Arsenal 4-1 Galatasaray: Danny Welbeck’s pace and potential light up the Emirates

welbeckgala

Well, that was very enjoyable indeed. I’m on holiday at the moment, so forgive me if this entry is a little shorter than usual.

Thank God we got Danny Welbeck…

It hasn’t been the subject of much discussion, but Yaya Sanogo has missed every Arsenal match since transfer deadline day with injury. Had Welbeck not been secured at the 11th hour, Arsenal would have been strikerless for the entire month of September.

I felt Welbeck had enjoyed a solid enough start to his time with us. Last night, however, his Arsenal career exploded in to life. The England international notched the first hat-trick of his career to dispatch Galatasaray and earn us our first three points of the Champions League campaign.

After the Tottenham match, Wenger insisted that if our collective game was good then Welbeck would score. That hypothesis was validated last night, with Welbeck flourishing at the point of a slick Arsenal attack.

Welbeck is fast. Faster, it transpires, than any of us – including Arsene Wenger – initially thought. Ever since Welbeck signed, we’ve wondered how we might terrify defenders by partnering him with the equally quick Alexis and Walcott. Last night, we got an idea, with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain performing admirably as Theo’s understudy.

Welbeck’s second goal was the one that sticks in the mind. Latching on to a loose defensive header, he raced away from his marker, showcasing speed and muscularity, before opening up his body to sidefoot in to the far corner. There was an audible gasp from the Emirates Crowd. For a split-second, the Arsenal fans thought they had seen a ghost.

He’s not yet at a level where he can produce this kind of performance every week. However, it’s a glimpse of what he can produce. It’s not what he is, but it’s what he might be. It’s very exciting.

In the week Olivier Giroud agreed a deserved new deal, Welbeck delivered a devastating demonstration of why I believe he could be a superior option as our centre-forward.

I’m not going to join the naysayers…

…who’d have you believe that our victory was down purely to Galatasaray’s incompetent. I’ve seen us fail to beat plenty of incompetent sides in the past – last weekend, for example. This win is significant because it was one of the few times this season that Arsene got our attacking alchemy right. The combination of pace up top and Ozil central is something we need to stick with.

There was one down-side…

Wojciech Szczesny’s sending off was silly. He didn’t need to go charging out at the feet of the attacker in such reckless fashion.

Tempting as it is to come down hard on Szczesny’s impetuous nature, it’s worth remembering that the great Jens Lehmann was guilty of similar moments of madness. That didn’t stop him remaining first-choice keeper throughout the unbeaten season. The best goalkeepers are often slightly eccentric. The balance between talent and temperament is a difficult one to find.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves special mention…

Over the past month, The Ox has played himself in to the first XI. He is an example to any player currently out of favour. He made a positive impression with a series of energetic cameos, and when handed the opportunity to start games has made himself undroppable. Lukas Podolski & co could learn a thing or too from that.

Arsecast Extra 35: Derby Day Edition

I’m interrupting my holiday on the stormy isle of Mallorca to bring you the latest Arsecast Extra, recorded between Dublin and the wee town of Pollensa.

Unsurprisingly, the focus is primarily on that slightly underwhelming 1-1 derby draw. We discuss the bizarre team selection, Flamini’s costly error, and our feelings about a slightly disappointing start to the campaign. It’s a barrel of laughs.

Don’t forget, you can subscribe to the Arsecast Extra on iTunes by clicking here. Alternatively, if you want to subscribe directly to the feed URL you can do so too (I’m told this spares you the dastardly delays from iTunes).

Haven’t had time to put together a proper blog on the game – I actually missed a good chunk of the first-half due to delayed flight – but here are some other bits and pieces I wrote for it.

On Alexis Sanchez, for ESPN:

Alexis calculates that his drag-backs and dribbles are a chance worth taking. In future, Wenger must show similar courage in his team selections.

And on a potential solution to our midfield injury problems, for Bleacher Report:

Oxlade-Chamberlain was excellent against Tottenham, with his powerful running posing a constant menace to the Spurs defence. However,Wenger has long insisted that the England international might develop into a top central midfielder. The spate of injuries could be a chance to test that theory once again.

Galatasaray tomorrow. A win is needed. Come on Arsenal.

Audioblog: Immediate reaction to the Southampton defeat – Podolski, Rosicky & more

So there we have it: Arsenal are out of the League Cup.

There are only four competitions we can win this season. That’s one down.

Listen to the audioboom above for my immediate thoughts as I walked away from the ground. I’ll have something more considered for you tomorrow.

Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal: Three points in four minutes

Arsenal blasted three goals in just over three minutes to blow Aston Villa away.

Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal
ESPN Player Ratings

Well, that was just what we needed. Arsene Wenger has a fantastic record at Villa Park, and yesterday it brought him everything he would have wished for: a straightforward three points, and goals and garlands for the under-fire duo of Mesut Ozil and Danny Welbeck.

It might have been so different. Amidst the understandable glee over our first comfortable win of the season, the significance of an early Wojciech Szczesny save has been slightly forgotten. With the game balanced at 0-0, the Pole produced a Schmeichel-esque star-jump to deny Ciaran Clark at close range. On such things can a game hinge.

That fact seemed to be somewhat forgotten after the defeat in Dortmund. Had Welbeck tucked away that presentable opportunity at 0-0, Arsenal would have been ahead and the course of the game diverted. The struggles to keep the Dortmund tide at bay would have been hastily rewritten as last-ditch heroics.

The criticism of the team after the Dortmund game always seemed too much, too soon. Arsenal were really good for long spells against Manchester City, and many fans seemed happy to conveniently forget that off the back of one duff display.

