Controversial, scrappy, but a victory 

After such an excellent week, it shouldn’t really have been a surprise that Arsenal couldn’t hit the heights of the victories against Chelsea and Basel in the league at Turf Moor on Sunday. The Gunners mentally and physically couldn’t put together the same performance that had blown the other sides away, and in Burnley, they came up against a completely different style of team as Sean Dyche’s men were determined to stop Arsenal from playing. 
Whereas in the last two games there had been space for Arsenal to play passes in behind the defence, and there had been space in front of the defensive line to rip the opposition apart, Burnley completely shut that down. Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi couldn’t glide into the spaces they had before and Alexis and Theo Walcott didn’t have the space behind the back four to run into. Without a plan B with Olivier Giroud still nursing the suspect toe injury, Arsenal looked to be running out of ideas of how to break Burnley down. There wasn’t much point throwing crosses into the box because of the dominance of the home centre-backs, and there was barely any space for intricate passes through the lines. 
After 92 minutes of frustration, Arsenal somehow found a way to score the winning goal with a combination of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Laurent Koscielny bundling the ball over the line. Arsenal have scored some beautiful, free-flowing team goals and some scorching long-rangers in recent weeks. This one didn’t fall into those categories. It was ugly and horrifically scrappy, but it was a match winner.
If I was a Burnley fan, I would be fuming about the goal being given because Koscielny struck the ball into his arm for it to bobble underneath Heaton. Arsenal definitely benefitted from the vague handball rule as Koscielny obviously didn’t intent to use his arm in that situation, but the ball would never had gone in had it not ricocheted off the forearm. Hopefully the Gunners haven’t used up a large slice of this season’s luck in one incident, but I don’t think we could have had many complaints had the referee disallowed the goal. But as harsh as it looked, the referee made the correct call. 
The goal was harsh on the hosts as Burnley did nullify Arsenal’s threat. They learned from the mistakes Watford, Hull and Chelsea have made against the Gunners this season. Having beaten Liverpool with a similar performance earlier in the campaign, it was a concern pre-match that Burnley had the blueprint to get a home victory and weren’t going to be intimidated by the week Arsenal had had. For 92 minutes, Sean Dyche’s team executed their plan perfectly. 
Even though Arsenal were some way from their best, I don’t think it’s a game that requires much over-analysis for the Gunners. There were plenty of reasons for it to be a tricky assignment for Arsenal because of the decent start Burnley have made to the campaign, and it is always tough to go away from home after a midweek game in the Champions League. The home fans were up for it and their team were well organised, so Arsenal just had to find a way to win.
Had the Gunners drawn the game, doubts and questions about their ability to last the distance in the title race this season would have been raised again. The critics would point to a free-flowing victories followed by needlessly dropping points against the lesser-teams. But there is a growing sense that the squad this year has got a little bit more to it. They are a bit smarter and more determined and seem to have the bit between their teeth at the moment. The speed of thought was evident in the winning goal on Sunday as most sides would never have taken a short corner with time almost up and the game level. But Ozil and Alexis recognised Burnley had switched off defensively and gave the Chilean a better angle from which to cross it. The short corner disrupted Burnley’s organisation and suddenly Arsenal had two players who had gambled and followed the ball in to try and score. I was ready to lambast Ozil and Alexis for playing the short corner, but it worked. That is one of the many reasons why they are elite level players and I am definitely not. 
The win was Arsenal’s fifth in a row in the league. In that run, there’s been a mixture of performances as three have been fairly comprehensive with three goals against Watford and Chelsea and four against Hull, while the games against Southampton and Burnley were only sealed with injury time winners. It’s encouraging to see that Arsenal are capable of being brilliant but also win matches that turn into dogged battles. The campaign is still young, but with a run of winnable fixtures, the Gunners have a chance continue with the momentum gathered so far. It may have needed the unintentional hand of Koscielny to keep it rolling, but getting a break like that goal just increases the good feeling I’ve got for the rest of the season. 


