MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-1 Leicester City

Arsenal have made it ten wins on the spin with a 3-1 victory at home to Leicester City for the Premier League, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang jumped off the bench to bag a brace and push his team back into the top four.

The North Londoners started on the back foot, with Leicester taking the lead through Héctor Bellerín’s own goal before Mesut Özil could claw back an equaliser just before half-time.

Aubameyang was then unleashed on the Foxes in the second period, crowning two wonderfully-crafted moves with a couple of goals to seal a 3-1 win.

In Arsenal’s return to Premier League action, Unai Emery opted against fielding the club’s record signing Aubameyang, as Alexandre Lacazette led the attack with Alex Iwobi and Henrikh Mkhitaryan flanking.

Leicester’s Kelechi Iheanacho claimed the first two opportunities within the first five minutes of the game, calling Bernd Leno into action on his second attempt at goal with a curling effort.

With Arsenal struggling to settle, the Foxes had another go at Leno’s goal, as the German positioned himself well to deny Harry Maguire’s back-post header in the 19th minute.

Claude Puel’s men required a slice of luck to eventually break the deadlock on the half-hour mark, with Héctor Bellerín’s block from Ben Chilwell’s cross betraying Leno and trickling into the back of the net.

Arsenal replied moments later through Granit Xhaka’s free-kick, but Kasper Schmeichel kept his focus to tip the Swiss international’s effort over for a corner.

The Gunners continued to raise the bar towards the end of the first period, with Özil rewarding his team with a cool first-time finish from Bellerín’s cross to level the game on the brink of half-time.

Picking up where they left off, Mkhitaryan neared Arsenal’s second in the 50th minute with an acrobatic effort floating wide, as Emery’s side began to pile on the pressure.

Wilfred Ndidi threatened to pull the score back the other way with a header crashing against the bar on the hour mark, but, with Aubameyang already on the pitch, Arsenal were able to ease the mood a little when Özil placed Bellerín in a prime position to cut back, gifting the ex-Borussia Dortmund man with an assist for an easy finish.

The Gunners bettered their previous effort just three minutes later to go 3-1 up, as Özil latched onto Lacazette’s weighted pass into the box to feed Aubameyang for another casual tap-in in the 66th minute.

Lacazette scuppered his chance to get his name on the scoresheet in 78th minute, having gotten on the end of Özil’s cut-back with the goal at his mercy, but the Frenchman instead found a way to place the ball within Schmeichel’s grasp.

The ex-Olympique Lyonnaise striker added to his frustrating night with a shot over the bar from Iwobi’s pick-out in the 83rd minute, as the Gunners cruised through the latter stages of the affair.

Arsenal wouldn’t need a fourth, however, with the game at the Emirates Stadium concluding itself at 3-1.

By Patrick Ribeiro (@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Bernd Leno (8) – Héctor Bellerín (8), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Rob Holding (6), Stephan Lichtsteiner (5) – Lucas Torreira (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Henrikh Mkhitaryan (5), Mesut Özil (9), Alex Iwobi (7) – Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (7), Matteo Guendouzi (6), Aaron Ramsey (-)

MATCH REPORT: Östersunds FK 0-3 Arsenal

Arsenal were able to rise to the occasion, as well as the weather, to defeat Östersunds FK 3-0 away from home in the first leg of their Last 32 Europa League encounter, this evening.

Nacho Monreal’s opener and a Sotirios Papagiannopoulos own goal facilitated the Gunners’ night in Sweden, with Mesut Özil later adding a third in the second half.

Östersund were then gifted a glimmer of hope with an 11th hour penalty, but David Ospina stood strong to deny the hosts from 12 yards and secure a clean sheet.

In the absence of the injured Alexandre Lacazette, Danny Welbeck was the man elected to lead the line for Arsenal, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Calum Chambers also picking up starts in an otherwise full-strength side.

As has become a bit of a habit of late, Monreal placed Arsenal in front in the 13th minute by reacting first to Alex Iwobi’s shot and turning in the rebound.

The Gunners continued take advantage of their retreated opponents, pegging back the Östersund backline before going 2-0 up via a Sotirios Papagiannopoulos own goal, deflecting in from Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s driven cross.

After a disappointing start for the hosts, Graham Potter’s side began to mount a reply to Arsenal’s dominance, with Alhaji Gero bringing Ospina into action with a powerful strike heading for the centre of the goal.

