsenal whereby he talked of the class of our Club. Even when he was at Spurs, he said, he knew Arsenal was class. Well, Greavesie, as a kid who grew up with you on my TV screen I always felt you were class, and I wish you a full and speedy recovery.