A brilliant performance from Iwobi helped Arsenal earn a third straight victory in the Premier League to go level on points with Chelsea and Liverpool. The Nigeria international was involved in the first two goals as the Gunners routed ten-man Hull 4-1 on Saturday.
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Wenger made two changes to the side that drew 1-1 with Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday with Cech and Walcott replacing Ospina and Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting lineup. Arsenal got off to a better start than against Southampton the previous weekend. Jakupovic palmed Walcott’s cross into the path of Iwobi, whose first-time effort took a deflection off Sanchez to beat the Hull goalkeeper in the 17th minute. Sanchez was credited for the opening goal but I don’t think his touch was intentional as he seemed to get out of the way. The Gunners doubled the lead in the 55th when Iwobi played Walcott in with a backheel flick. Clean through on goal, the England international deftly chipped Jakupovic.
It’s no surprise to see Iwobi get the nod over the Ox, who is technically gifted but whose end product can be poor. Iwobi reads the game well and often came inside to play as a second striker against the Tigers. He finished the match with 3 key passes, more than any other player. Iwobi could have scored in the 27th when he met a low cross from Bellerin, but Jakupovic saved his low strike. The Nigeria international also had a goal attempt blocked in the 43rd.
Last season, I compared Iwobi to Bergkamp and Anelka. When he plays in midfield, Iwobi can both deliver the final ball and be a goal threat like Bergkamp. And when he plays as a forward, Iwobi is similar to Anelka with his pace, penetration and dribbling skills. That’s why the manager did not hesitate to loan out Wilshere. He felt Iwobi could rise to the occasion.
A mixed bag for Sanchez
Of course, the challenge for Iwobi this season is to be more consistent in his performances. He has cut his turnover rate against Hull but he still needs to improve his defensive awareness. Iwobi was outpaced by Elmohamady in the 34th, forcing Cazorla to foul the Hull rightback and receive a yellow card. Iwobi also failed to close down Elmohamady in the 68th, but no Tiger could connect with Elmohamady’s cross.
Sanchez officially scored two goals but his performance was a mixed bag. He failed to convert a penalty that would have given Arsenal a 2-0 lead in the 41st. Cazorla is the manager’s top choice for penalty takers, so I don’t really understand why Sanchez took that spot kick. Jakupovic made the save but Sanchez’s penalty was a tame effort. Sanchez then collected a through ball from Ozil in the 71st but lost possession after Elmohamady outmuscled him. The Chile forward has more pace than Giroud but he clearly lacks his physicality.
On the bright side, Sanchez had 4 of 5 shots on target and displayed more hunger than his teammates in pressing high up the pitch. He intercepted Robertson’s back pass in the 18th to fire a shot that was blocked by the Hull defense. After the Tigers cut Arsenal’s lead in the second half, Sanchez put the game to sleep in the 83rd. He fed Walcott, who was denied by Jakupovic. The rebound fell to Sanchez, who stepped past Maguire to slam the ball into the roof of the net.
Sanchez and Walcott don’t really have the attributes to play in the centerforward position. Wenger finally came to that conclusion with Walcott this summer. Back on the right wing, Walcott has showed more end product than the Ox. He made the cross that led to the opening goal as well as the one that led to the penalty in the 41st. Coquelin connected with an offering from Walcott for a first-time effort that Livermore deliberately diverted with his hand. That intentional handball left the referee with no other choice than a penalty and a red card. The Gunners could have also opened the scoring by the 13th when Walcott picked out Sanchez, who missed the target from 12 yards.
Walcott’s directness created problems for the Hull defense. But I thought his decision-making was poor quite a few times when he held on to the ball or tried to take on a defender instead of simply making a pass. Walcott was dispossessed five times, the most for any player according to whoscored.com. Although Walcott netted the second goal, I also thought he could have done better in the 24th when he met a cross from Ozil for a first-time effort straight at Jakupovic.
