Boxing Day brought us the win we craved after two successive defeats, and this 2-0 win gave us the gift of returning form – as well as another vital win.
For Sam Allardyce, it was only the second opportunity for him to gauge what reinforcements he would need in the January transfer window. While Zaha, Cabaye, Benteke and their teammates were trying to adjust to new team orders, Arsene Wenger also had to shuffle his pack and change things up a little.
With Olivier Giroud scoring the late winner last week against West Brom, and with Theo Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain both suffering with varying grades of injury – The Ox made it to the bench – it meant Giroud had another start to assert himself.
And boy, didn’t he do just that.
The other news before the game was that Mesut Ozil wasn’t just missing from the side – he wasn’t even in the squad! Lots of buzz revolved around the German and a departure, or a fallout – but such is the nature of the beast, neither were correct. Ozil simply had what millions of us regular people have suffered from recently – the cold.
Alexis played in his spot, with Lucas excitingly drafted in and Alex Iwobi completed the three behind Olivier. Francis Coquelin was left out for Mohamed Elneny, which would be his last match before departing for the Africa Cup of Nations, and Gabriel stayed in the team even with the return of Shkodran Mustafi to fitness.
Crystal Palace included former Gunner hatchet man Mathieu Flamini in their side, but a reunion with his best bud Mesut Ozil was taken from the French midfielder.
Instead, he was given the runaround by Xhaka and Elneny.
There was so much to take from this game, but here are five key points from the ninety minutes, that I felt were the most pertinent;
That goal must be revelled in…
Olivier Giroud is much more than a simple target man. We have been privy to his fine front-post finishes for some time now and we have seen that he has finesse as well as tenacity. This goal though, deserves its place amongst the pantheon of simply amazing Arsenal goals. Just enjoy it. He may not be everyone’s Alan Smith or Ian Wright, but he is damn effective.
Mentality is just as important
Mohamed Elneny and Granit Xhaka have been virtually untested as a duo, and that would have spelled trouble in previous months/years. They played though, with unrestricted passion and movement, whilst not forgetting their defensive duties. It was a great performance from the pair, and proof that if they click into the positivity that the attack brings, they can overcome a lack of chemistry.
Elneny is away
Before this game, I was beginning to forget how effective our Egyptian can be. He hadn’t shown it this season, but how frustrating it is he picks this game to have his best of the season. Elneny always kept it moving, shackled any runs from Cabaye and weighed in to attacks when he could. Xhaka was a great counterweight, and it was so pleasant to see things simply work out for a change!
Alex Iwobi has responded
The young Nigerian inevitably slumped a little after blazing onto the scene last season. His touch evaded him, and the tricks and flicks that had worked so well were now like wet fireworks. His last two games have seen him back to his best, making the difference in tight areas and buzzing around the box, hungry for possession. He was fearless and must be applauded. He will make errors, but players who try the audacious always will.
It has been a while! We have pleaded for more game time for the talented Spaniard, and this was the result. He looked pumped, and his direct runs were a menace to James Tomkins, Scott Dann and co. He may not have grabbed a goal, but he showed enough to assuage any doubts for now. He hugged the wing when he needed space, and made intelligent runs when he could. A satisfying display.
There was far more from the game. Alex Iwobi’s goal showed great composure, Gabriel played extremely well and has improved with the extra game time – no surprise there – and Bellerin was tireless in both halves of the pitch. It is reassuring he has recently signed a contract extension! Cech also had a second consecutive clean sheet, and he earned his corn with a string of saves just after we scored our second goal
A comfortable win, a good performance and three points to put us ahead of City. I’ll take that!!