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Friday, 23 October 2015

This is how it should be


The last few weeks have been good for us Arsenal supporters. Five goals away at Leicester preceded an international break book-ended by different styles of 3-0 wins, and that was followed up quickly by a 2-0 home victory over the most in form side in Europe. It's fair to say that Arsenal are playing pretty well at the moment and it is impressive that they have been able to win these games in different ways.
I haven't written since before Watford so I'll deal with that first. I felt the attitude of the players was all wrong in the first-half. Following the way we had beaten Manchester United I had hoped for the same effort early on at Vicarage Road. Given the difference in the quality of the opponent, had we played the same way last Saturday we might have got another glut of early goals. As it was we started fairly brightly before Watford's enthusiasm got them on top for a good spell. They created a chance or two that were spurned and Ramsey missed an even bigger sitter for us than the one against the Mancs. Mr Tyler on Sky Sports was willing Troy Deeney to get a goal against us and he seemed to be the key player for the Hornets. He reminded me a lot of people like Kevin Davies and Peter Crouch in the way that, whenever the ball is played towards him in the air, his first move is a foul on the defender that always seems to go unnoticed by the officials, before invariably hitting the deck himself to try and win a free-kick. It is an effective style, but both Crouch and Davies were better footballers than Deeney and that's probably why he is not hitting the net in the Premier League.
The second-half saw more of Watford putting pressure on without genuinely threatening, up to roughly the hour mark. It was at this point that Mesut Ozil seemingly decided he ought to put in some effort and, with Alexis as energetic as ever, the pair combined to put Watford away in good style. The lay-off by Ozil for Giroud's goal was sensational and that's what you pay the big bucks for. I give Ozil plenty of stick, and I truly believe he deserves it most of the time, but when he turns it on he is sensational. The third goal, while a deflected Ramsey shot, belonged to Hector Bellerin for a brilliant run in to the box and short pass that laid it on a plate for the Boyo. More on Hector below.
So a 3-0 win at Watford was more than adequate. The way Arsenal went in to overdrive as Watford's hard work began to tire them out was familiar for the way Wenger's teams used to play when faced with a determined opponent. There was no lack of patience in the players and, once they got in front, they went forward with the idea of putting the game away. It was impressive and it afforded Arsene Wenger the chance to give Ozil and Alexis a short rest towards the end of the game. All in all it was a very satisfactory performance.

The game on Tuesday is the sort of fixture that makes qualifying for the Champions League exciting. There is no doubt that the group stages can often be a bit of a bore. Being in pot 2 this year meant we were likely to get one of the genuine European giants in our group and so it proved in the shape of Bayern Munich. The chance to see players like Neuer, Lahm, Muller and Lewandowski is what European nights should really be all about. With Bayern's form being second to none at the moment I think we all knew a tough night was in prospect, regardless of them missing Gotze, Robben and Ribery.
The first-half was pretty even. Bayern had more possession and their movement is excellent, but when Arsenal got on the ball we created some chances. Their centre-halves seemed genuinely afraid of Theo Walcott's pace and, had he not reverted to the player who seems incapable of running with the ball without standing on it, he would have been in on goal a couple of times. Cech made a couple of good saves, but the best chances of the half were Arsenal's. The cross from Monreal for Waclott's header was perfect and Theo should have buried it. Having said that it was a remarkable save from Neuer to claw the ball off the line as he did. I'm sure Theo felt he simply had to head it at goal to score but Neuer's athleticism is incredible. When it fell then to Aaron Ramsey we all knew it was 1-0 to Arsenal but he somehow missed the goal completely. It summed up his season so far really. The most dangerous player on the pitch was Douglas Costa who was giving Hector Bellerin a really terrible time throughout the first-half. He seemed even quicker than Bellerin, even with the ball at his feet. Costa looks an incredible talent.
After half-time it felt like we were getting a football lesson. It was really men against boys for most of the time as we just couldn't get on the ball enough. Bayern passed and moved in such a brilliant way that they were pulling us all over the place. When we did get the ball it seemed that Ozil kept running it in to touch, or Alexis appeared determined to keep putting Lewandowski in against our goalkeeper. What was noticeable from my seat was how Arsenal formed up to stop the threat. Ozil dropped in to make a five man midfield line, with Theo left to plough a very lone furrow up front. Starved of any real service that was an impossible job for Walcott. Ramsey's injury saw the introduction of the ineffective (what is wrong with him at the moment?) Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I would have preferred to see Giroud come on at that point with Theo's pace moved to the right-wing. The introduction of The Ox merely exposed Bellerin even more as he was failing to help his full-back properly, and not for the first time. However, Hector Bellerin is a proper player. He got better and better as the game went on and ended up winning the battle with Douglas Costa. It's not just Bellerin's pace that is impressive. I love the way that he adapts his game to the match situation. He seems to learn on the job extremely quickly. It was the same against Man Utd when they moved Rooney to the left and Fellaini kept drifting out there too. Bellerin simply took the challenge in his stride and put them both in his pocket. It could be that we are seeing the start of the career of a player who will go on to become one of THE great full-backs. Unfortunately Barcelona will be circling if he continues like this.
When Olivier Giroud finally came on the game changed. It coincided with Bayern taking off Alonso which meant they seemed to lose their defensive game in the midfield. There was also one other factor at play, and it is something I have spoken about in the past that is particular to Guardiola's teams. He sends them out to play a high energy pressing game, allowing them to win possession high up the pitch and use their better players to continuously attack the opposition defence. If you watch his Bayern side they play just the same way as his Barcelona team, but this lot don't have Lionel Messi. I would say that Bayern don't have much at the back, but the problem is getting enough of the ball to actually test them - Arsenal showed that they are over-reliant on Neuer at times. The key to beating Guardiola's teams is to stick with them. I'm sure from the way Arsenal didn't go for it early on that Wenger planned all along to keep it tight and hit them late in the match. The high pressing game I've written about above is great as long as it results in goals. If it doesn't, and you can get to 70-75 minutes within one goal of them, then they are there for the taking. The style of play that Guardiola employs takes it out of his players. The consequence to this is that the opposition can use their own fitness to go after your tired players as the clock ticks down. Arsenal did the same thing to Barcelona a few years ago as they did to Bayern Munich on Tuesday. It's easier said than done, of course, but it seems to me that this is the way you beat Pep Guardiola.
The first Arsenal goal had an element of luck involved in the way that Giroud bundled it over the line, but you have to get in there to score those goals and the delivery has to be good too. I really never expected Neuer to go full Almunia on us but coming, as it did, just moments after Cech had made his own amazing save to deny Lewandowski it was the difference between the sides on the night. The second goal was, as with the one at Watford, all down to that man Bellerin. Having worked so hard for the whole game it was unbelievable that he should be able to show such pace and such stamina, and then such poise, to beat two players and lay it on a plate for Ozil. Neuer all but saved it, but I could see from my seat that it was definitely over the line and I would have been fuming had the officials not given the goal. 
To beat Bayern Munich 2-0 was a great result. We are now in with half a chance of qualifying for the next round, but avoiding defeat in the return game will be necessary for that to happen in my opinion. What it should do is give further confidence to the players. They have proved that, with effort and organisation, and a top goalkeeper, they can stop any team from scoring a goal. 
To have been there and watched these two excellent football teams go toe-to-toe was something of a privilege. It should be noted that what we saw the other night was a display of mesmeric football from two sides, and two managers, that had ultimate respect for one another. There was none of the nonsense that pervades most of the Premier League games and it must have been a joy for the neutral too. This winning lark is very enjoyable and I hope it continues tomorrow evening at home to Everton.

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