Winning is a habit that is difficult to pick up, but even harder to maintain, and Arsene Wenger seems to be of the same mind, as a virtually unchanged side saw off an overrun FC Basel side to record their first Champions League win from their second group game – and it was only profligacy that stopped this becoming a rout.
The team which recorded such a handsome victory over Chelsea took to the field with the iconic Champions Leaguie anthem ringing in their ears. The only changes were David Ospina once again being named as the man between the sticks after his heroics in Paris in the first group game, and Granit Xhaka facing off against his former side and brother, in place of the injured Francis Coquelin.
It was widely expected that there would be other adjustments to the side as Wenger looked to rotate the team, but Alexis continued his campaign as sole striker, and Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were the others yet again named in attack. It was a surprise to see Santi Cazorla named alongside Xhaka, and another former Basel man Mohamed Elneny was thought to be in the reckoning, but the Spaniard once again lined up in the team.
There were other interesting developments that unfolded during the ninety minutes, but here are the five key points that became abundantly evident as the game played –
Koscielny and Mustafi are evolving….
They have played four games together, and they have yet to concede from open play. It is easy to get carried away with such a stat, and compilation videos of their mastery of Diego Costa, but what is undeniable, is they compliment each other. As a unit, there is no weakness between them. As each game goes on, they will discover each facet of the others play, and the unit will become stronger. This is only their beginning. If they can stay fit, what a rock solid foundation we will have. This game showed the composure both have, and the concentration levels of both. They were hardly stretched, but when they were called into action, they were never caught cold. Good signs.
Alexis is on fire, and their defence is terrified
How Sanchez didn’t score in this game is a question only he can answer. It wasn’t for want of trying. He led the Basel defenders – all five of them – on a merry dance, and his slaloming run which occurred late in the second half was the Chilean at his finest. When on this form, there is no keeping him quiet. Even though he didn’t score, he affected proceedings. He was up for it, and Burnley will have to be on top of their game if they want to stifle him on Sunday.
Theo Walcott has always had it, he’s just working harder
The level of doubt that has surrounded Theo has verged on ridiculous at times, but there has been cause for some of the negativity. It is easy to forget what he is capable of when he hasn’t mustered a full season in such a long time, but lack of playing time and bad form had affected him. Now, he has gone back to what he does best, and he and the team are profiting. His pace, allied with better off the ball running, has seen him form a bond on the pitch with Ozil and Sanchez. He is putting the effort in, and long may it continue, along with his fitness. He grabbed two goals, the only two, and he even scored with his head! He was a constant menace, and while there will be times his control will desert him, he will more often than not make the difference. Plus, any player who plays alongside Ozil and Sanchez will look far worse than they actually are!
Santi Cazorla must be tired, yet he keeps his incredible level going
Yet another game for Cazorla, and most fans agreed that he would probably miss out in favour of Elneny. Cazorla covered every blade of grass in the weekend victory over Chelsea, and he looked shot, but Santi stayed in the side. It just proved once again that Wenger knows his players better than we do as Cazorla dictated the play, and made 94 passes (above is his pass map, thank you to Squawka) – more than any other.It was he who started the move for the first goal with his long pass to Sanchez out wide, and he will again surely be in the team for this weekend on this performance. How can you leave him out?
We will have harder games, but the lack of rotation was understandable
Basel put up barely a whimper, but was it simply they had no answer to us? We had 19 shots during this game, and if not for their keeper, we would have won by a landslide. Most teams will have no answer to the quick interchanges between the effervescent Iwobi, Theo, Sanchez and Ozil, and Basel were no different. Even so, to maintain the winning run, and the soaring confidence which is evidently coursing through our players veins, Wenger went largely with the same side he named on Saturday, and it paid off. Resting fatigued muscles will become a factor as the season wore on, but we have ample replacements. Long may this run, and this team, continue.