More gaps appeared in the Swedes’ defence on the break, but the North Londoners would settle for the couple of goals already obtained on their way to the interval.

With comfort setting in for Arsenal in the second period, Mesut Özil was still able to add a third to the account, as he squeezed a shot under the goalkeeper just before the hour mark.

Arsène Wenger’s men wouldn’t be able to keep their concentration levels up right up until the final whistle, as Héctor Bellerín caught himself wrong-side of Tesfaldet Tekie before bringing him down inside the box, giving Östersunds the chance to pull a solitary goal back.

It wasn’t to be, however, as Ospina, on his big day as Arsenal captain, second-guessed Tom Pettersson’s intentions from the spot to save the penalty in the 91st minute and clinch a 3-0 win.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

David Ospina (7) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Shkodran Mustafi (6), Calum Chambers (6), Nacho Monreal (7) – Mohamed Elneny (6), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6) – Alex Iwobi (6), Mesut Özil (7), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (6) – Danny Welbeck (5)

Subs: Sead Kolasinac (6), Reiss Nelson (-), Eddie Nketiah (-)

How Will Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang fit into Arsenal’s Starting XI?

It took some time, but Arsenal have finally completed the signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Borussia Dortmund for a club record £56 million fee. The 28-year-old joins the Gunners with a reputation as one of the deadliest forwards in Europe, having scored a whopping 141 goals in all competitions for Dortmund since signing in 2013. Aubameyang’s goalscoring prowess and bonafide star status makes him an ideal replacement for Alexis Sanchez, who joined Manchester United last week in a swap deal that saw Henrikh Mkhitaryan sign for Arsenal.

In replacing his most productive player with two attackers that previously combined for 56 goal contributions in a single league season (see Borussia Dortmund 2015-16), Arsene Wenger has come out of a sticky situation with some credit. Now, Le Professeur must figure out how to fit his two shiny new signings into a lineup that already contains Mesut Özil and previous club record signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Here are a few different tactical setups Wenger might go for as he aims to please his star players and maximize Arsenal’s attacking output.

 

4 – 2 – 2 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

A formation that is as exciting as it is unlikely for Wenger to try, the 4-2-2-2 would see Arsenal essentially field a front four of their attacking talent. Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Özil take up free roles on either wing, cutting inside to combine with the two forwards while the wing-backs overlap to provide width.

Although he hasn’t been as prolific as fans anticipated, Alexandre Lacazette has proven that he is more than just a poacher, showing excellent holdup play and ability to keep the ball in tight areas around the box. The Frenchman plays slightly behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who thrives as the team’s target man and would benefit from another forward to keep defenders occupied.

The overwhelming amount of attacking impetus could potentially unbalance Arsenal’s shape, meaning the midfield pairing would need to be positionally disciplined and defensively aware. Mohammed Elneny may be Arsenal’s least exciting midfielder, but he could be the key to this formation succeeding. The Egyptian international excelled in a defensive midfield role in Arsenal’s Carabao Cup semifinal win over Chelsea, and would take up the same responsibilities in a 4-2-2-2. One of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, or Granit Xhaka would partner him in the middle of the park to keep things ticking and link midfield to attack. If the Gunners are particularly struggling to retain possession in midfield, Mesut Özil could tuck in from the right side to work some of his German magic.

While the 4-2-2-2 may appear to be top-heavy on paper, it could get the most out of Arsenal’s attackers if executed properly. Arsene Wenger is unlikely to revert to what is essentially a modified 4-4-2, but his recent tactical versatility could mean we’re in for a surprise.

 

4 – 3 – 3

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

Arsene Wenger might not have to switch from his beloved 4-3-3 to fit his two new signings into the starting lineup.

Again, Mkhitaryan plays on the left wing, the position Thomas Tuchel used him in during his remarkable 2015-16 campaign with Dortmund. The Armenian notched up 21 goals and 26 assists in all competitions that season, and Wenger will hope he can regain that form by playing in his favored position in a team that suits his playing style.

There is one notable difference between this setup and a classic 4-3-3, and that’s the right wing position. Here, Aubameyang will be less of a traditional right winger and more of a right-sided shadow striker, making runs off of Lacazette and drifting into dangerous positions. As he will provide little support for Hector Bellerin on the right flank, Mohammed Elneny (or the equally mobile Ainsley Maitland-Niles) is again key as he will be tasked with protecting the right-back.

