Well, that was much more like it. Not only a win but a convincing performance from which there were plenty of positives to be taken.
If there was little the manager could realistically do in terms of the personnel last night, there was still a bit of a surprise when Santi Cazorla was selected in the centre of midfield, just ahead of Mathieu Flamini. I can’t imagine he’ll play there against Chelsea on Sunday, but last night it suited us perfectly. With Mesut Ozil just ahead of him and the live-wires of Alexis and Oxlade-Chamberlain outside, we had too much for Galatasaray.
The opening twenty minutes were a little cagey, they even had a decent chance inside our area but then we sparked into life. Alexis cut inside from the left, spotted Welbeck’s perfectly timed run and his reverse pass was pounced on by the striker who prodded home between the keeper’s legs from close range. The pass and the movement were both perfect for the England man to get his first European goal for us.
Shortly afterwards he had his second. When I commented on Twitter than the finish was Henry-esque, there were some tuts of disapproval. I was comparing the finish, not the two players, but even so there was more than a whiff off Thierry off that goal. The awareness and strength to win the ball and hold off the defender, and the body shape and finish into the far corner … well, if it didn’t remind you of our top goalscorer of all time then you never saw him play.
Galatasaray should then have been reduced to 10 men for Felipe Melo’s horrendous challenge on Alexis. He went steaming in with two feet off the ground and I think we’re lucky he didn’t begin his jump a foot closer to the Chilean because if he’d caught him a few inches higher we could easily have been in Eduardo territory. The leniency of that decision was brought into sharper focus later on when Szczesny got red for very little.
Still, the number 17 had the best revenge a couple of minutes later when he got his fifth goal of the season. It began at the back with Mertesacker Merted one of their attacks, looked up, played a ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain who fed Ozil in midfield who in turn sent Alexis in behind. He had Welbeck inside him looking for a pass but he cut inside the defender and fizzed a shot into the bottom corner to make it 3-0.
It was so comfortable that there were Olés as we passed the ball around to see out the half. It’s rare that we’ve been that comfortable at any point this season bar Villa away. And we just picked up where we left off in the second half, the fourth goal coming just a few minutes in.
It’s worth watching again if you can. Welbeck has the ball on the left side, moves it into the middle and continues his run. The ball ends up with Oxlade-Chamberlain who sees the small amount of space and anticipates Welbeck’s run perfectly. With the keeper coming out, the striker just dinked it over him to make it 4-0 and at that point we could have gone on to score a few more. The striker made it look simple but his movement and the timing of it was superb.
However, carelessness in midfield a few minutes later meant we lost the ball, Koscielny was out of position meaning they were able to thread a ball through to Yilmaz. Szczesny came out, mistimed it slightly, pulled his arms in as he knew it, but the player clattered into him and the keeper was shown a red card. I’ve mentioned this before, and not simply because it happened to our player, but it’s an overly harsh punishment for what is a small, almost unavoidable, foul.
Quadruple whammy: Penalty + Red Card + Substitution required + Player suspended for one game. Yet Melo, who could have snapped a player’s leg in two won’t face any further sanctions over his disgusting tackle on Alexis. A yellow card and a penalty is more than sufficient punishment for Szczesny’s offence. The idea of penalising the last man who, by the very nature of his position has to be last man, is wrong in my opinion.
I think there’s a big, big difference between a defender scything down a forward as he runs through on goal and a keeper mistiming a genuine attempt to get the ball. Still, those are the rules for now, but as a keeper you have to go for it. If you just stand there, let him score, and say ‘Well, if I fouled him I’d be off’, you’d be pilloried too so it’s not exactly a win-win for the man in nets. Maybe some more practice in those situations might not be a bad thing for Wojciech though.
We brought off Alexis, put on David Ospina and they scored the penalty to make it 4-1. If it wasn’t totally one-sided with 11 v 10, we had the keeper to thank for some very good, if a bit showy, saves. One in particular where he seemed to hang in the air for ages was quite fun.
At the other end we might have scored again, Welbeck almost burst two-thirds of the field only to be robbed at the last moment while in injury time Cazorla’s effort just didn’t have enough legs to roll into the net after he’d beaten the keeper. All in a convincing win and performance.
Afterwards, the manager was keen to play up the contribution of hat-trick hero Welbeck, saying:
What’s good for me is that his link play is good as well. His teamwork and his work rate is at the level of the team. His attitude is very positive – he’s a team player, not just a finisher. I didn’t know he was so quick. Honestly, I knew he was quick but he can be electric when he starts – he has great pace.
Obviously his goals and performance were the stand-out feature of the night. There was an assurance to his finishing that wasn’t there against Dortmund, for example, and that was great to see. Even leaving the finishing aside, I was so impressed by how hard he worked for the team. If he wasn’t pulling them apart up front with his movement and pace, he was back defending in our half or chasing their midfield back to harry them off the ball.
Sometimes a player needs a breakthrough performance at a new club, not just to convince the people there but also himself. I think we saw that from Danny Welbeck last night. He spoke about how he came here to show what he could do if given the chance as a central striker, and becoming only the third Arsenal player to score a Champions hat-trick isn’t a bad way to go about your business at all.
Yet although he shone, we shouldn’t ignore how well the team played overall. So what if Galatasaray were a bit shit? How many times have we played teams who are a bit shit and struggled? Remember last Saturday? I don’t think it’s a system that will work exactly the same way against Chelsea, but on the night it was ideal.
If you watched on Sky you’d have had Tony Gale bleating on about how Ozil wasn’t this and wasn’t that, but the ovation he got going off from the people who understood how well he played is what you should pay attention to. I thought he was very good and I think he’s beginning to play himself into some form, which augurs well. Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Alexis were all played very well, as did the back four – and maybe playing 10 v 11 and having to defend isn’t bad practice ahead of Sunday.
Overall, just what the doctor ordered before the trip to the bridge, but there are things there the manager should take from the performance. The more Ozil plays centrally the more influence he seems to have, and for big games you need your big players. Fitness permitting the one on Sunday is one Alexis has to start, but look, we can touch on that and all the other team news and possibilities over the next couple of days.
For now, let’s hope last night is what sparks our season into more consistent life. Till tomorrow.