Saturday greetings. Whenever he decides to hang up his stop-watch, if there’s one thing I’ll miss about Arsenal under Arsene Wenger, it’s that unique excitement and feeling of pride that’s generated by the flourishing of a new young talent.
Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka, Cesc Fabregas – the list goes on – and now, Alex Iwobi. Of course, we already knew quite a bit about the Nigerian teenager heading into today’s game against Everton at Goodison Park, given he’s enjoyed a fair bit of first-team football in what has been his break-through campaign, not least his surprise start against Barcelona in midweek, but his performance today felt like a coming of age game. Like Anelka against Manchester United in that 3-2 win at Highbury during our 1997-98 title-winning season, or Fabregas against Juventus in 2006.
With much older and experienced team-mates like Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and, to a lesser extent, Joel Campbell, left on the bench in favour of Iwobi today, the youngster showed just why his manager has no qualms about starting him in crucial games by producing a brilliant team-minded display and rounding it off by scoring his first goal in professional football to put us two-nil up after 42 minutes.
Having played an important part in helping to win back possession a few yards outside our own box, Iwobi sprinted into space on the right and was found with a great ball over the top by Hector Bellerin. Despite having support to his left, Iwobi showed confidence and composure in abundance by closing in on goal and slipping his shot through the keeper’s legs.
Moments later he combined brilliantly with Danny Welbeck, as the two forwards exchanged intricate back-flicks to bamboozle Everton, but on this occasion Iwobi took the wrong option, choosing to go alone and skewing his shot just wide of the near post when he should have played it back to Welbeck to his left.
Iwobi appears to have developed a promising relationship with Welbeck, and it was the latter who had put us ahead in the seventh minute when he provided a clinical finale to an exquisite team goal. An initial attacking move created a chance for Iwobi following an Ozil cross from the right but the youngster was forced to turn away from goal and restart the move by laying the ball off to Nacho Monreal near the left by-line.
We then worked it across to the opposite side of the pitch and Alexis Sanchez played a sharp one-two with Ozil before the Chilean produced an inch perfect through ball for Welbeck, who needed just two touches to round their keeper and find the back of the net. The run and finish from the striker was Thierry Henry-esque and the least we deserved for a quick, slick start to the match.
We then nearly doubled our lead moments later when Sanchez won the ball high up the pitch and found the on-rushing Iwobi who saw his first-time, side-footed effort saved by their keeper. Something clicked in that opening period for Arsenal as an attacking force and the fact we had had 11 starters who are all very comfortable in possession and quick-witted enough to play a pass-and-move game was undoubtedly the main reason.
There were no Girouds, Ramseys or Walcotts on show to disrupt the rhythm of our passing and even though those three players have their own considerable individual strengths and can be valuable assets in certain circumstances, I think I much prefer today’s cohesion to the more chaotic characteristics that trio bring to the side. That said, Everton were very poor today so perhaps we shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
The second half was a more disjointed affair with David Ospina taking a heavy impact to his side after bravely diving at the feet of Romelu Lukaku, before Kieran Gibbs, Giroud and Calum Chambers came on for Iwobi, Welbeck and Ozil, with the latter worryingly nursing a knock to his left ankle after being caught late by one of Everton’s players.
So all in all a great performance first-half, intelligent game-management in the second, and would you believe it, three whole Premier League points won for what feels like the first time in about three years. Sadly, Leicester show no signs of cracking just yet and ground out another one-nil win today, this time at Crystal Palace, to restore their 11 point lead over us. They have seven to play to our eight, so it’s still possible to catch them but we need the Foxes to start stumbling, and fast.
Spurs host Bournemouth and the Manchester clubs face each other tomorrow, so hopefully results will go in our favour and we can look back at this weekend as one in which we made up some ground ahead of us, whilst also putting some distance between the teams hot on our trail. Otherwise, it”ll be another round of fixtures down without progress points-wise, even if our own performance was very praiseworthy indeed.
See you on Sunday.