In theory, this formation could work, but playing your new record-signing striker on the wing—albeit not in a traditional winger’s role—could definitely be an issue. That said, it wouldn’t be unlike Arsene Wenger to stick to his system and ask players to adjust their positions to suit it—watch this space.

 

3 – 5 – 2

Arsenal - Football tactics and formations

For the first time in basically forever, Arsene Wenger is showing a willingness to switch his formation on a match-by-match basis based on the opposition. At long last, Arsenal (sort of) does tactics!

Earlier this season Wenger tended to play a 3-4-3, especially when he thought his side needed extra defensive support which, in the case of Arsenal, is just about every match. Recently, however, he has opted for his trusty 4-3-3—but the need to accommodate two forwards could see a three-at-the-back formation used more regularly.

A 3-5-2, for example, would look similar to the previously used 3-4-3, but with an attacking midfielder playing behind two strikers rather than two attacking midfielders behind one striker. The prospect of Mesut Özil pinging through balls to Lacazette and Aubameyang is enough to make Arsenal fans quickly forget about that strange Chilean who loved his dogs a bit too much. Mkhitaryan, then, can take up a position in midfield where he’s able to combine with Özil and burst forward when the opportunity arises. He’ll have to be a bit more disciplined, though, as Wenger said he sees the 29-year-old as a potential “box-to-box player.”

Although the prospect of Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan, Lacazette, and Özil in the same lineup is truly tantalizing, Arsene Wenger faces a genuine challenge in fitting all four of them into a functional starting eleven. It’s a good headache to have, and if the Frenchman gets it right he may just have the scariest attack in the Premier League. In what’s turning out to be an increasingly grim season, things might be a little less depressing if the club is at least fun to watch. After all, isn’t that the whole point?

 

Follow me on Twitter @MattCelly

 

Should Arsenal Have Sold Alexis In The Summer?

10th July 2014, a day that the Arsenal fans were absolutely elated. Arsenal had signed Barcelona forward Alexis Sanchez to come and play at the Emirates Stadium. The potential partnership with Mesut Ozil was the stuff of dreams after the Gunners faithful had to suffer through years of Denilson and Chamakh expected to lead us to glory. But after two FA Cups and a Community Shield together, it seems the partnership is coming to an end as speculation has increased that Sanchez is on his way to Manchester City. After a long summer transfer saga where Arsenal failed to cut bait with the Chilean, should they have let him leave rather than hanging on to futile hope that he would sign a contract?

Over the course of the summer transfer window, Manchester City aggressively went after Alexis Sanchez offering Arsenal £60M in the process. Wenger remained dogged in his approach maintaining that Alexis will be at Arsenal come the end of his contract. After having suffered through years of seeing his best players sold after entering the final two years of their contract, it’s criminal to think that Wenger would allow it to happen again. Yet here he was, grovelling at the feet of players, attempting to accommodate them into the team thereby stroking their egos and inflating their thoughts on how important they were.

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Jack Wilshere was reported to have had a bust-up with Sanchez over his attitude

It was clear for everyone to see that from the middle of last season up until now, Sanchez’s frustrations have been clear to see. He has upstaged his teammates on numerous occasions when he doesn’t get the ball, throwing multiple temper tantrums and grinding the gears of not only the fans, but reportedly the players aswell. Reports had surfaced that some of the players had grown tired of his antics on the pitch and were bothered by his poor attitude on the pitch. What we have discovered over the years is Wenger is very hesitant to change things unless blatantly obvious and this was another one of those occasions. Sanchez should have been moved to the bench and forced to show an attitude that was conducive to the success of the team but alas, it never happened.

However, to put my Wenger agenda aside and be somewhat sympathetic to the position that he was in, I highly doubt he saw these kinds of performances coming from Sanchez. After acquiring Alexandre Lacazette, the opportunity to partner him with Ozil and Sanchez was too great to resist and the hope that the trio could park some chemistry that could sway Sanchez to stay might have been the dream. But it’s clear that the Chilean has decided that Arsenal aren’t in his long-term plans and he seems determined to reignite his relationship with Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.

Image result for alexis sanchez

Sanchez has been a shell of the performer he was last season

Now, should Wenger have sold Sanchez in the summer based on his performances from this season, yes. But do I blame for holding on to Sanchez due to not having found a clear successor, no. I strongly believe that if the offer had come in earlier in the window, the Gunners would have been forced to sell and would have had ample time to find someone to come in. But due to the timing of the bid from City, the scramble was on and the Arsenal board couldn’t get it done.