This team is still finding its feet. Arsene has refreshed his attack, and that has prompted a reshuffling of the midfield. At Villa Park, we took a major step forward by reverting back to the system that served us so well for much of last season. The manager lined his side up in a 4-2-3-1, with Jack Wilshere dropping to the bench and taking the 4-1-4-1 with him.

Arsenal immediately looked more at ease. Mesut Ozil shone in a central role, but just as integral to our success was the fact that he had Aaron Ramsey tucked in behind him. From a personal point of view, Ramsey had a poor game: his passing radar is malfunctioning badly, and in his desperation to regain form he is attempting flicks and ticks of unnecessary extravagance. However, playing in a deeper role he was able to provide Mikel Arteta with support and help suppress an energetic Aston Villa midfield. He was below par, but brought balance.

That said, Ozil does deserve special praise. Whatever he says publicly, Arsene Wenger must have toyed with the idea of leaving the German out. However, his faith was repaid when Ozil made two telling contributions in as many minutes to effectively sew up the game.

First he ran beyond the defence to meet a well-weighted Welbeck ball. With the goalkeeper advancing towards him, Ozil relied on his technique, passing the ball expertly in to the corner.

The opening goal gave Arsenal and Ozil’s confidence a real boost, and within seconds they had doubled their advantage. This time, the playmaker reverted to his conventional role as supplier, playing a teasing ball across the six yard box for Welbeck, who capped an intelligent piece of movement by thumping home his first Arsenal goal.

It’s great for Welbeck that he’s got off the mark. The scrutiny he was coming under was absurd given that he’d played just two games for the club against seriously tough opposition. It took Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry around eight games to open their Arsenal accounts. Olivier Giroud didn’t score until the he was picked to face Coventry in the Capital One Cup. Yaya Sanogo, as we all know, has yet to break his duck. That Welbeck has done so inside three games should relieve some of the undue pressure he was under.

I hope so, because he was excellent yesterday. It was often said of Ian Rush that he was the best defensive forward in the league. Welbeck is similar: he sprints back to harry the opposition, ensuring they are never allowed a moment’s rest. When he does get the ball, he uses it well: yesterday he completed 31 of 32 attempted passes. Given the tight spaces centre-forwards operate in, that’s outstanding. Crucially, he also seems to be striking up a good relationship with Ozil. Welbeck has the pace and movement to thrive on Ozil’s creativity, and their combination play yesterday was really exciting.

Kieran Gibbs’ cross was diverted in by Aly Cissokho to gift Arsenal a third goal inside little over three minutes. Yes, Villa collapsed, but Arsenal showed an unfamiliar ruthlessness to profit. It’s certainly nice to be on this side of a capitulation, and it was satisfying too to see us control the game so effectively in the second half.

Both Ozil and Welbeck are likely to get a rest on Tuesday when Arsenal face Southampton in the Capital One Cup. Arsene will want to keep some of the explosive powder that blew Villa away dry for derby day.

 ps. You may notice there’s been a bit of a redesign on the blog. I’m sure there’ll be some issues to iron out, but the good news is that the comments section should now be working once again. Please do feel free to contribute! Cheers.

Dortmund 2-0 Arsenal: An apocalyptic performance, but not the end of the world

Arsenal were dreadful against Dortmund. Watching this felt like looking at a cruelly-drawn caricature of a bad Arsenal display. Jurgen Klopp’s team were outstanding, and had us on the back-foot for 90 minutes.

That said, I feel like I’m a little more positive than most in the wake of this match. I think it’s because I saw encouraging signs against City that I’m not prepared to write off on the back of one horrendous night. There’s a certain novelty about our squad. We’ve got some shiny new toys to play with, and until they’re settled in I’m refraining from definitive judgement.

I can understand the frustration and anger that envelops the Arsenal fanbase this morning. Arsene Wenger might have loosened the purse strings, but he doesn’t seem to know how to tighten the defence.

It’s the repetitive nature of these defeats that’s so infuriating. Wenger’s team make the same errors time after time, marching lemming-like towards high-profile defeat after high-profile defeat. It’s tempting to wheel out the same blog as I do after each of those loses, citing a lack of defensive discipline and the absence of a powerful holding midfielder. To be honest, talk of missed signings feels like a bit of a red herring. The problem is as much to do with tactics as transfers.

Still, I’m optimistic. We haven’t yet hit form this season, but oddly I find that reassuring. I feel like there’s a good XI in our current squad, but Arsene is yet to achieve the alchemic balance to see that translate on to the pitch. It must be true that the best is yet to come.

It’s a dirty word but we’re a team in transition. We’ve had that label in the past when coping with the loss of a major star. That wasn’t transition — that was recovery. This time, the change has been instigated deliberately, not forced upon us. In signing Alexis and Welbeck, Wenger has indicated an intended shift in style. He wants us to a play a more intense pressing game. He wants us to use our speed to win the ball high up the pitch, long before it reaches that dreaded defensive midfield area, and punish opponents with rapier counter-attacks. In short, he wants us to be more like Dortmund.

That kind of strategic shift takes time to implement. We lack fluidity and we lack balance. Both will come with time.

We can’t wait forever. Transition is only bearable if it arrives at a decent destination — none of us want to watch much more of this purgatorial pish. Call me crazy, but I think someone will be on the end of a hiding when this team eventually clicks in to gear. Let’s hope it’s Villa this weekend.

Further Reading:

Borussia Dortmund vs. Arsenal – Player Ratings | ESPN

Why Arsenal may have to wait for Welbeck | ESPN