Maybe the biggest disappointment in Saturday’s match was the performance from the starting midfielders. Cazorla had 1 shot assist and found Walcott for the first two goals. But he was quite lucky not to receive a second yellow card for tripping Snodgrass in the 47th. Meanwhile, Ozil is still struggling to reach his level from last season. He had two key passes and missed the target twice. I thought Ozil should have caught the frame from 6 yards in the 27th when Jakupovic parried Iwobi’s low strike into his path. Coquelin did OK by winning 50% of his duels, making 4 interceptions and having a passing accuracy of 98%, according to the club’s website.
The main positive from the Hull game was arguably Xhaka’s first goal in the Premier League. The Switzerland international fired a missile into the top corner from 30 yards in stoppage time. He celebrated by putting his index finger over his mouth, implying that he had silenced his critics.
Xhaka has made only two starts so far although he cost Arsenal about 35 million pounds. Maybe Wenger didn’t like what he saw in the Leicester and Watford games and is trying to figure out a way to better integrate him in the team. I was surprised to hear that the manager prefers Xhaka in the role of a box-to-box player. Xhaka performs as a deep-lying playmaker for the Switzerland team and is very similar to Kroos in his style of play. Although he came off the bench in the 66th, Xhaka was still able to make 2 key passes.
Defense was a big question mark after the horror show in Paris. Mustafi got some stick for PSG’s opening goal in the Champions League but he bounced back with a relatively good performance against Hull. He had a passing accuracy of 96.4%, made 3 interceptions, and won 3 of 4 tackles and 85.7% of his duels, the most for any defender. The Germany international killed a counterattack in the eighth minute by dispossessing Hernandez. He then won the ball back after Diomande intercepted a sloppy pass from Coquelin in the 32nd.
Losing a foot race
Mustafi didn’t have a perfect game though. He poorly read the flight of the ball in the 21st, allowing Hernandez to bear down on goal. But Koscielny pushed away the Hull striker, who ended up shooting wide. The partnership between Koscielny and Mustafi is still a work in progress. Hernandez took advantage of a big gap between the two centerbacks to chase a long ball from Elmohamady in the 10th. However, Cech rescued his defenders by quickly rushing outside his area to clear the danger.
The Tigers only had two good chances on Saturday. Each time, it was the consequence of a mistake from an Arsenal midfielder. Coquelin gave Diomande plenty of space in the 36th by diving in. Diomande found Hernandez, who released Snodgrass down our left flank. Somehow, Snodgrass could only muster a low strike straight at Cech. Once Diomande skipped past Coquelin, the Arsenal defenders were left in a 3v4 situation. Mustafi had to keep an eye on Robertson because Walcott lost track of the Hull leftback. Cazorla was in a too advanced position and couldn’t challenge Diomande, which meant that Koscielny had to deal with Diomande while Monreal moved inside to mark Hernandez and leave Snodgrass free.
There’s no excuse for the second chance in the 78th because the Tigers were already down to 10 men. Meyler fed Mason, who made a low cross for Mbokani. Cech came off his line for an interception but was a split second late and brought down Mbokani, who beat him to the ball. The referee gave a yellow card to Cech, who made a genuine attempt to play the ball, and awarded Hull a penalty that Snodgrass converted by wrongfooting Cech. If Cech had made a cynical foul, it would have been a red card. On that play, Xhaka poorly tracked Mason, forcing Koscielny to cover him and leaving Mustafi in a 1v1 situation with Mbokani. The Hull substitute won the foot race against Mustafi and was also quicker than Cech.
The Gunners next face Nottingham Forest in the League Cup on Tuesday before hosting Chelsea in the Premier League on Saturday. I couldn’t care less about the League Cup. That competition is mostly an opportunity to rest our key players (Cech, Koscielny, Monreal, Cazorla, Ozil and Sanchez) while giving some playing time to youngsters (Holding, Reine-Adelaide, Akpom, Willock) and second-choice players (Debuchy, Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Xhaka, Elneny, Perez).
The match against Chelsea is much more important than that League Cup tie since the Blues are one of our main rivals for a Top 4 finish. A victory would help Arsenal build momentum while a draw would be a disappointing result but still acceptable. On the other hand, a loss would shape a negative narrative suggesting that the Gunners are not at the level of Liverpool and Chelsea this season.