Happy eighteenth anniversary, Arsene. A potential banana skin of a night became a celebration not just because Galatasaray lined up with an untested formation, but also because those in red and white displayed a sense of purpose and commitment. Almost down to the bare bones, we shall worry tomorrow morning about Alexis’ ankle. His contribution tonight, alongside Mesut Ozil, gave us hints of what lies in store in the coming months. A new team is coming together, slowly but most definitely.
However, it wasn’t Ozil or Alexis who claimed the man of the match plaudits. Danny Welbeck has divided opinion since his deadline day capture for £16m. That looks absurdly good value for an English international striker when you look at the fees paid for one or two other young English players (Luke Shaw *cough*). Manchester United fans must have loved sitting in their front rooms watching their old boy playing in Europe tonight and doing so well.
As a contest it was over by half-time, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a game to raise the blood pressure. With Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla to the fore in the opening exchanges we showed an appetite sometimes lacking on our frustrating days. Gala threatened on the break, but in truth looked a little lightweight with little support for the experienced Pandev up front. The difference in attacking options were demonstrated little more than twenty minutes in. Alexis played Welbeck in and a toe poke before Melo could intervene put us ahead.
On the half hour he doubled his productivity for the night, shrugging aside Melo again to finish in a style compared to a Highbury legend. Let’s take it easy on that front for his next hundred, or maybe two hundred goals for Arsenal, eh? The name Melo is cropping up time and again. Remember some berating Arsene for not signing him a couple of years back? He should have walked tonight for a savage two footed lunge on Alexis. Quite how he got away with only a yellow card was a mystery to all who witnessed it. Alexis was withdrawn in the second-half and shown with a precautionary, hopefully, ice pack on his ankle. We’ll need him on Sunday.
Before the half-time cuppas’ were served (ok, it is specially prepared energy drinks now) we had a third. Alexis was played in by Ozil (I thought they couldn’t play together?) and for the third time the ball was slotted inside the far post. The ‘holic pound would have rewarded handsomely at 45 minutes. It was fatally holed just seven minutes into the second-half when Welbeck started and finished the flowing move that saw us four to the good. It was Danny’s first hat-trick in senior football, but all the signs are that more will follow. His speed of thought and foot were impressive tonight. Repeat that on Sunday please, young man.
Of course on an evening when an opponent should have walked for a savage foul, we were bound to lose our Wojciech for another ill-judged but not not malicious challenge. Let me say here I have no problem with the red card he received under the present guidance to referees, but it is ludicrous that Melo should have stayed on the pitch tonight when Szczesny was sent off for a challenge that did not threaten serious damage to a fellow professional. These inconsistent and incompetent referees need highlighting too.
The result of the Pole’s rashness was an appearance from the bench for David Ospina. Beaten from the spot he may have been, but as the nine men ahead of him regrouped he gave a solid display and even produced one save ‘for the cameras’ as the old ‘keepers would say. He will have another opportunity to impress now at Anderlecht in three weeks. Could we be witnessing the arrival of a new number one? We shall see, but not at the bus stop in Fulham on Sunday, I suspect. Nor should we.
So, let’s take a deep breath and think what this means. We have a home win in the Champions League, and so we should. Two more and a performance in Belgium or Turkey (or both) and we are last sixteen material again. I mentioned bare bones earlier, and certainly we are not far from that, but Tomas Rosicky was a second-half substitute tonight, and impressed. Jack Wilshere too. The earlier summons for Ospina probably denied Lukas Podolski a run out. First impressions tonight are, should Alexis not be ruled out, that we have a starting eleven that can give it a go at the bus stop on Sunday. Confident? Not particularly, but the Arsenal have given me some unexpected boosts down the years, and this weekend provides yet another opportunity for them to surprise and delight.
What say you?