But the bigger problem here is the fact that Wenger and the staff on the board allow numerous first-team players to enter the last year of their contracts before they start negotiating new deals. It screams of arrogance and negligence and puts the long-term success of the club at serious fault. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is madness and yet, this is the state of Arsenal Football Club at this particular moment.

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 3-3 Liverpool

Four second-half goals in six minutes saw Arsenal and Liverpool cook up a six-goal-thriller, as the immediate tussle for fourth place ended 3-3 at the Emirates Stadium.

Liverpool raced to a 2-0 lead on either side of half-time, but the Gunners were able to blitz three goals past the Reds to turn the game around early in the second period.

Arsène Wenger’s men wouldn’t resist at the back, however, as Roberto Firmino’s strike in the 71st minute locked both sides to a point each.

The big inclusion of the day saw Ainsley Maitland-Niles hold down a spot at left-back, setting up a clash against the red-hot Mohamed Salah.

Neither side managed to find it’s cutting edge in a competitive start to the game, with Liverpool sending the first and well overdue warning in the 23rd minute through Firmino’s back-post header, skipping past Petr Čech’s far post.

Arsenal looked to drag the troops back up the field but were left doing some heavy chasing two minutes later when Salah was played into the channels. A fortuitous cross from the Egyptian would unsettle the Arsenal defence and deflect itself into Philippe Coutinho’s path at the near-post, with the Brazilian glancing a header over Čech and breaking the deadlock.

The Reds could’ve landed a bitter blow to Arsenal’s hopes on the brink of half-time when Laurent Koscielny’s interception was sabotaged by a slip, allowing Salah through on goal prior to Čech’s important save and Sadio Mané’s acrobatic effort over on the rebound.

The interval was met with discontent from the home crowd, with the misery at the Emirates compiled further by an early Salah strike, deflecting away from Čech and into the bottom left corner to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead.

Arsenal grabbed a goal back promptly, as Alexis Sanchez caught Joe Gomez napping at the back post to nod a goal in from close range in the 53rd minute, halving the Merseyside outfit’s advantage.

Granit Xhaka was then able to raise the roof in a three-minute-salvo, measuring a powerful strike from range that would convey enough dip to throw Simon Mignolet off and nestle into the back of the net.

The Gunners grew to leave their opponents stunned in the 58th minute, as Mesut Özil worked his way into the area from Alexandre Lacazette’s backheel before knocking his finish into the ground expertly and taking his shot past Mignolet for 3-2.

More twists in this goal-infested tale saw Liverpool equalise in the 71st minute through Firmino’s strike, overcoming Čech’s attempted save and trickling agonisingly into the back of the net.

A chance each for Salah and Özil threatened to steal all-three points for either side, but 3-3 would be how the contest would end in a true Christmas cracker.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Starting XI: Petr Čech (6) – Héctor Bellerín (5), Laurent Koscielny (5), Nacho Monreal (4), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6) – Jack Wilshere (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Alex Iwobi (5), Mesut Özil (8), Alexis Sanchez (5) – Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Welbeck (5), Walcott (-)

MATCH REPORT: Arsenal 1-0 Newcastle United

Arsenal have landed their first Premier League win of the month with a 1-0 victory over Newcastle United at the Emirates Stadium this afternoon, taking the North London outfit back above high-flying Burnley in the league table.

The Gunners required just the one goal from Mesut Özil, notched in the 23rd minute of the first half, with the hosts managing to hold on to their slender advantage throughout.

Arsenal made minimal changes to the side that drew to West Ham United in midweek, opting instead for Alexandre Lacazette over Olivier Giroud in attack.

The adapted Ainsley Maitland-Niles, from full-back, picked up the first effort on goal after a nippy interception infield allowed him to progress into the final third and fire a shot low at Rob Elliot’s goal, as the ball found the side-netting with danger after quarter-of-an-hour played.

Arsène Wenger’s men wouldn’t need to probe much more, with Mesut Özil picking out the top corner with a well-hit first-time-volley after the Newcastle defence were unable to clear their lines, giving Arsenal a 1-0 lead in the 23rd minute.

Alexis Sanchez came close to taking Arsenal a step closer to comfort with a fierce strike on the brink of half-time, skipping by Elliot’s post before the interval could come.

Control remained with the hosts into the second-half, but there was still a threat to be guarded against coming from Newcastle’s end, as Jacob Murphy forced a save from Petr Čech with a speculative effort.