Chelsea beautifully and savagely dismantled by free-flowing Gunners

So we were waiting for Arsenal to properly ‘click’ this season. There were glimpses against Hull and Watford, but everything came together in a thunderous and thrilling first half display at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. A win over Chelsea was long overdue, and when it arrived, it was comprehensive.
20 years after Arsene Wenger was introduced as the Arsenal manager, this was a performance that had all the hallmarks of Wenger’s best teams. The football was played at break-neck speed and the passing was crisp, while the Gunners looked solid at the back and didnt’t allow the visitors to bully them again.
It was one of those game where picking a man of the match was a slightly futile exercise because you could have made a compelling case for every Arsenal player to be up for the award. Each man was superb in one of the most complete performances at the Emirates in recent years. After romping into a 3-0 lead in the first half, Arsenal then controlled the game with Chelsea unable to muster a shot on target until late in the second half. After a string of decent results following the loss to Liverpool on the opening day, the visit of the Blues was viewed as a real test of where Arsenal are in terms of being able to launch a title challenge this season. On the evidence of Saturday, the Gunners are in very decent shape indeed.
In recent years against Chelsea, Arsenal have usually been unable to score the opening goal in matches between the two sides, with Chelsea usually able to get a lead and then just hold Arsenal at arms’ length. Last season there was also the issue of keeping 11 players on the pitch with Gabriel, Santi Cazorla and Per Mertesacker all seeing red. On this occasion, Arsenal managed to solve both of those problems with an early goal, and they subsequently kept their discipline by not even picking up a yellow card.
The early goal came about from the tenacity of Alexis Sanchez and the intensity with which Arsenal started the game. The Chilean pressurised Gary Cahill into playing a loose back-pass, allowing Alexis to race towards goal. The goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was drawn out of goal and Alexis delicately clipped the ball over him and into the net. It was as if the ease the confidence with which Alexis finished the chance seemed to pervade around the team as Arsenal immediately grabbed a strong grip on the game.
If the first goal had an element of fortune, the second was pure footballing magic. It was Wengerball at its best. Cazorla and Walcott linked up before the ball came to Iwobi near the edge of the box. He exchanged one-touch passes with Ozil before spinning to slide a ball in behind the covering defenders for Hector Bellerin. The Spaniard rolled the ball across the box for Theo Walcott to stroke the ball home with Chelsea chasing shadows. It was a goal that looked so simple but was absolutely brilliant because of the crisp and clinical execution.
The only downside in a barnstorming start was the knee injury picked up by Francis Coquelin when blocking a shot from N’Golo Kante. The Frenchman had made an excellent start to the game alongside Cazorla in midfield, justifying his selection in a competitive part of the Arsenal squad. But whereas his injury destabilised the Arsenal side last season, Granit Xhaka strolled on in his place and slotted in perfectly into the team on Saturday. He’s had a good start to the season, so hopefully Coquelin isn’t out for a long time, but the strength of the squad now means that it won’t be the major blow it was 12 months ago.
At 2-0, there was still a fear that Chelsea could sneak a way back into the game. But Arsenal topped off a thrilling first period with a brutally beautiful third goal on the counter-attack. After a Chelsea attack broke down on the edge of Arsenal’s penalty area, Mesut Ozil glided away from Kante and alongside Alexis charged towards Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Alexis broke to the right and chipped the ball perfectly to the back post after receiving the ball from German, allowing Ozil to run onto the ball and volley it past Courtois via the post. It wasn’t the cleanest connection from Ozil, but the breakaway was clinical and emphatic.
The start of the season has brought about a lot of debate about the make-up of Arsenal’s front four, with Alexis predominantly playing down the middle. On Saturday, it suddenly all made sense as, after going ahead so early, Arsenal then had the perfect four to break quickly on Chelsea with the pace of Alexis and Walcott, and the guile of Ozil and Iwobi. So far this season, Walcott and Iwobi have taken some of the creative and scoring burden from Arsenal’s two main men, something that wasn’t happening as much last season. If Ozil wasn’t creating chances, generally Arsenal weren’t creating chances, but Iwobi has helped change that by offering a different option. 
