Last night, I had an odd, but startling dream. I was at an Arsenal game – against AC Milan I believe, although there were no indications of the side having any real connection to the current club other than the name itself. It was a beautiful day, and the teamsheet looked perfect. Then the game started and Arsenal went down 4-0 within eight minutes. I found myself downright angry, yelling at Arsene Wenger to play Tomas Rosicky. My roommate, who was at the game with me for some reason I don’t know, considering he isn’t a soccer fan, said “We don’t have to stay, you know.” I told him we needed to stay.
This dream represented all of my current Arsenal fears. Things have seemed to go wrong when they shouldn’t, and quickly. And then the doubts come flying in. We criticize, saying the current players we have aren’t good enough. We abandon our undying support for our team. But I stayed, because we must trust that these guys will figure it out and succeed. So when the match with Aston Villa kicked off forty minutes after I had woken up from this dream, it was very much on my mind.
When eight minutes went by, and Arsenal weren’t four behind, I breathed a little easier. But things weren’t quite so easy in the first half. Villa were pressing high up the pitch, wreaking havoc on Arsenal’s passing game. Aaron Ramsey was giving away possession all over the place and long balls were flying out of bounds. Villa might have gone ahead from a Tom Cleverley set piece where it not for Wojciech Szczesny’s huge save of Kieran Clark’s header at the back post.
Right when it seemed Arsenal were getting frustrated, everything clicked. Bang. Bang. Bang. Three minutes. Three goals. And Arsenal had found their mojo.
The first goal came from a brilliantly worked counter. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain fed Danny Welbeck whose first touch pass sent Mesut Özil in on goal. With all the doubters and haters out there, it would have been easy for Özil to have flubbed it. People say he has no fight in him, no character. But he calmly looked up, saw where Brad Guzan was, and slotted the ball past him into the back of the net. It was as simple as that. Özil was back.
Not a minute and a half later, Ramsey fed Özil on the left, who sent in a terrific curling ball in front of a Villa defender, right onto the right foot of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck took it with confidence, blasting it past the American keeper for his first Arsenal goal. In 79 seconds, Özil and Welbeck made a dramatic statement. They are a force to be reckoned with.
The third arrived shortly after, with Villa pressed on to their back foot. Kieran Gibbs got onto a loose ball and scuffed a low shot well wide of the back post. Heading in the direction of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Villa defender Aly Cissokho stuck his leg out and poked it into the corner. I hate own goals. I feel terrible for everyone involved. I may not have celebrated, but I smiled on the inside. Arsenal were back.
The second half was typical Arsenal. The Gunners had pretty much all of the possession, but never looked too likely to score. However, it was easy on the eyes. Suddenly infused with confidence, everybody was making runs and enjoying themselves. As the NBC commentators said, Wenger could have taken Szczesny off the field and it would not have mattered.
It all amounted to a convincing win, one that should do a lot to restore belief in the side. With a Capital One Cup tie in the midweek, a rare chance for Arsenal’s youngsters, everyone should be well rested for the North London Derby next weekend. Spurs better watch out.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Danny Welbeck – 8.5/10 – Welbeck’s movement today was superb. He was all over the field, popping up in the right places and varying his runs. He played a perfect ball in to Özil for the first goal, minutes after nearly finding him on a similar run. And 79 seconds after the goal, Welbeck clinically fired in his first Arsenal goal. All in all it was a good day for the new signing.
Santi Cazorla – 7/10 – Out of all the forward players, Cazorla was the quietest, but he did not have a bad game. He was buzzing all over the midfield, dropping deep to help bring Arsenal up the field. He always works hard, and it was evident today. I think the side is much more balanced with Cazorla in it.
Mesut Özil – 9/10 – Özil put everything behind him today, putting in a sensational performance that reaffirmed how great a player he is. Restored to the center of the field, he was lively from the start, making clever runs and picking out good passes in the final third. And then he was in on goal, with all the pressure in the world on his left foot, and he calmly scored his goal. A minute later, he provided a beautiful assist. And the rest of the match, we saw the Özil we love. He was confident on the ball, making little flicks and picking out perfect balls. But the most notable thing about this performance was that he was smiling and enjoying himself. Our boy is back.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 7.5/10 – Getting a last minute start in place of Alexis Sanchez, the Ox put in a good shift. He worked hard on both ends of the pitch, and generally looked lively. He was involved in the first goal, and he always was dangerous when he made surging runs. He also made a terrific block in the second half. He offered a strong case for another start.
Aaron Ramsey – 5/10 – Ramsey was poor, giving away the ball far too often. Although he was in a deeper position, he was still getting forward, often leaving Arteta isolated on the counter. He played a part in Arsenal’s second goal, but for the most part, he was out of ideas in the final third. And when he did get in a good position, his touch let him down. The skewed pass that went out for a Villa corner – one of the worst I’ve ever seen – typified Ramsey’s day. Get him a rest.
Mikel Arteta – 6.5/10 – Arteta played his part today, appropriately dealing with Aston Villa’s counter attacks in the early going, then calmly playing the possession game the rest of the way. Although he was left isolated a little in the first half, he did his job.
Kieran Gibbs – 7.5/10 – I’ve been hard on Gibbs this season, but today he was much better. He got forward confidently, and played a couple of nice balls. The own goal came from a Gibbs shot/cross, so he can be happy with that. This was a performance that should help him remain above Nacho Monreal on the depth chart.
Laurent Koscielny – 8.5/10 – Koscielny had a fantastic first half. He was everywhere in defense, dealing with anything that came his way. One particularly well-timed clearance he made was vital. And he also was involved in possession, making a couple of passes that sent Arsenal forward. Koscielny can be satisfied with Arsenal’s first clean sheet of the season.
Per Mertesacker – 7.5/10 – Mertesacker didn’t have much to do today. In the early going, when Villa were pressing high up the field, his passing had to be spot on, and it was. Mertesacker also did his part in the air, and helped keep the clean sheet.
Calum Chambers – 7/10 – Chambers is certainly more of a center back than a right back. Today, he didn’t seem to want to get forward in the first half, afraid of having to defend on his back foot. He picked up an early yellow, and probably should have been sent off around the hour mark for another silly offense. That being said, his defending behind the ball was as strong as ever.
Wojciech Szczesny – 8.5/10 – It would be wrong to look at the scoreline and think Szczesny had an easy game. The Pole made two vital saves in the first half when the scoreline was still 0-0, the second of which was particularly impressive. He should be proud of this clean sheet.
Tomas Rosicky (78th) – N/A – The dream version of me will be happy that Rosicky saw the field for the first time Premier League campaign, but I’m sure he’d have liked more time on the field. He looked lively on the ball.
Lukas Podolski (78th) – N/A – Other than the fact that Podolski came on as a central striker, there was nothing remarkable about this late substitute appearance from the German.
Jack Wilshere (78th) – N/A – Probably disappointed not to start, Wilshere made a late cameo when the match was long decided. He still managed to pick up a yellow somehow.