In a comforting throwback to better times, Arsenal brushed past an under par West Ham side at the Emirates in a manner that vaguely resembled the team at its best.
It has been a good long while since the Gunners put in a performance that was anywhere near what they are capable of – against top opposition at least – but last night’s clash with the Hammers had shades of the sort of football that makes the team – on its day – one of the best in the league.
Though the first half was a hugely frustrating affair, the Gunners switched through the gears in the second half and really pulled Slaven Billic’s side to pieces to give long-suffering Arsenal fans something to feel a little less morose about.
For me, the most impressive thing about the night was the way in which the team looked as if it had a plan, had worked hard on that plan, and executed it in a way that must have baffled and delighted Arsene Wenger in equal measure.
Coming into the game, we all knew that the Hammers would be loading the ball into the box at every given opportunity, with a view to getting Andy Carroll involved in as much of the attacking play as possible.
For once, Arsenal were wise to that ruse and both Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel were quite superb in marshalling the big man, while the midfield cut off his supply lines at every opportunity. It was clearly something the team had spoken about and worked on and, by god, did they manage to pull it off. So successful was it, Carroll was hauled off midway through the second half, having been starved of service and played out of the game.
Credit where it is due, Arsenal stuck to their plan and it worked.
West Ham made themselves incredibly difficult to break down in the first half and were well organised for the most part. We had a few sights of goal which were frustratingly wasted but there was still an air of uncertainty and caution about how the Gunners were feeling their way into the game.
Yes, we were denied a stonewall penalty as Nacho Monreal was clearly pushed over in the box but there wasn’t too much else to get truly excited about.
The second half, however, brought with it a little more impetus and, after Mesut Ozil’s goal went in, the team switched into a style of football that used to delight fans in days gone by. They were confident, they were fluid, they were finding space and making passes – it was superb to see.
Couple with the sort of tactical discipline that restricted West Ham to a handful of half-chances, it really was a throwback to better times for the team
Although I doubt it will happen, we can only but hope that the team takes its last two performances and builds on them. If it can continued to be as defensively switched on, while utilising the wealth of attacking talent going forward, there is no reason why we can’t pick up six points from our next two games.
In truth, we have no choice but to collect six points if we hold on to any serious hopes of sealing a Champions League place next season.
All said and done, it was nice to see that, despite everything that has happened of late, this team is still capable of putting in a good performance and that these players are able to work on a tactical plan and execute it in a way that secures us some points.
But success is only sustainable if we continue to do those basic things right. To truly mark these last few matches as a turning point, we simply have to carry on picking up wins from here.
After a few high-profile dummy spits in recent weeks, it was great to see Theo Walcott keep his goal tally ticking over with another strike against West Ham. There were a few wasteful moments in good positions from the England man but, for the most part, he was busy going forward and facing his own goal – an all round good effort.
I believe that takes his tally to 20 goals in all competitions this season. He remains on course for his best return in Arsenal colours and that’s great to see.
This was a good game for Emi to come into – at home against a side floundering in the lower reaches of the league – but he still had to show he can be trusted with the gloves.
Though he was not tested to the limit, he still pulled off a few high-quality saves that hinted at the talent he possesses. An excellent way to add to his stock and a confidence builder for both him and his defence.
I think if one thing was clear about last night, it is that when Arsenal play well, Mesut plays well. He is not the sort of player who will inspire an under-performing team to turn it around, but he is the sort of player who thrives in a team that is playing at its best.
A goal and an assist was a fair return for a classy player who was playing some excellent football last night.
He has struggled to find consistency this season – with an equal helping of good and not so good performances – but he was outstanding last night.
In attack and defence, he showed a measure of control that was reflective of his true ability and the reason why Arsene decided to move for him so early in the summer – a performance that nails his first team spot down for the next few weeks at least. His passing is also improving by the week, with both left and right foot.