Arsenal did have chances to kill the game off in the second half as Walcott’s chipped cross was just too high for Alexis before the winger had a shot saved by the legs of Courtois. That didn’t take away from an excellent all-round display from Walcott as he was keen to get involved, tracked back to assist Bellerin in negating Hazard and read the game superbly to pop up in the middle to tap in Arsenal’s second goal. Something has happened to Theo Walcott this season as he looks more focussed and more committed for the team. Long may it continue. 
The longer the game went on, the more desperate Arsenal fans were to keep a clean sheet to emphasise the nature of the victory. Bar a one-on-one saved by Petr Cech, Chelsea struggled to find a way through a stubborn Arsenal defence. Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny dealt with Diego Costa superbly as they hassled him, were physical and cut off any supply around the box by challenging him higher up the pitch. I’ve never seen Costa bullied by two centre-backs in the way Mustafi and Koscielny did. When Costa was shoved unceremoniously to the ground by Koscielny late in the game before picking up a yellow card for dissent, it summed out how dominant Arsenal had been against a player that has used all of his tricks to deceive, cheat and score against the Gunners in the past. 
On the odd occasion that the centre-backs were caught out, the full-backs covered superbly. Nacho Monreal kept Willian quiet, while Hector Bellerin stopped Eden Hazard making any sort of impact on the game. Bellerin also brought the house down with a stunning recovery tackle on Pedro when the winger looked set to go through on goal. Despite giving Pedro a few yards as a head start, Bellerin ate up the ground in a staggering show of speed before perfectly timing the tackle on the edge of the box. Even at 3-0 up, it was brilliant to see the determination and commitment of the Arsenal team to not give Chelsea anything to take from the game.
The win was long overdue against Chelsea. While Antonio Conte clearly has plenty to sort out in his squad, it wasn’t as if the visitors were dreadfully poor at the Emirates, they just got taken apart by the Gunners. They came up against a united and determined Arsenal team, who had a game plan and executed it perfectly.
The win and the performance was a fitting way to mark 20 years since Arsene Wenger was unveiled as the Arsenal manager. It harked back to the glory days of his early reign as Gunners boss, and hinted those days could yet return with a few more similar performances this season. The challenge is now for Arsenal to replicate that performance again and again during this campaign, but it is also important to savour it as a game on its own. It was a day that makes the bad ones as a football fan seem worth suffering through because sometimes you get to witness some breathe-taking brilliance. Arsenal served up plenty of that on Saturday. 

Arsenal dig deep to win while trying to find fluency

With two new players making their debuts against Southampton, there was always a chance that Arsenal wouldn’t be at their fluent best with Shkodran Mustafi and Lucas Perez understandably adapting to the team. As the debutants settled in, Arsenal laboured in the first 25 minutes on Saturday, but fought hard to come back from 1-0 down to get the first home win of the season.
While the passing wasn’t at the standards reached in the last league outing at Vicarage Road against Watford, Arsenal couldn’t be faulted for effort after going behind against Saints. Too often in recent seasons, Arsenal have been quick to go into their shell and the players have looked a bit disinterested after a set-back in a home game in which they’re expected to win. That wasn’t the case on Saturday. The eventual victory was secured through the sheer force of will rather than by ripping a stubborn Saints side apart with flowing football.
Even though Southampton’s goal had a large slice of fortune with Petr Cech tipping Tadic’s free-kick onto the bar before it ricocheted into the net off the goalkeeper’s back, it was impossible to argue that the visitors didn’t deserve the lead on the balance of play in the opening stages of the game. Arsenal afforded them too much possession and couldn’t get Lucas Perez involved in the game up front as Mesut Ozil had a slight of off-day by his incredibly high standards. It was the sort of game that needed something to give the Gunners a kick up the arse to get going, and going behind did spark Arsenal into action.