In the 58th minute, Lacazette had the chance to double Arsenal’s advantage from Alex Iwobi’s through ball, with the wait for the game’s next goal increasing after the Frenchman’s over-hit chip.

The Gunners turned to Giroud to vary the play and it was off the target man’s head that Arsenal came close once more, as a nod into the path of Jack Wilshere prompted Elliot into a quick save from the midfielder’s follow-up deep inside the Newcastle area.

Joselu’s attempt at goal in the 80th minute demonstrated just how important a second goal would be, as the Spaniard’s strike, deflecting goalwards from Granit Xhaka’s block, spun just past the post and out for a corner.

Arsenal wouldn’t reach a second goal, but joy would also evade Newcastle’s grasp, as the Gunners marked their return to winning ways in the Premier League.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Starting XI: Petr Čech (6) – Héctor Bellerín (5), Laurent Koscielny (6), Nacho Monreal (6), Ainsley Maitland-Niles (6) – Jack Wilshere (7), Granit Xhaka (6) – Alex Iwobi (5), Mesut Özil (7), Alexis Sanchez (6) – Alexandre Lacazette (6)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (-), Olivier Giroud (-)

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR

Arsenal have claimed the first North London Derby triumph of the Premier League season, defeating Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 in a well-contested afternoon of football at the Emirates Stadium.

With the visitors coming into the game as favourites, a goal apiece for Skhodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez ensured somewhat of an upset, with Arsenal also picking up their first win in the month November.

The Gunners commenced the main event with a strong XI, complete with the return of Mustafi at the heart of the defence and the likes of Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette in attack.

In a lively start to proceedings, both centre forwards at either end received early sightings of goal within the first six minutes, with Lacazette firing high before Petr Čech was able to smother Harry Kane’s reply.

Lacazette neared his first derby goal in the 19th minute when Mesut Özil spotted Héctor Bellerín’s darting run to set up a daisy-cutter across goal, with Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez doing just enough to keep the French striker away from the ball’s path.

For all the pressure mounted by Arsenal, it was Spurs who’d pick up the next couple of moments in the game, as Christian Eriksen looked to force his team ahead with a shot clipping the outside of Čech’s post prior to Kane’s header in 33rd minute that was well-caught by the Czech Republican.

The hosts replied and would open Spurs up via a set-piece, as Mustafi marked his return to the starting XI with a looping header into the far-post in the 36th minute, giving Arsenal a 1-0 lead.

Arsène Wenger’s men made their momentum count, with Lacazette hanging on the last man before hitting the byline and a cross into Sanchez, who’d eventually compose himself and smash the ball into the roof of the net to double the Gunners’ lead in the 41st minute.

Arsenal readied themselves for a Tottenham response in the second period and dealt with the threat coming from the away end, with a more combative iteration of the Lilywhites muted throughout large portions of the second half.

A pair of sightings of goal came Sanchez’s way in a bid to put the game to bed, the last of which emerging in the 74th minute deep inside the Tottenham area before the Chilean could run out of space to angle a shot past Hugo Lloris.

Čech had to be on his toes to deny Dier’s header from the back-post in the 82nd minute, as both sides geared themselves for the final exchanges.

A renewed Spurs attack consisting of Son Heung-Min and Fernando Llorente linked up for the former to fire at goal, but the South Korean, much like the rest of his team, would have no luck in finding the back of net en route to a 2-0 victory for Arsenal at full-time.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings:

Petr Čech (7) – Laurent Koscielny (8), Shkodran Mustafi (8), Nacho Monreal (8) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Aaron Ramsey (8), Granit Xhaka (7),Sead Kolašinac (7) – Mesut Özil (9), Alexandre Lacazette (7), Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Francis Coquelin (6), Alex Iwobi (N/A)

MATCH REPORT: EVERTON 2-5 ARSENAL

Arsenal have returned to winning ways in the Premier League with a comprehensive 5-2 victory away to Everton at Goodison Park, this afternoon.

The Gunners had to come back from a goal down to defeat Ronald Koeman’s outfit, as Wayne Rooney’s strike within the first quarter of an hour promised to complicate their day.

Nacho Monreal would equalise for Arsenal going into half-time, whereas goals from Mesut Özil, Alexandre Lacazette and Aaron Ramsey in the second half tipped the scales in the Londoners’ favour prior to Oumar Niasse’s consolation goal.

