Date: 21st September 2014 at 12:42am
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This looked a tricky fixture against an unbeaten team that had won 3 of their first four games conceding just one goal. Their counter attacking strategy seemed destined to trouble what is perceived as a lack of mobility and pace in defensive areas. In the event it was eventually a bit of a stroll. Not without some early awkward moments of course. It wouldn’t be Arsenal if we didn’t offer some encouragement and as often before that of our own making. A poor Szczesny clearance gave Delph a chance and some lax defending from Gibbs allowed Clark a free header but those lapses apart we were controlling the game.

You will read and hear some claims that this greater control was brought about as a result of playing Ozil in his proper position. In fact he was just playing the free role he is usually asked to play. Look at a heat map of his performance against Villa and the position of his passing and most were from wide areas and in particular the left flank. What was different about this game is the players around him. Cazorla’s movement and control of the ball is far more in tune with Ozil than Sanchez’s has been so far. Chamberlain offering a little more width and Ramsey breaking from slightly deeper positions leaves more room for Ozil and Cazorla and the mobile and technically sound Welbeck to use the central areas as opportunities are created.

In short we controlled this game because we controlled the ball. With a 92% pass completion rate Ozil barely wasted a ball but even that was surpassed by Welbeck’s 97%. That’s a more surprising statistic for a forward than the 97% achieved by Arteta as forwards are usually playing in much tighter spaces with fewer passing options. When you consider that Sanchez has struggled at times this season to reach 70% it’s clear that we were better in this game because we were better with the ball. Even Ramsey who has seemed a bit wayward at times this season got 85% of his passes where he wanted them to go. Counter attacking teams find it much harder to counter attack if you don’t give them the ball. Villa were starved of that opportunity.

It’s difficult to judge the defence in a game in which we had two thirds of the possession but the back four did well. Mertesacker and Koscielny are as strong a pairing as we’ve had for some time but Calum Chambers, while perhaps not offering a great deal going forward, won all his aerial challenges, most of his tackles and made a number of good interceptions, clearances and blocks. He almost blotted that record by risking a second booking with a foolish foul deep in the attacking half of the pitch which should have seen him leave the field but for some lenient refereeing. As he’s destined to be our right back for a while that was perhaps a youthful foolishness that he should learn to eliminate quickly.

The goals were well crafted attacking moves with an excellent first time ball from Ox to Welbeck who had the vision in spotting Ozil’s run behind the Villa defense to play him in allowing Mesut to slot the ball perfectly past Guzan. A minute later and it was Ramsey finding a good ball to Ozil sprinting down the left wing who watched Welbeck’s run into the box before teeing our new forward up to open his account for the club. The third goal was perhaps more fortuitous but whatever Gibbs intention when he fired a ball into the box if Cissokho hadn’t deflected it into his own net then Ox most probably would have done.

Taking a 3-0 lead into half time allowed us the luxury of taking the second half a little easy encouraged by a Villa team who seemed to have decided they were beaten and couldn’t find the energy to make a contest of it. Halfway through the half and we were allowed the luxury of giving Ramsey, Welbeck and Ox a break. That brought the all too rare sight of pass masters and ball control magicians Ozil, Cazorla and Rosicky onto the pitch at the same time and between them they threatened, albeit unsuccessfully, to create a fourth. Alexis looks a wonderfully exciting player with great skills and work rate. If he can get with the importance of ball retention to our game he can play a significant role in what could be some exciting times for the club.