I love me a 5-1 win. Not as much as a 5-0 win, but almost. And it’s especially satisfying to beat Sam Allardyce after he did his “smug git” routine in the pre-match press conference.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a pretty good footballer. Where did Arsenal find this guy again? Was he languishing on some bench in Manchester? Incapable of getting a game? And did we trade him for a player who was very nearly his exact opposite? Weird.
Maybe you’re a huge Alexis fan, and I understand that, but you also have to admit that Arsenal did pretty well in that trade. As much as Alexis was a player who would demand the ball but would also produce game-winning plays, Mkhitaryan is less demanding but just as creative, if not moreso. On his home debut, Mkhitaryan became just the 10th Arsenal player to record a hat trick of assists.
That’s not an easy feat. Hat tricks of goals scored are basically twice as easy to get as hat tricks of assists, there have been 20 Arsenal players who have scored three goals or more in a game (two have scored 4 – Henry and Arshavin) in Premier League history, but like I said, just 10 who have 3 assists in a game.
What makes it so difficult is that you have to basically put the ball on a plate for your teammates three times. That’s exactly what Mkhitaryan did: generating three big chances, all of which his teammates scored.
Of course, you can’t get an assist unless your teammate scores and Aaron Ramsey scored, two of Mkhitaryan’s chances.
Ramsey gets a lot of criticism from me (and others) for “running forward all the time” which as we know is actually Wenger’s orders. But for the first goal Arsenal had won a free kick (Mkhitaryan won the free kick) and on the ensuing play it was a neat little chip pass from Aubameyang in to Mkhi on the wing, followed by a lovely little cross which set up the goal. Ramsey didn’t even have to do much, just direct the ball on goal and he scored. You could hardly accuse Ramsey of “bombing forward”, Arsenal were well in control and Ramsey was executing Wenger’s game plan.
All over the pitch though, Mkhitaryan was just brilliant. I love his touch and vision. It is pure class. And with him and Özil on the pitch at the same time Arsenal really do have bags of class running at the opposition. Both players are comfortable in wide areas and in the narrow. Both players have that through ball vision to pick out a teammate (like Mkhi’s assist for Aubameyang). And both players understand space and balance in ways that Arsenal have been missing since Cazorla went down injured.
As much as I liked Alexis Sanchez, and many of you know that I was one of his biggest supporters, I have to admit that I think Mkhitaryan might just fit Arsenal’s style better.
Of course it’s early in his career and we have yet to see a bad game from him. We haven’t yet seen him accused of “nicking a living” or “being part of Arsenal’s culture of mediocrity” and there will be games in the future where he probably does disappear. But in last night’s game we saw what he could do at his very best: demolish teams.
Aubameyang will also go unsung by many. His movement, though, off the ball was exquisite. I’ve been banging on about Lacazette’s movement and how his teammates struggle to find him because they don’t seem to understand where he’s going – Arsenal have been used to passing the ball to either inanimate carbon Giroud or just giving it up to Alexis now for three years so, it’s going to take some adjustment to figure out how to find a proper striker. And the same for Auba as it is for Laca. That’s why it’s so good to have both Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan in the team at the same time, as you saw for Aubameyang’s (offside) goal, Mkhi knows where Auba is going and can pick out passes to him and the opposite as well, it was Aubameyang’s pass to Mkhitaryan which opened Everton up for the first goal. Those two were a great unit at Dortmund and their reunion should spark a new culture at Arsenal.
Oh come on, I get to have one, little moan: at 3-0 up Arsenal were still throwing everyone forward. I mean, I get it that they smelt (whatever) blood in the water but it was sort of infuriating to see Theo Walcott given the one thing that he needs to be a decent forward: space. Plus I hate seeing Mustafi and Koscielny running around like keystone cops as the opponents try to put three past us. As fantastic as those forward signings are (and I love them) Arsenal still have a lot of work to do defensively. Just buying Jonny Whatshisname isn’t going to solve the problems Arsenal have in defense. That’s going to take a whole team effort.
And finally, I love seeing Arsenal put five past Sam Allardyce. Sam usually saves his “smug git” routine for the post-match interviews. You know, after his team earns some “masterful” 0-0 draw. But this time he went full Allardyce before the match, saying:
“Arsenal’s attacking force has always been what you have to manage. They haven’t scored as many goals as they have done in recent years at this stage of the season which gives us an opportunity to try and shut them out.”
He wasn’t done there, he also had some choice words for Arsenal’s defense.
“It’s about being able to nullify the strengths of Arsenal and then, I’ve always felt, that defensively they are weak because of the amount of players they commit forward.”
What’s hilarious is that he was sort of right! HA!
Arsenal’s attack in away games has been exceptionally poor – they have just 15 goals, 5 of which were scored against Everton! But he was 100% wrong about Arsenal’s home form. Arsenal were 2nd in the League in goals scored at home before the match with 31. They are still 2nd in the League in goals scored at home with 36.
Also, he’s sort of right about Arsenal’s defense, but again there is a home-away dichotomy. In away games Arsenal have the 6th worst defense in the League and have allowed an unacceptable 21 goals this season. In home games it’s better, though still unacceptable, with 14 goals in 13 games – more than a goal a game.
The main difference between home and away is that the away teams have been attacking Arsenal in away games. Playing two players up top, and dominating midfield, the opponents are often able to assert control over Arsenal. But in home games, teams are still not playing with an all-out attack. Except that’s what Allardyce did in the first half, playing three forwards and 4 midfielders in a 343.
Credit to Allardyce, he really put his team where his giant mouth is. He threw them entirely under the bus as well, after the match he said that they played like “crap” and that he had given them instructions to play like Swansea had played but they failed. Astonishing from Allardyce. I can only hope that more teams come to the Emirates and try to play Arsenal with a 343. It will almost certainly result in joy for the Gunners.