Happy Halloween Gooners. We suffered a few first-half frights at the Liberty Stadium this afternoon, before emerging 3-0 winners over Swansea City to secure our fifth consecutive Premier League success and stay joint-top of the table.
Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny, who both scored in our win over Everton last Saturday, repeated the feat today to put us two goals ahead before Joel Campbell marked a hard-working, first-ever Premier League start with our third to wrap up the points.
Arsene Wenger picked the expected team, with Campbell playing on the right and those rested for Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday returning to the starting eleven.
The game as a whole had more than a passing resemblance with our last away game in the league at Watford; a fairly even first half on a big, slow, demanding pitch, with a couple of chances at either end before we scored three times in the second period, kept a clean sheet and ran out comfortable winners.
As expected, Jefferson Montero was a big threat on the hosts’ left flank but after struggling to contain the Ecuadorian in the early exchanges, a bit like he did against Bayern Munich’s Douglas Costa recently, Hector Bellerin grew into the game and nullified his direct opponent’s threat, this time with a little help from the industrious Campbell ahead of him.
Nacho Monreal had the first clear chance of the game but dragged his shot wide when he really should have hit the target, or picked out Mesut Ozil who was well-positioned in the middle. A superb pass by Alexis Sanchez then created our best opening of the first-half for Giroud, but the Frenchman’s first-time shot was perhaps a little rushed and he stroked it over the cross-bar. Campbell had a similar effort from a little further out but also missed the target.
Yet the best chance in the first 45 fell to Bafetimbi Gomis at the other end. Jonjo Shelvey split our defence with a slide-rule pass as Per Mertesacker decided to step up in an attempt to play offside, ignoring his partner Koscielny’s deeper positioning, and the striker raced clear towards Petr Cech.
But Cech didn’t panic, didn’t slide in or go to ground early to make it easy for Gomis, he stood firm for as long as possible, which meant when the striker eventually tried to round him, Bellerin had been afforded just enough time to race back and intervene, poking the ball away before Gomis could apply a finish.
To be fair, a less cumbersome forward would probably have scored given that much time but Bellerin and Cech in particular, did brilliantly to keep the score at nil-nil. It was another imperious performance by the former Chelsea ‘keeper I thought, as he claimed crosses, dealt with shots with ease and varied his distribution intelligently, to either launch quick counter attacks or delay releasing the ball to allow us time to reorganize and take the sting out of periods of Swansea pressure.
I must admit I’ve never placed as much importance on a keeper’s influence on a side as most, but after witnessing the difference Cech’s made, I say go out and spend big on the best we can find once Petr calls it a day. Hopefully that won’t be for a good number of years yet and in the meantime we can enjoy having arguably, on current form at least, the world’s best between the sticks. So once again, cheers Chelsea.
But on to the second half and we took the lead just four minutes into it. Ozil swung in a corner from the left and Giroud produced text-book movement to bamboozle his marker, taking a few steps towards the front post before checking, which allowed him to nod home unmarked and unchallenged.
Our second arrived after 68 minutes and owed a little to both dodgy keeping by former Gunner Lukasz Fabianski, as well as remarkably sensible officiating. I mean, usually, when there are opposition players within a mile of a keeper as he comes to claim a high ball, he’ll get a free-kick. Not today though, and it was refreshing. The ball came in, Giroud and Koscielny rose, made little or no contact with Fabianski, who flapped, couldn’t trap the ball or punch it clear, and it dropped to Laurent who spun and gleefully turned it into an empty net.
Swansea’s players and manager looked outraged but I’m guessing that on reflection, they’ll be blaming their ‘keeper rather than the referee. Where I would have sympathy for them, is the fact that in 99 percent of instances such as this one, they’d have got a free-kick regardless of whether their was any foul.
Anyway, our third goal arrived five minutes later and no player was more deserving in terms of how hard he worked than Campbell. After neat, intricate passing on our left, Ozil crossed low and found the Costa Rican at the far post, who took a touch and struck it home into the far corner.
I don’t know what it is but I like us having a left-footed player cutting in from the right of our attack, and not just for the symmetry it provides with Sanchez on the opposite flank. It feels we can get more shots off and aide the efficiency of our attacking, not than I have any stats to prove it or anything.
So after going three-nil up, Campbell, by now brimming with confidence, led a counter on the left and let fly from distance only to cut across the ball and skew it wide. There were other chances too, Ozil going close and Sanchez on the follow up, but in the end we had to make do with just the three, which makes it 11 goals scored and just two conceded in our three away league fixtures since losing to Mike Dean at Stamford Bridge in September.
Back with post match reaction etc tomorrow.
Have a good one league-leaders.