13th September 2015: Sunday night Stoke review

Sunday night. It’s everybody’s favourite time of the week. Shirts are ironed, bags are packed and pencils are sharpened as we look forward to another five days of lessons, lectures or if you work, pure, unadulterated, boredom before we get to enjoy the whole weekend thing again. Nice.

Anyway, before we look at the week ahead, which heralds the return of the Champions League, time to take a peek back at yesterday’s post-match reaction and Arsene Wenger was fulsome in his praise of Theo Walcott after the England forward scored a very impressive opening goal against Stoke, as well as the team as a whole for creating so many chances:

His goal was outstanding. The quality of his movement, the quality of his control and the quality of his finish was absolutely outstanding. It’s a real striker’s goal. Scoring is a bit cyclic, up and down, but with the quality of the players we have we know we can score goals. We did against Stoke and if we continue to create that number of chances we will score much more. We had 30 shots on goal and we created bags of chances. We played with good mobility, good movement and good combinations with high technical quality. The only regret we have is that between the number of chances we had and the number of goals we scored, maybe the difference is a bit big. Overall it’s good to win.

I suppose in one way, Theo whole game was outstanding – consistently being in the right place at the right time. I mean, I think it’s a little too simplistic to suggest that any old player would have been in the positions he took up to give himself a chance of finding the net yesterday and although his finishing was found horribly wanting on every occasion bar his goal, on another day, with more confidence in his game, he could easily have grabbed at least a hat-trick.

Like he did against West Brom in the last Premier League game of last season for instance, which I believe, contrary to lots of others, wasn’t just down to the generosity of disinterested opponents. His first that day was a screamer any goalie would have struggled to keep out, his second a stunningly, fast-thinking piece of self set-up play and opportunism to dink the ball past the defender before poking home on the stretch past a keeper left with no time to react, and his third, an intelligent bit of reading to ghost in at the far post for a tap-in.

The other thing about having a mobile front-man, or more mobile than Olivier Giroud, is that we can stretch and disorientate defences, which in turn creates more space for others to work in – something Theo highlighted when discussing his role in the team yesterday:

It’s difficult in any position. The Premier League is the best league in the world and you’re playing against the best players. You’ve just got to adapt to the game you’re playing and then if players drop off, you keep on moving and hopefully create space for other people. That’s all that you can do and when you get given the opportunity you have to try to grab the goals when you can. Luckily I managed to grab one out of my many chances.

Okay, so even if ‘outstanding’ can’t be applied to Theo performance considering his catalogue of spurned opportunities, one man who certainly can claim to have produced a performance worthy of that description is Francis Coquelin, and team-mate Santi Cazorla told the Final Whistle after the game, that the Gunners are lucky to have him:

It’s amazing playing with him. He’s helped me a lot. He plays well, he defends well and I think he’s one of the best players in this position. We are lucky because he plays for Arsenal and I enjoy it a lot with him in this position.

At times, when people say Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are adequate cover for Coquelin, they’re actually underestimating the qualities he brings to our side I think. That isn’t to knock either of our back-up options for the defensive midfield role, because they have their own strengths, but neither of them can reproduce anything approaching the combination of recovery speed, tenacity and ‘win it and give it’ dynamism Coquelin has in his locker.

If there’s one player in our squad who I think is absolutely critical for our chances of success this season, because of his quality as well as the lack of true alternatives, it’s him. Cotton wool him up Arsene!

See you next week.

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