The other spark came from Arsenal’s vice-captain on his birthday. Laurent Koscielny has many great qualities that make him the best centre-back in the league (in my humble and, let’s face it, quite biased view). No-one knew that he had the ability to score with an overhead kick as one of those qualities. Southampton failed to clear Santi Cazorla’s corner and Koscielny executed the perfect bicycle finish to power the ball past Fraser Forster. It was a truly astonishing moment of skill and it came from a centre-back!
Wearing the captain’s armband in the absence of Per Mertesacker does seem to have brought out a higher level of performance from Koscielny as he is growing into the leadership role. At a time when Arsenal needed someone to take the game by the scruff if the neck on Saturday and take responsibility, Koscielny did it spectacularly. He’s led by example so far this season, so while the bizarre run of Arsenal club captains not playing in league games continues,  Koscielny is the perfect man to inspire his team-mates.
In the second period, Southampton were happy to sit in and try and play on the break by bringing on Shane Long up front. Despite Arsenal improving and creating some openings, arguably the best chances fell to Long at the other end. One was a one-on-one with Petr Cech that he clipped wide, and other was a rebound from the goalkeeper that he casually rolled towards goal but Cech recovered to kick it clear. Long’s painful second half showing was complete when he was caught near the corner flag by Nacho Monreal, but the referee played on and Arsenal went down the other end of the field and ultimately scored the winner.
While Shane Long did legitimately get trodden on by Monreal, it was refreshing to see Arsenal not immediately kick the ball out of play. Unless it is a serious injury, Arsenal need to stop being nice about things as usually teams are just trying to slow the game down deliberately. This tougher edge to Arsenal was evident moments after Long was left on the ground as the Gunners didn’t even stop play with Laurent Koscielny down with a head injury in the Southampton penalty area. They caught the Saints napping with the Frenchman down as Jose Fonte hauled down Olivier Giroud to concede a penalty.
I’m writing this having only seen the foul live at the ground, and while I didn’t have the best angle on it, the defender grabbed a lot of Giroud’s shirt, and you’re giving the referee the chance to make a decision by manhandling the centre-forward in that way. Southampton’s only gripe is that play should probably have been stopped by the official because of the blow suffered by Koscielny. Santi Cazorla produced a nerveless spot kick to win the game following the lengthy delay for treatment for the skipper.
With the squad rotated ahead of the start of the Champions League, it showed the strength of the squad that Arsene Wenger was able to bring on Alexis Sanchez, Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi in the second half to offer a different threat to Southampton. Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain flattered to deceive in the wide areas, while Lucas Perez was lively through the middle but didn’t get much service to make a big impression on his first appearance for the club. Because of the changes, we didn’t see Lucas get the chance to link-up with Alexis. As a more mobile player than Giroud, it would be interesting to see what Lucas can do with the Chilean alongside him.
As for the other debutant, it was a tidy enough first showing from Shkodran Mustafi. The partnership with Koscielny will take time to develop, but that didn’t stop Mustafi winning some good tackles and getting stuck into his first Premier League game for the Gunners.
The centre of midfield continues to offer the most intrigue of any for Arsenal in terms of selection. Granit Xhaka played well at Watford but missed out on Saturday, although he will surely return for the Champions a League trip to Paris on Tuesday. Francis Coquelin was given a chance alongside Santi Cazorla, and while the two couldn’t get a hold on the game in the early stages, he grew into he game and helped inject some energy into the team with some typically combative midfield play. He doesn’t offer the control of Xhaka, but remains an excellent player to have in the squad.
It wasn’t a great performances on Saturday, but it was by no means a dreadful one. Albeit the wins came either side of the international break, but Arsenal have back-to-back wins, a full squad and it finally feels like the season has properly started. There’s also a harder, more determined edge to the team that saw them through to a big victory despite still trying to find their best form.