Many had waited with BATED breath for the return of Ozil, but the prodigal son was upstaged by Must-Have-Him-In-The-Team, who scored the decisive goal and didn’t put a foot wrong. Fans have short memories: when Mustafi started at Arsenal, the defence looked solid and a long unbeaten run began.
Since then, Arsenal’s defence has turned into an antonym of solid. Nevertheless, against BATE, Arsenal recorded a rare clean sheet and even Lichtsteiner played well.
It wouldn’t be Arsenal, though, if there weren’t hairy moments and, of course, Cech had to be alert to danger when BATE counter-attacked. One shot even got kicked off the line, when Cech was beaten, which showed a level of defensive resolve.
As pointed out previously on this blog, Arsenal’s defensive problems were, once again, not solely the fault of the back line. Although Guendouzi had another magnificent game in midfield seemingly covering more grass than Ozil and Mkhitaryan put together, it really seemed as if the 19-year-old Frenchman was by himself in midfield. When Xhaka, his midfield partner, got the ball, his distribution was adequate, but he just can’t be everywhere like Guendouzi and Torreira, who was strangely left out of the starting line up.
Meanwhile, some fans took umbrage that Iwobi was in the first eleven. Personally, I can see why Emery plays him: The Nigerian is only 22 and he is improving. He managed to get a couple of shots in on goal and he can be hard to defend against because of his unpredictability. Nevertheless, he can also be frustrating when he gives the ball away needlessly and when there’s no end product after a mazy dribble.
On that topic, former Arsenal winger Alex Hleb came on as substitute for BATE. Hleb, in my opinion, was the master of dribbling without crossing. He was good at keep-ball, but little else and, subsequently, I’d say he was one of the most over-rated players I’ve seen at the Emirates.
That’s why it baffles me that average players like Hleb get such a great reception from the home crowd, whereas genuine ex-Arsenal superstars like Cesc Fabregas, who wanted to rejoin the club, are often booed. Someone needs to explain that to me, as I just don’t get it!
Before Hleb left Arsenal, he was taken out for ice cream and it seemed to make all the difference as next thing he was off. I predicted, at the time, he wouldn’t amount to much and his career definitely seemed to go downhill after leaving Arsenal and Wenger’s ‘arm-around-the-shoulder’ comfort zone.
The phrase ‘comfort zone’ has been mentioned by Wenger himself of late when describing Ozil’s poor performances, which is odd, as Wenger at least partly created the situation. Even if Wenger was not responsible for the ridiculous £350k per week contract, Ozil would play no matter what, under Wenger. Emery seems to be much fairer when it comes to team selection.
Reading between the lines of some of Emery’s comments, you get the feeling that Ozil sometimes skips training or does not give his all. The German playmaker is gifted, but he shouldn’t be picked if he’s not in the mood. Wenger spoilt Ozil and now Emery is trying to make a man of him. It might be too late as Ozil’s already 30 and his bad habits could be ingrained, but you have to hand it Emery for trying to fix the player’s attitude.
Against BATE, Ozil looked out of sorts at times, but at least it looked like he was trying for the most part. Obviously, there were moments when he lost the ball and only made a token effort to get it back, but that’s the nature of this spoilt genius.
Luckily, Aubameyang could play provider for the first goal, which settled Arsenal’s nerves in the 4th minute, with a cross from the right which was turned in by a BATE defender.
Mustafi’s towering header from a Xhaka corner put Arsenal in the lead 2-0 on the night and 2-1 on aggregate, before Koscielny limped off to be replaced by Sokratis. The George Clooney lookalike wasted no time in getting on the scoresheet, converting a corner with his head to make it 3-0.
Arsenal could them take their foot off the gas somewhat, allowing Suarez to come on and taste winning for the first time.
Overall, it was a good performance, although I’m not sure Ozil will start the next game. I’m not even sure about Mkhitaryan, who chases back more than Ozil, but provides less going forward.
No doubt, Lichtsteiner deserves to keep his place after his performance and the same applies to Mustafi and Iwobi. In fact, this much-maligned trio contributed a lot to this victory, so perhaps the fans should find different players to pick on: how about the opposition’s, for example?