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.

Arsenal get their swagger back at the Bridge

celebrationschelseawide

Hello all.  I wrote this in the immediate aftermath of Saturday’s game, but have only just found the WIFI signal required to get it up.

Chelsea 3 – 5 Arsenal

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

The early part of this 2011/12 season has been characterised by some extraordinary results. Arsenal fans know this better than any, having been involved in remarkable clashes at both Old Trafford and Ewood Park. Yesterday, for the first time, one of these bizarre scorelines fell in our favour.

The scoreline might have been freakish, but the result wasn’t. An Arsenal win surprised many, myself included, but it comes off the back of an impressive run of form – it’s now eight wins from nine games. Chelsea, meanwhile, had lost their last league game at QPR.

Despite that, I didn’t dare anticipate victory. But before the game, looking at our team it did strike me that we are looking stronger than we have in some months. Over the past eight weeks or so, a new team has begun to gel, and there is suddenly a degree of solidity and momentum behind them.

It was a sign of Arsene’s confidence that he was able to leave Thomas Vermaelen on the bench, opting to continue with Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker at centre-back. Johan Djourou and Andre Santos continued at full-back, with the first choice midfield trio of Song, Arteta and Ramsey restored. Gervinho and Walcott were the pacy outlets on the flanks, whilst captain Robin van Persie lead the line from the front.

One of the discussion points of the season has been the poor standard of defending. One has reluctantly come to expect that from Arsenal; from Chelsea it is more of a surprise. However, this season Andre Villas Boas has liberated his full-backs with perilous consequences. John Obi Mikel, meanwhile, is simply not a Champions League quality holding midfielder. Had the unreliable David Luiz started the game would have been even more open.

As it happened, it was a miracle the game got as far as 14 minutes at 0-0 – it could easily have been 2-2. I was particularly staggered by one miss from Gervinho – Walcott did brilliantly to skin Ashley Cole and crossed for what seemed a simple tap-in. Somehow, the Ivorian sidefooted wide. I was infuriated, and didn’t feel any better when Van Persie volleyed over an opportunity which, for a player of his equality, was relatively presentable.

When Chelsea took the lead it was through a header from Frank Lampard. Andre Santos, who had looked vulnerable in the early stages, was beaten too easily by Juan Mata, and when he crossed in to the box Lampard eluded Per Mertesacker to nod past Szczesny.

Arsenal were rocking, but before half-time had an equaliser. Aaron Ramsey, whose ninety minutes was typified by moments of enterprise and invention, played an exquisite through ball for Gervinho. This time, the winger knew better than to shoot, and squared to his skipper to tap in to an empty net.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t hold the lead until half-time, as John Terry bundled home a Frank Lampard corner at the near post. Again Mertesacker was at fault, and he and fellow new boy Santos were having a torrid time. As the half-time whistle blow, most of the talk among Arsenal fans was about replacing the Brazilian with Thomas Vermaelen.

Meanwhile, in the Arsenal dressing room, it seems Arsene Wenger was giving a speech to rival his rousing words at the AGM. With no substitutions made, Arsenal came out and attacked the second half with gusto. Within 4 minutes, we had our second equaliser of the game. And, of course, it was Santos who got the goal, racing on to a Song through-ball to tuck in to the near post and continue the fine tradition of left-backs scoring at the Bridge. From that moment on, he visibly grew in to the game, putting in several crunching tackles as well as marauding forward on the break.

Arsenal had momentum, and soon went ahead for the first time with the fifth goal of the game. Theo Walcott scooted inside from the right, tripped, fell over, clambered back to his feet, whizzed beyond two more defenders and thundered an effort in to Petr Cech’s increasingly vulnerably near post.

At this point, there were still 35 minutes to go, and I had little confidence in our capability to hold the lead. That said, when Chelsea did get their predictable equaliser, we were somewhat unfortunate. Andre Santos was fouled off the ball by Romelu Lukaku, allowing Juan Mata the space to crash in a phenomenal effort from fully thirty yards. At that point, it was easy to feel frustrated that we hadn’t paid the extra few million Euros to secure the Spaniard’s signature.

But there was still time for more late drama. John Terry, who looked at half-time as if he might prove to be the match-winner, inexplicably slipped when trying to reach a loose backpass from Florent Malouda. Robin van Persie raced on to the loose ball, and from then on there was only ever going to be one outcome. The Dutchman skipped past Petr Cech and tucked home to put Arsenal 4-3 ahead.

Chelsea were then left with no choice but to go for broke, and inevitably Arsenal created chances on the break. When Tomas Rosicky headed away an inswinging free-kick, Arsenal were able in break in numbers. Even so, when Van Persie received the ball from Mikel Arteta on the corner of Chelsea’ penalty area the outcome was far from certain. However, the Dutchman unleashed an unstoppable shot which flew past Cech at his near post. It was his hatrick, his tenth league goal of the season, and the eighth of a quite unbelievable game of football. One which we had won.

The celebrations for the fifth goal and the final whistle have have looked a little over-the-top to the neutral. They were more befitting of a side winning the league than a mere three points. However, for Arsenal fans, they require no explanation. After the horrors of Old Trafford, this game provided a necessary and hugely cathartic fillip. For the first time since the victory over Barcelona in spring, Arsenal fans are able to feel unapologetically proud of their team.

Granted, we weren’t perfect – in the first half the defending left much to be desired.  But we played with a swagger that has been sadly absent since the summer.

Supporters and players alike seem to be slowly regaining faith in the potential of this club and team. Winning at Stamford Bridge was a slap in the face to those pundits who said Arsenal wouldn’t even challenge for the top four this season. We’ll certainly be there or thereabouts – the sheer brilliance of Robin van Persie alone ought to be enough to ensure that.

I can’t wait to see what the atmosphere is like at the stadium when Arsenal take on Marseille tomorrow. I hope the fans give the players the raucous welcome they deserve. And should the first goal go against us, I hope they remember the way in which we were able to twice come behind with such stunning effect over the weekend.

I think we’re all agreed that our season only started on September 1st. This weekend, it finally burst in to life. Let’s consign the pain of August to the past, and start enjoying it.