It was a morale-boosting victory for Arsenal against fierce west London rivals Chelsea on Saturday evening, but what did we learn from the match?
We have strength in our midfield options
Francis Coquelin (knee) hobbled off injured in the first-half and although it was disappointing that Granit Xhaka didn’t start the match itself, it was equally refreshing to see depth in numbers for the boss to choose from.
Mohamed Elneny wasn’t even in the matchday squad, whilst Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain can both be effective in a central midfield role, proving that with time, the team we’re assembling continues to improve.
Critics have loved to blast Wenger for a perceived lack of squad depth in recent seasons, meaning that once a few key players get injured, there’s hardly any top quality left in the side.
Currently though, that couldn’t be further away from the truth.
Plenty of quality players in their own right aren’t getting many senior minutes – Elneny included – and with a whole host of various competitions to play, there’s no question that players will eventually get their opportunity to prove their credentials.
The backline continues to be reliable and effective
As I stressed in a recent piece about maintaining consistency, if we’re to catch early pacesetters Manchester City, the Arsenal backline must remain tight and organised – something that has often been a problem in recent seasons.
Against Chelsea, they did exactly that.
Every player was efficient in doing what was expected of them, with the centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi being dubbed ‘Kostafi’ as they’ve built an encouraging foundation on defensive solidity in recent matches.
They were excellent in shutting out Diego Costa effectively, which is reassuring considering our inability to deal with physical strikers in the past.
Hector Bellerín showed moments of individual brilliance, including *that tackle* on Pedro to dispossess his compatriot and save a goalscoring chance in the process, whilst Nacho Monreal rarely put a foot wrong on the left-hand side.
Walcott can silence his critics with his football
Considering the general consensus was we should’ve cashed in on him during the summer, Theo Walcott silenced his doubters to good effect with an excellent performance in a match of huge significance once again.
Having started the season off well, the 27-year-old, who has continued to divide opinion on just where his best position is, doubled the lead at the end of a well-worked team move in the final third and was a constant threat.
Unlucky not to get more than one thanks to smart saves from Thibaut Courtois, it’s clear that Theo has taken the current campaign by the scruff of its neck. With new acquisitions battling for places in the starting XI, Walcott is eager not to be left behind and displays such as this one will ensure he keeps his place.
Iwobi continues to blossom
Alex Iwobi’s emergence onto the scene in the first-team was surprising to say the least, but he has repaid Wenger’s faith in his ability. In doing so, he has been trusted to deliver performances in big matches, such as Champions League games against Barcelona and more recently PSG, as well as starting against Chelsea this weekend.
He hasn’t disappointed, and the fact he plays without fear is encouraging to see for a player constantly looking to improve. After all, at 20-years-old, Iwobi acknowledges the fact that he’s not the finished product yet, but has taken steps to develop his style of play to suit the team’s needs.
Visual awareness and his decision-making are both excellent, which allow him to come short and create angles for team-mates to pass the ball towards, whilst getting himself into dangerous goalscoring positions virtually unopposed. He has been involved in plenty of chances and more recently, he’s adding more goals and creating regular assists for other players too.
Gibbs has a part to play
Although there were a number of good overall performances, one in particular stood out. Kieran Gibbs, on as a second-half substitute for Iwobi, was deployed as a left-winger with 20 minutes to play.
His performance, albeit a shorter one than most, was near faultless.
He was composed in possession and his passes were equally tidy, whilst the inclusion of fresh legs was effective to pose more questions for Chelsea’s backline to deal with as fatigue began to set in.
One of my personal favourite Arsenal players, Gibbs’s individual development has stalled due to a lack of regular minutes. Having been injured regularly over the past two seasons, Nacho Monreal has since emerged as the established starter at left-back, Gibbs’ primary position. That in itself hasn’t forced Gibbs away from the club, even though previous suggestions have been made that the Englishman should leave in search of regular first-team football.
He performed well, as he has down on a regular basis when called upon either as a substitute or on rare occasions when he does start. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see him feature against Basel in some capacity, and he’s definitely doing his best to prove he can be more than a squad player this season, which is admirable to say the least.