Top of the Table, For a Change!
FC Basel 1-4 Arsenal
Despite the fact that PSG looked like overwhelming favorites to finish on top of the group following their draw at the Emirates a fortnight ago, there was still a slight chance for the Gunners finishing as group winners, so Arsene Wenger had to select a squad capable of getting a favorable result in Basel. The hosts had the Gunners on their sights, as they had secured some famous results against English opposition with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea losing on their sacred St. Jacob-Park.
Wenger’s team selection was very interesting with Rob Holding starting ahead of Shkodran Mustafi in the heart of the defense, partnering captain Laurent Koscielny for the first time since that 0-0 draw against Leicester in August. Kieran Gibbs got a rare start at left back while Gabriel Paulista continued to deputize in Hector Bellerin’s absence. Aaron Ramsey returned to his favored central midfield position alongside hometown hero, Granit Xhaka. In attack, Alex Iwobi returned to the side and Lucas Perez played as an inside forward from the right flank. Riyad Mahrez-esque.
Early on, Gibbs reached the byline and drilled a ball that was anticipated by Lucas. With the keeper left for dead and a defender in more or less a hapless position, Lucas had the time in the world to pick his spot and planted the ball into the net to give his team the lead. For a player that has been on the periphery in his Arsenal career, that was definitely a confidence booster. Things got even better when some brilliant team passing play saw Mesut Ozil decimate the defense with a through ball that got Gibbs on clean on goal. The fullback blasted a shot that was parried by Vaclik but Lucas was on hand to blast in the rebound. Two became three for the Spaniard when he latched onto another good pass before finishing with his right foot.
That was another hat-trick in the space of two days. Despite not getting on the score sheet this time, Alexis Sanchez unleashed his creative side, providing delightful passes on the go, which included a pass to Ozil that was fed to Alex Iwobi on a platter for Arsenal’s fourth. The young Nigerian hadn’t gotten any joy in front of goal recently, so you could see the monkey go off his back with that strike. News from Paris made the night even better as Ludogorets Razgard led twice in Paris, which ultimately meant that Arsenal was going to finish ahead of the French champions if the scoreline remained intact.
An error from Rob Holding allowed Seydou Doumbia to score what proved to be a consolation goal and PSG’s late equalizer brought some nerves but in the end, the French side earned themselves a second place finish with a home draw, while the Gunners won their Champions League group for the first time in five years. Let’s just hope we get a favorable draw this time but the performance was wonderful to say the least. David Ospina didn’t have much to do all game long, but he made some good saves and had a better aerial performance. One of his shortcomings as a goalie has been his ability in the air but he made several claims and dominated his box. Gibbs is another player worthy of a mention following a virtuoso performance last night. He has accepted his fate as Nacho Monreal’s deputy but to come on and put up that show was commendable.
Then there’s the hat-trick hero, Lucas Perez. Arsene Wenger had some nice words for him in his post-match press conference but I was particularly happy for the player because he has become a somewhat frustrated character at the club. Yes, he has been a journeyman for the most part of his career and when he joined the club, he expected to feature a whole lot more, but he had been reduced to meager cup appearances and a couple of cameos here and there. His injury in the EFL Cup didn’t help his cause as well, but scoring a hat-trick has given his manager something to think about which makes things very interesting.
Most of all, I am very delighted with the depth of the squad this season. In goal, Wenger can comfortably select Petr Cech, Ospina or even young Emi Martinez. Rob Holding has shown maturity beyond his years and Mustafi has already blended well into the team. We still have the injured captain, Per Mertesacker and Gabriel Paulista that can put in a great shift, and despite the injury crisis at right back, Gabriel has been doing a swell job to hold the fort, pending Bellerin or Matt Debuchy’s return to the side. You can say the same for midfield and attack.
The good times are back people, there’s the issue of Stoke City to deal with.
More on that in the coming days.
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