Arsenal’s 4-1 win away at Hull City rounded off a very positive week for the club, following a win over Southampton and a 1-1 draw against Paris Saint Germain. Those two performances left a lot to be desired however, and Gooners will be pleased to see their team look far more like a cohesive unit at the KCOM Stadium. Jake Livermore’s first half sending off for handball makes the game difficult to analyse, but the Gunners did what was asked of them and wrapped up the points quite comfortably.
For a few minutes, it seemed as if Robert Snodgrass’ penalty was going to make it a nervy last 10 minutes for Arsenal, but they responded quickly through Alexis Sanchez and a thumping effort by Granit Xhaka. Those goals came after Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott had put the visitors 2-0 up, with Iwobi impressing throughout. The Nigerian has a wonderfully natural ‘feel’ for the game, effortlessly finding pockets of space and usually releasing the ball at the right time.
Xhaka’s cameo was another major positive for Arsenal, and will only increase the clamour among the Emirates faithful to see him gain a starting role. We looked at how the media reacted to Arsenal’s comfortable victory.
Match of the Day’s Alan Shearer was impressed with Arsenal’s display, and the number of bodies they committed in the last third:
“Arsenal were at it. They would have won the game 11 v 11.
“They committed so many men forward. There was a purpose to their passing, one touch, two touch, finding the space.”
Joe Bernstein in the Mail on Sunday noted that Arsenal are pulling off their old trick of recovering from a sticky start:
“Having been written off again after shipping four goals at home to Liverpool on the opening weekend of the season, the Gunners are back in familiar territory in the top four — and you would be a bold person to bet against them remaining there.”
Gary Stonehouse in The Sun on Sunday gave his highest match rating to Sanchez, despite Iwobi’s best efforts:
“The Nigerian forward was in sensational form for the Gunners, but there was no doubting that Sanchez was the right-choice as the star performer.”
Luke Edwards writing for The Daily Telegraph online was more contemplative, arguing that a comfortable away win will not be enough to please some:
“It probably does not matter how well they play anymore. Until the title is won, few people will be convinced Arsenal are good enough, often enough, to be crowned champions again. We have reached the ‘only believe it when I see it’ era at the Emirates Stadium.”
Louise Taylor in The Observer was keen to spread the plaudit around, and credited Arsenal’s supporting cast:
“Alexis Sánchez scored twice but Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were the real masterminds behind this deconstruction of Hull City.”
And Iwobi received more plaudits from David Anderson of The Mirror:
“Iwobi clearly has some of his uncle Jay Jay Okocha in him and he was outstanding against Hull.
“His best moment was his delightful backheel to play in Theo Walcott for Arsenal’s second goal on a day when his trickery, directness and pace was a constant menace.”
Edwards’ comment about Arsenal failing to win over their doubters is a perceptive one. Arsene Wenger has been at the helm for so long now that every win and top four finish is greeted as par for the course, and every loss is a crisis. Three straight wins has seen Wenger’s side avoid negative headlines for a few weeks, and they’ve quietly recovered from their opening day defeat against Liverpool.
Last season, Arsenal were constantly told that the league was theirs to lose but are flying under the radar this term which could suit them. The tag of title favourites looked to weigh heavy at times, and they might fancy themselves as dark horses.
Iwobi’s form means he is on the verge of establishing himself as one of Arsenal’s first choice wide players. This may not be entirely healthy at the age of 20, and hints at an underlying weakness in Arsenal’s squad. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain has not trained on as expected and Iwobi looks a far better fit than the former Southampton man. The Gunners already have an anarchic, direct dribbler in their front three in the form of Sanchez. It has been difficult for Arsenal to carry two players of this type; the team can lack what Wenger calls ‘technical security’. Iwobi complements Walcott or Sanchez on the opposite flank well because he is so adept at finding space and linking up with teammates.
Finally, new signing Xhaka has been the subject of much scrutiny since the start of the season having started just two of Arsenal’s first five games. Numerous theories have been bandied about, including one that argues Wenger did not want Xhaka and doesn’t ‘rate’ him as a player. This is abject nonsense; the Arsenal boss compared him to Emmanuel Petit a matter of weeks ago.
A more likely explanation is that the club are working him hard on the training ground to get him up to match fitness, and Wenger is remaining disciplined by not starting him until he is completely ready. Finally, it seems that the Frenchman views his midfielders as pairs. He has extolled the virtues of Coquelin-Cazorla as a partnership, and may see Aaron Ramsey and Xhaka as a distinct pair rather than mixing them up.
Feature image: All rights reserved by Emrah Partal