How does a comprehensive win over Stoke City sound? Good right? What about minutes for Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott? Also good. All this and more occurred when Arsenal defeated Stoke City Sunday. We seem to moving forward while slowly making progress to getting back our winning form that we experienced early last season. It has been a long and arduous road and as the old cliché says “take it one game at a time.” We are continuing to do that as we look o the tough test against Manchester City this weekend.
Sunday saw the Orcs from Mordor climb out of their hovels and march on North London where the forces of good fought them back in a great 3-0 win. Arsene Wenger made a few changes to the lineup. Giroud returned to the striker position after his suspension. Coquelin, Ox and Rosicky all got the start as well. A surprise (or maybe not) replacement was see Szczesny replaced with David Ospina. The best news was seeing Ramsey, Walcott and Ozil on the bench, all of whom we hope can remain healthy for the rest of the season.
The match started well with Arsenal getting plenty of the ball and shots on target. It was clear that Begovic was heading for a good match and it would take quality to beat him. It was little surprise to see that Alexis was involved in the first goal. From a corner the ball was cleared but not far enough from Alexis, whose cross connected with the head of Koscielny. Koscielny headed the ball into the net. 1-0. Disaster struck a few minutes later as Debuchy was jogging near the goal line, the ball was out of play and Debuchy was shoved in the back by Arnautovic and proceeded to crash into the advertising boards. His shoulder was clearly the issue and sideline diagnosing showed what may be a dislocated shoulder. As of writing this the only information available is surgery is needed to set the shoulder so this injury could see Debuchy out for 2 months or more. Once again, our injury problems manifest itself.
Bellerin came in for the injured Debuchy and did the job well. It would be harsh to be overly critical of a young player being thrust into the first team in the Premier League without adequate higher level experience. Bellerin has worked hard and has shown that he does have the skill to perform, but he still is pretty raw. The other option we have is Chambers, but he is more trusted in the center of defense alongside our BFG. Our lack of adequate defensive cover is no fault of the young players being called up to the first team and as such we cannot expect them to perform at the same level. What we can do however is be supportive as fans and encourage them. If Jenkinson and Bellerin continue to improve, we may have duo of defenders that we can rely on in the future.
Arsenal continued at the same tempo even with the loss of Debuchy. Giroud and Alexis each had their share of shots on goal but were well met by Begovic who was having a fine match in goal for Stoke. At thirty-three minutes however, Alexis took advantage of a Stoke mistake and played a set of passes with Rosicky before side-footing the ball into the net at the near post. The finish was superb. Every time I think he can't outdo himself, he finds a way to put the ball in the net in a better way. I really liked that goal because it showed how he has ice in his veins. It seems that no matter the angle or distance, Alexis can finish. That kind of form will no doubt cause goalkeepers a lot of problems.
Alexis would get his second goal early in the second half as his free kick was through the wall and the bounce it took threw off Begovic and he bungled the ball into the net. Not the prettiest goal, but another deserved goal for our main man. A few blogs back I mentioned how there aren't enough surperlatives to describe him and that trend continues. His tireless work rate continues with every match and like the Energizer Bunny, he keeps on going. We will need him to continue that strong form as the season begins to enter the final stages.
This match may have cost us Debuchy for the better part of the second half of the season, but Ozil and Walcott received valuable minutes. Since Alexis is carrying the weight of the entire team at times, it will great to have him sharing the load with our other top players. I want to see Alexis, Ozil and Walcott scaring defenders with pace and creativity. This was what we were all hoping for once Alexis joined the club in the summer but various injuries hit and killed our fantasy. Now we are closing in on making that dream a reality. We got a glimpse of that threatening attack late in the match against Stoke, when Alexis played a through ball to the rushing Walcott who then went 1 on 1 with the keeper and sent the shot wide. It was a disappointment but Walcott is still not 100% but is approaching that mark. We just have to be patient which is a tough ask given our fluctuating form this season.
Coming up this weekend is a very tough away match against Manchester City. I expect roughly the same line up we saw against Stoke to start again. I think Chambers will start at right back instead of Bellerin. It is nothing against Bellerin, but I think Wenger will opt with experience as ironic as that is when deciding between two young full backs. Flamini may return in the defensive midfield role but i would like Coquelin to continue his run there. I think he has earned that spot for the time being alongside Ox, who has continued his fine form. Alexis will start with Giroud as the sole striker. We won't see Ozil or Walcott start on Sunday, but I do expect an appearance from both. Who starts in goal is the biggest question. Does Wenger put Szczesny back in or does Ospina get the nod? I dont think Wenger will change and his punishment of Szczesny will continue. Wenger has a policy of sticking with goaltenders until they do something to disaapoint them. Szczesny's poor showing at Southampton coupled by his smoking shenanigans means that Ospina is almost guranteed to start. Ospina also has not done anything to warrant being dropped. He didn't have much to do against Stoke but he didnt make any mistakes either.
As we all know, Wenger is capable of throwing a curve ball so who truly knows? Sunday will be a tough test but hopefully we can continue our rising form with a good result against.
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!