Alexis Sanchez struck twice in the first half to deliver Arsenal their much needed win against West Bromwich Albion on Thursday night. With the win, the Gunners have leapfrogged Manchester City, and they now sit only five points adrift of their fierce rivals in Tottenham Hotspur.
Although the Premier League title is out of the equation now, they will look to finish the season on a high note, and perhaps, topple Tottenham on the course.
Arsene Wenger axed Gabriel Paulista, Francis Coquelin, and Danny Welbeck after their lacklustre displays against Crystal Palace last weekend. Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, and Olivier Giroud were handed rare starts as Arsenal reverted to their original plan.
Much to Wenger’s delight, the shakeup produced a fruitful result as his men saw off a rather defensively astute Tony Pulis side. Here are five burning questions from their 2-0 victory at Emirates Stadium.
Are Arsenal back to their very best?
Arsenal started the game rather slowly, especially with Pulis’ men looking willing to sit back in search of a set-piece goal. Much akin to their performance against the Eagles on matchday 33, passes were made predominantly sideways and backwards in the first few minutes as the home adopted to a no-nonsense approach.
Once they found the rhythm, however, their impeccable buildup swelled the tiny pours in the Albion defence.
After breaking the deadlock, the N5 club espoused an experimental and more attacking approach as they continued to bombard the Albion penalty box with crosses, through balls, and shots until the final whistle, especially after the introduction of Joel Campbell.
Is Alex Iwobi on the right flank limiting his involvement?
Alexis’ heroics largely overshadowed the contribution of Alex Iwobi in the first half. With most of Arsenal’s attack funneled down the right flank by virtue of the skill and pace of the Chilean and Hector Bellerin, his presence was hardly felt. However, he burst onto the scene in the second half after drifting to the centre; he was close to setting up Arsenal’s third goal on many occasions as finishing remained a major concern yet again.
After being almost non-existent in the first 45 minutes, he proceeded to set the Emirates abuzz with his wizardry, intent, and pace, with first half’s heroes appearing to slow down.
Undoubtedly, he is more effective through the middle, and preventing another has-no-best-position Theo Walcott from happening is now imperative.
Does Arsenal’s new double pivot hold key to retribution?
Pulis’ sides have always defensive, and in London, the Welsh manager almost completely compromised on attack, with Darren Fletcher operating as the number ten and Salomon Rondon dropping to the bench. The Arsenal manager astutely dropped the idea of fielding a defensive double pivot as he brought Aaron Ramsey into the mix to undo the Baggies defence.
His tactical revamp paid off as the two central midfielders combined to shut out the Albion midfield. Arsenal dominated the midfield, with the double pivot offering to the defence as much as they did to the attack.
With Arsenal facing Sunderland and Norwich City — sides that would not mind sitting back — in the forthcoming weeks, the Ramsey-Elneny double pivot could prove to be influential.
Is Hector Bellerin worthy of his TOTY inclusion?
Hector Bellerin earned a TOTY inclusion ahead of veterans such as Bacary Sagna; he is the only Arsenal player to make the cut. Although Nacho Monreal discreetly had a fine performance yet again, he stole the limelight, surging forward at every opportunity.
He looked as though he might find his name on the scoresheet for the second time and was pivotal in building up the confidence of the goalscorer as both combined to torment Albion’s left-back in James Chester for as long as he was on the pitch.
Had he been slightly more composed, he would have directly been involved in at least one goal.
Will Mohamed Elneny’s arrival turn out to be the final piece of the puzzle?
Arsene Wenger is not a fan of disrupting the team chemistry by signing new players. That remains one of his biggest criticism, and rightfully so. When Ramsey’s first-team spot was under no threat, he continued to produce sub-par performances rather frequently, and the gaffer rightly demoted him to the bench.
With his first-team credentials now under serious threat, he made the most out of his rare start as he produced one of his finest performances in the red and white strip. He collected an all-important assist besides racking up seven tackles, two key passes, and completing 92% of the 114 passes he attempted.
He had been widely censured for his poor positional awareness in the past; however, he conducted himself perfectly and knew when to drop back and join the party upfront. Elneny’s arrival has, thus, indirectly brought the best out of the Arsenal’s perpetual underperformer.
Buying players seems to reap rewards.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
Follow Praveen on Twitter @49Praveen
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