Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Continuity, Partnerships and Potential

It seems a long time since the disastrous 15 minute spell against Liverpool. Outside that spell, not even the game, we have had a great start to the season (If Walcott scores that pen, I would wager we would have had a Chelsea-esque result). We are about 20% into the season and look fresh, consistent and cohesive. There is a quiet confidence about the team, and no one dare say the “T” (Title challenge) word just yet. The limelight has moved to Manchester (City for the performance and Mourinho for the simmering antics) and Liverpool, which has suited us (and our North London neighbors, to be fair). We have amassed the points without much fuss, with some unsung heroes and developing partnerships coming to the fore. If at the start of July, we had to pick our early season heroes as Walcott, Iwobi and the central defense, we would have assumed that they were honest performances amidst a horrendous run, not defining performances, in a strong, unbeaten run.

Walcott has been at his very best, a patch unrivaled in his long stay at the club, the longest that any player has served under Wenger. And like many of his purple patches, it has been built on partnerships. If we turn the clock a bit, his previous patch was underlined by his partnership with Van Persie and the cover provided by Sagna. While the partnerships have been recreated with the same positions in Sanchez and Bellerin, the role played by Walcott has significantly evolved. With Van Persie, Walcott was the wide line breaker, who would run onto through balls and cut it back for RVP which resulted in a plethora of assists. If we look at the current pattern of link up with Sanchez, the latter is actually acting as the wide line breaker with Walcott being the finisher (1st goal against Basel was a classic at that). Bellerin and Walcott have a more interchangeable partnership than the latter had with Sagna. Sagna was tasked as the wide defensive cover for Walcott and the “aerial crosser” for the wing. Bellerin, on the other hand, goes narrow, when Theo goes wide, and vice versa. THE GREATEST BENEFIT OF THE PARTNERSHIP IS THE CREATION OF A RIGHT SIDED CENTER OF GRAVITY FOR PASSING AND MOVEMENT, WHICH WAS MISSING IN THE LATTER HALF OF THE SEASON.  Alexis on the left and Ozil’s left footedness and Santi playing on the left side of midfield had created a strong left center of gravity for our passing. We have now added the ability to quickly transition this center of gravity to the right which wrong foots the defense (as shown in our second goal against Chelsea).

We have had some strong central defense showings this season. Rob Holding, who started the season so brightly, and Mustafi (who plays as if he has been with us all along) have given us a defensive solidity, when they have played alongside Koscielny. Mustafi is a front footed defender, whose tackles, intensity and quickness of passes, instigate attacking moves. Koscielny has shown tremendous maturity to become the “Mertesacker” of the defense. He has adapted to Mustafi by toning down his front footedness, to become the sweeper, who organizes the defense and cleans up behind his partner. Bellerin’s recovery pace, alongwith the strength in the center have freed him up to be the wing back playmaker who concentrates on attacks. We have missed that since the departure of Ashley Cole- A player like Dani Alves, Roberto Carlos, a player who drives an attack in his own right.

It has not been rosy through and through. Monreal has looked a bit patchy this season. He is being targeted for too many crosses (Iwobi does not help him there) and A bit harsh, but Cech didn’t cover himself in glory in the first game. Giroud seems to have a “sensitive toe” that is throwing tantrums all the time. If Sanchez has an off- day, the ability for the team to score goals could be a serious question. But amidst all those questions, there are opportunities, as well. If Giroud comes back strongly, we could have a strong option B. On a last sobering thought, we have still not got an Ozil assist yet this season. While he has been playing well, his purple patch of assists are still in the locker, waiting to be unlocked. Add to that, Ramsey sits outside the squad, and we have some latent potential, which is yet to be unleashed. It only bodes well that we have a very winnable set of fixtures in October before nervous November makes its return. Hope we build on our early momentum and enter November in the best frame of mind and points to make a good fist of it! 
-          Vikas V, @Arsenalview_