Manchester United unconvincingly beat Watford to get to fourth. Chelsea and the linesman beat Cardiff by the skins of their teeth. Tottenham sunk themselves with an own goal. Finally, all eyes were on Monday Night Football, Arsenal vs Newcastle and the question on everyone’s lips: “Will the Gunners rise to the occasion?”
In a routine 2-0 victory, Arsenal displayed their growth under Unai Emery. They were on the front foot for most of the game and their usually leaky defence managed to keep a third consecutive clean sheet in all competitions for the first time since December 2017. The link-up play between the attacking quartet of Özil, Lacazette, Ramsey and Iwobi was scintillating. The one-touch play was vintage Arsenal, carving their way through Newcastle’s defence and leading to two of their goals. There probably should have been more, regardless, this win brought up some important talking points.
The man leaving and the one staying
Much of Arsenal’s season has been marked with questions over why Aaron Ramsey didn’t receive a contract extension. Ramsey’s displays this season are probably some of his finest in an Arsenal shirt. After a faulty start to the season, he seems the most determined player in the squad to ensure Arsenal secures a place in the top four and possibly win the Europa League. His latest showings against Manchester United and Newcastle reveal why he is a fan favourite and a valuable member of Emery’s top four quest.
On the other hand, since returning to the fold, Man of the match Mesut Özil has continued to impress. After making headlines for losing his place in the team and not being able to win over his manager, Özil has now started three consecutive matches for the first time this season. His commendable form has kept out the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and loanee Denis Suarez. His Newcastle performance was full of dummies, one touches and his constant finding and slipping into pockets of space – Özil AT HIS BEST.
What was most impressive was his defensive performance, which was far from the lethargic figure that has courted much debate, Özil made 11 ball recoveries. According to Opta, Özil was second only to Ramsey. Özil’s upswing in form has not only forced his way into the team but has earned him high praise from Unai Emery: “Mesut is playing like we want with the system and with how he is thinking tactically. He is working a lot and he is giving us his quality.” Emery’s words are a far cry from tactical reasons that almost had Özil leaving the Gunners.
Ramsey and Özil’s stories at Arsenal each reveal something unique about the club. In the case of Ramsey, it’s a possibly missed opportunity by Arsenal, to keep in its ranks a dedicated and competent member. Özil, meanwhile, reflects the change in mentality under Emery, that no one is guaranteed a place in the starting lineup.
What a top four finish would mean for Emery and Arsenal
A top four finish is vital for Arsenal to establish themselves as future title contenders.
To qualify for a Champions League place would lift the financial strain that Emery has faced in his first season, allowing him to get the type of players he wants to get in. Of course, the lure of playing in the Champions League would also help him in this cause. Most importantly, achieving a top four finish in his first season would build his case, to the board, that he is the Manager to make Arsenal title contenders once more. Having handed him a three year contract, with a clause to terminate after two years, shows that they don’t think he is the man for the job. But if Emery manages to get Arsenal playing Champions League football next season after the club has failed to qualify for the past two seasons, which would surely change the board’s perception and cement him as a fan favourite. Amongst the players, it would be easier to buy into the Emery philosophy and assert his control in the locker room.
There are seven more games to go and a lot could change between now and the last game of the season against Burnley. But as the world focuses on Sarriball failing dismally, Ole’s United picking up victories the ‘Manchester way’ and Tottenham trying to fight its way back into contention, Emery’s men are marching on towards a possible third place finish.