Our hopes of qualification for the Champions League remain alive after a comprehensive 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb last night – Bayern Munich’s 4-0 spanking of Olympiacos meaning it all goes down to the final game in Greece in a couple of weeks time.
The only change from the team that lost to West Brom at the weekend was the inclusion of Joel Campbell ahead of Kieran Gibbs, and the Costa Rican probably had his best game for the club. He passed it well, created chances, worked diligently defensively, and might have had a goal himself on a couple of occasions.
As it was, Arsenal’s two most expensive signings provided the quality we needed to win the game. It took us a little while to get on top of things, but eventually we began to dominate in terms of possession and territory. We hadn’t really threatened their keeper until close to the half-hour mark when a fantastic move from deep in our own half ended with Mesut Ozil’s stooping header putting us ahead.
We might have had one slightly lucky break of the ball, but the way we moved the ball from a congested area to find space, speed at which we got forward, the quality of Alexis’ cross from the left, and the desire of players to get into the box, meant that it was a truly clinical piece of counter-attacking football. An Ozil header is a rare but beautiful thing.
The lead was doubled a few minutes later when a mistake at the back from the visitors presented the ball to Nacho Monreal. He took it on and squared it for Alexis who side-footed home for his first goal since scoring against Watford on October 17th, eight games previously.
The game could have been out of sight by half-time, and it was Arsenal’s creative fulcrum, Ozil, who looked like our most dangerous attacking player. A run into the box ended up with the keeper getting a touch to deflect a shot just wide, and a couple of moments before the break he again forced Eduardo into making a stop having been presented with a chance by one of Monreal’s persistently dangerous forays down the left.
“He had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now,” said the manager afterwards. “I’ve never seen him in the box so many times this season, especially in the last five or six games.”
I like the idea that he’s like a wild animal, about whom you hear people say ‘Oooh, if you give them a taste of human flesh they become man-eaters’. Except instead of flesh it’s goals and Ozil is hungry for more. He certainly looked like he wanted more, indeed he might have had one late in the game, flicking another header just wide after great work from Alexis.
The goal that sealed the deal came from Alexis whose movement in the box was spotted by Campbell, who found him with a wonderfully incisive pass that split their defence right open. The Chilean took it wide of the keeper, ignored the fact Aaron Ramsey was at the back post for a tap-in, and finished for his second of the night.
Arsenal's 9 CL goals in 15/16:
— David Wall (@1DavidWall) November 24, 2015
After a bit of a goal drought, and some games where he’s looked tired, it was good to see him start firing again. When he’s controlling the ball deftly with the back of his neck, you know he’s feeling ok with himself. Concerns over his fitness or fatigue were expressed after the game where the manager explained his decision to leave him on.
Giroud had a little problem with his ankle over the weekend but I decided to give him a breather. Hector Bellerin, I took him off because he had a groin problem just before so I had to take them off meaning I could not take Alexis off.
The break makes him tired!
It now means that we can go through with the right result against Olympiacos on December 9th. We’ve played there before and never won, something the manager spoke about afterwards, saying:
Sometimes when we played at Olympiacos we had already qualified, this time we go to Olympiacos heading to qualify. It will be tough but we have to believe we can do it and I believe we can do it.
Basically, a 2-0 win will do it, or any other win beyond a 1-0 or 2-1 scoreline. It means it’s back in our hands, and we know exactly what we need to do. That doesn’t necessarily make it any easier, it’s going to be a very tough game out there, but it’s far preferable to be in this position than already trying to get our heads around Europa League football or no European football at all.
All in all it was just the kind of result and performance that we needed after three games which have been quite disappointing. I thought we played well collectively, made better by some excellent individual performances and good goals. Hopefully now we use this to get ourselves going again, starting with Sunday’s visit to Norwich.
There was more on the Francis Coquelin situation last night too, with the manager confirming a three month absence for the midfielder, but with the proviso that he doesn’t require surgery to fix the damage to his knee ligaments. Of course it’s a blow, even if last night went well for us. Flamini did a decent job in there, but as I mentioned earlier in the week, I do wonder if the longer-term solution might be to use Aaron Ramsey in the centre in some way.
His return last night was good to see, any fit bodies at this point are very welcome, and with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the brink of a comeback, and Joel Campbell’s positive performance perhaps adding a bit more to the squad than we thought, there’s a chink of light at the end of the tunnel. Still, it will be interesting to see how Wenger deals with Coquelin’s absence in the games ahead.
For now, nice to get back to winning ways, there was a lot to enjoy about our performance last night, so fingers crossed we can take that into the next game.