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Sunday, 20 March 2016

Effort, where have you been?

The pace and power to scare defenders

I suppose the signs have actually been there in the performances against Barcelona and away at Spurs. There has been an improvement in some of Arsenal's play in the last couple of weeks, albeit the end product has been missing and the defending woeful. Yesterday Arsenal put in one of their best performances of the season. The first-half was as good a 45 minutes as we've put together since August. Where has that kind of effort and organisation been since Christmas? Leicester's win at Crystal Palace almost certainly renders it too little, too late so it has to raise questions as to what has gone on. Why have the players been so devoid of this kind of display for so long? Where was it at Old Trafford? Where was it at home to Swansea? Where was it last Sunday against Watford? Arsenal were brilliant yesterday and it just makes me full of regret that they have let us down so badly in the preceding three months.
The unchanged nature of the team (Coquelin played more than half the game on Wednesday) was a surprise. Given the way that Arsenal went on to dominate the play I never want to hear excuses of fatigue ever again. Iwobi and Welbeck are a pair whose game is full of pace and power. This has the ability to frighten a defence. The first time Danny Welbeck got the ball yesterday he took it past the nearest defender and ran in behind. From that moment on the Everton defence was on the back foot, worried that trying to get in ahead of him would leave them beaten. You'd have to question why we've been forced to sit through Theo Walcott's non-existent form in recent months when Iwobi has been little more than a lad who is on the fringes, only to see him burst on the scene now. Perhaps it's a sign of how desperate things had got that Wenger had no other option than to gamble on a youngster - though his continued side-lining of Joel Campbell remains a mysterious anomaly.
The first goal was Arsenal at their best. It was the sort of move we've seen so little of as we've passed across the defence of the opposition and back again without ever threatening a goal. Alexis made one of very few passes to an Arsenal player with a perfect through-ball for Welbeck to run on and go past the goalkeeper for an excellent finish. When being instinctive like that Welbeck finishes well. When he has time to think about things he seems to get his feet mixed up. He could have scored at least two more goals, only to not get a shot away - the one in the second-half when he pressed Stones in to an error sat up beautifully for a right-foot finish but he failed to take the chance, as with last week against Watford in injury-time.
Alex Iwobi was superb in Barcelona on Wednesday and he was very good again yesterday. He is strong on the ball, has a bit of skill, and is a very willing worker. He won the tackle in his own half yesterday that saw the ball reach Hector Bellerin in the build-up to his goal. Iwobi didn't stand around admiring his work, but saw the gap in the defence and got on his bike. Bellerin played a lovely ball in to the space ahead of him and the first-touch from Iwobi, on the run, was superb. He finished coolly and celebrated as he deserved to. He may fade away as quickly as he's come on the scene, but wouldn't it be nice if we had uncovered a real diamond from the youth setup? 
A few other things were key yesterday as well. David Ospina was exceptionally brave when the threat came after half-time and played on despite, for me, being clearly not really able to do so. Since coming in for Cech he has restored his reputation and hasn't let us down. In front of him the two centre-backs were excellent. Gabriel, who has been poor in recent matches, dealt with Lukaku brilliantly and was as strong as the big Belgian throughout. Wenger got one of his substitutions right with the introduction of Kieran Gibbs totally nullifying the emerging Everton threat down our left side. Then in midfield we had Francis Coquelin back to his absolute best. That was due, in no small part, to the energy of Mohamed Elneny alongside him. Even in injury-time the Egyptian was running down the opposition midfield. Coquelin has not looked so good since his return from injury, but yesterday he had a midfield partner doing basically the same job that Santi Cazorla does in that position, and not the constant running around too high up the pitch that we get from Aaron Ramsey. It really was a great team performance all round.
Having won the game, and won it comfortably, I can have a free run at the officials without being accused of sour grapes. Mr Clattenburg really ought to be investigated by the FA. His decisions yesterday went beyond scandalous. Alexis was denied a penalty despite being fouled by two different defenders in one move in the penalty-area, Clattenburg ignoring his own unobstructed view of the incidents. He was failing, or choosing not to, give Arsenal free-kicks throughout the game for obvious fouls, while awarding our opponents some extremely debatable decisions. We had a perfectly good third goal disallowed for something only Clattenburg seems to have seen. And then there was the warning issued to Seamus Coleman after his coming together with an innocent Coquelin (whose laughing in the face of tough-guy Seamus was a joy to watch) only to be warned again less than a minute later for a disgusting kick to the knee of Nacho Monreal. To say Clattenburg's display was "questionable" would be an understatement. 

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