For the visit of Basel Arsene Wenger made just the two changes to the starting line-up that destroyed Chelsea at the weekend. As expected David Ospina was recalled in goal, and Granit Xhaka deputised for the injured Francis Coquelin. Basel arrived with an impressive record of four wins and a draw in their last five matches against English opposition in the Champions League.
The visitors determination to press all over the pitch was quickly evident as the match got underway. Gradually the Gunners started stringing fast and accurate passes together. Nacho Monreal went close in the seventh minute and moments later Alexis crossed for the revitalised Theo Walcott to power a header past Vaclik in the Basel goal.
Arsenal 1-0 Basel
Basel were far from down and out. From a corner Suchy climbed highest but thankfully failed to direct his header on target. The Gunners responded with a wonderful attack orchestrated by Alexis and ended only by an offside flag against the onrushing Mesut Ozil. When Alexis broke again the industrious Suchy had to haul him back, and in so doing earned the first yellow card of the contest.
In the twenty-sixth minute the two brightest players of the half combined for a second Gunners goal. Theo Walcott played a one-two with Alexis and applied an accurate finish off the inside of the far post. It was breathtaking stuff.
Arsenal 2-0 Basel
Appetites still strong, the same pair combined to give the Basel defence another nervous moment before Balanta managed to scramble the ball clear. Then Vaclik had to be quick to pass sideways under a challenge from Alexis. Walcott and Hector Bellerin then tore Basel apart and set up Alexis. Unfortunately the Chilean shot too close to Vaclik and what may have been the goal of the season was passed up.
The ‘keeper had to be quick to block when Walcott put Bellerin through in the inside-right channel, and then Vaclik watched relieved as Ozil lifted one just wide of his far post as the Gunners threatened to run riot. Monreal chipped one behind the defence for Alexis to hit another fierce drive at the overworked Vaclik. “Eye catching football from the Gunners” purred the commentator. He wasn’t wrong. The North Bank and the Clock End exchanged chants. Watching Arsenal is fun again.
As the half drew to a close Basel were hanging on grimly. Alexis crossed for Ozil to hit an effort into the side-netting. The whistle that Arsenal didn’t want brought relief, if only temporarily, for Basel. How on earth it was only 2-0 was a mystery at this point.
Arsenal restarted where they had left off. In the opening minutes of the second-half Monreal got behind the defence and Vaclik again had to be brave to thwart the incoming Alexis. Walcott, chasing his hat-trick, was played in by Alexis again but chipped wide of the far post as the offside flag was raised against him. Alexis broke again but failed to pick out Ozil with his final ball and the other Xhaka cleared the danger.
Arsenal’s Xhaka was growing into the contest and hit a sixty-yard pass to send Alexis clear down the left, before narrowly failing to connect with Santi Cazorla in the Basel box. Alex Iwobi, perhaps feeling left out, burst half the length of the pitch to fire an effort narrowly wide of the near post from the inside-left channel.
Martin Keown, co-commentating on my stream, observed “If this was a boxing match the referee would have stopped it by now”. Cazorla galloped free down the left flank but whipped his cross into the grateful arms of Vaclik.
Ospina’s concentration was tested when Basel broke to earn two corners in quick succession and the Columbian dealt with them both. A minute later he was worked again and saved in spectacular fashion from the Icelandic international, Bjarnason. Ospina looked less convincing when flapping at another corner and Bjarnason fortunately missed the target at the far post.
Alexis attempted to free Walcott again and was a fraction off with his forty-yarder. When Walcott repaid the Chilean Alexis side-footed wide of the far post from twelve yards. With twenty minutes to go Arsene opted for a little rotation, sending on former Basel man Mohamed Elneny and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Iwobi and Walcott, the latter being afforded a deserved standing ovation. How Walcott is changing opinions, mine included.
Shkodran Mustafi, having an otherwise quiet evening, played a superb ball nearly half the length of the pitch for Bellerin charging into the Basel box. With quarter of an hour remaining Kieran Gibbs got a bit of match practice replacing Monreal.
The substitutions had an impact on the Gunners fluency in the closing stages, but in fairness it appeared as though the Gunners had knocked the fight out of half-decent opponents. Alexis weaved his way towards the box and was brought down, From the resulting free-kick Cazorla hit the base of the wall. Oxlade -Chamberlain rounded Vaclik but the ‘keeper recovered to block the attempted cut-back. The goalkeeper completed an amazing night blocking another Alexis effort in the orchestra stalls.
With PSG getting an away win at Ludogorets Razgrad the fight for top spot in the group remains tense. Arsenal could do no more than they did. Another fine performance and the final scoreline again flattered the visitors. That is now four wins in a row since the draw at PSG away. Thirteen goals scored and just the one conceded is a measure of how well the Arsenal are playing right now. Whisper it softly, but we are looking a bit good.
May it continue for a while yet.