Alexis Sanchez landed Everton their final blow to move his side back up to fifth place in the league table, with the hosts now languishing in 18th.

Arsène Wenger reserved no marquee player for the encounter versus the Toffees, as both Sanchez and Özil returned the starting line-up to join Lacazette in Arsenal’s front three.

The Gunners demonstrated their new-found fluidity early, as Özil slipped a pass in through for Aaron Ramsey to take aim towards the far post from inside the area, forcing Jordan Pickford into action in the 3rd minute with a fingertip save.

Pickford was required soon after following Özil’s cutback and Lacazette’s calculated turn inside the six-yard-box, as the Frenchman looked to fire away on his left foot before seeing his effort blocked on the spot by the oncoming English goalkeeper in the 9th minute.

The mood would soon change at the Goodison, however, as Granit Xhaka succumbed to Idrissa Gueye’s strong tackle on the edge of his own box, gifting Wayne Rooney the time and space to pick his spot with a curling effort and place Everton ahead against the run of play.

Arsenal’s response came as late as the 40th minute, with Pickford parrying Xhaka’s combed effort right into Nacho Monreal’s traps and failing to keep out the Spaniard’s first-time hit to equalise the score.

Pickford was quick to cut out another close-range effort following Özil’s knock into Sanchez’s path in the 43rd minute, as the visitors recaptured their groove going into the half-time interval.

With Everton adding an extra body in midfield at the expense of their third centre back, Özil was able to find a gap between the remaining two defenders to head the Gunners into the lead in the 53rd minute, courtesy of Sanchez’s looping cross into the box.

Ramsey had all the time in the world to add a third to Arsenal’s accounts just two minutes later, as good work from Laurent Koscielny on the right flank set the Welshman up on the edge of the box before the midfielder could raise his effort over the bar with a first-time shot.

The problems began the mount for the hosts when the already yellow-carded Gueye lunged in late on Xhaka in the 69th minute, subsequently earning himself a second booking and leaving the Toffees reduced to 10 men.

Sanchez was quick to spot Özil’s run once again with a blind pass, this time with the German playmaker roaming wide to form a three versus one on the counter and set Lacazette for Arsenal’s third, with the former Olympique Lyonnais striker casually side-footing his finish past Pickford in the 73rd minute.

The North Londoners neared their fourth goal through Sanchez’s near-post header that would thrash into the side-netting in the 82nd minute, with Xhaka going one better to rattle the crossbar soon after with a speculative effort from range.

Goal number four would eventually come, courtesy of Jack Wilshere’s threaded pass into Ramsey’s path, who was smart enough to wait for Pickford’s guesswork before picking his spot at the near post in the 90th minute.

The goals wouldn’t end there, as Oumar Niasse took advantage of Monreal’s all-too-casual pass-back to Čech to tap in a consolation goal in stoppage time, but the day would belong to Arsenal, as Sanchez found the time to make it 5-2 at the other end with a solo effort and drive across goal before the final whistle.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings

Petr Čech (6) – Laurent Koscielny (7), Per Mertesacker (5), Nacho Monreal (8) – Héctor Bellerín (6), Granit Xhaka (6), Aaron Ramsey (7), Sead Kolasinac (5) – Mesut Özil (9), Alexis Sanchez (8) – Alexandre Lacazette (7)

Subs: Jack Wilshere (6), Francis Coquelin (5)

MATCH REPORT: WATFORD 2-1 ARSENAL

Arsenal missed their chance to move into the top four of the Premier League for the first time this season, as Watford took all three points in a controversial 2-1 victory at Vicarage Road, this evening.

Following Chelsea’s shock 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, there was the chance for either of the two outfits from the North London area to leapfrog the Blues and close in on third place.

Per Mertesacker gave Arsenal the lead with a well-taken header in the first-half, but Arsenal’s work was then undone by a non-existent penalty on Richarlison, as Troy Deeney equalised from the spot before Tom Cleverley’s late winner.

The Gunners took to the field without a handful of its main creative outlets, as Arsène Wenger left the recently-recovered Mesut Özil on the bench in the wake of Alexis Sanchez’s and Aaron Ramsey’s absence.

Shkodran Mustafi’s injury also created space for Mertesacker to slot in at the heart of Arsenal’s defence, as the German veteran picked up his first Premier League start in 18 months.

In a cagey start to the affair, it was Watford who created the first bit of genuine danger in the 18th minute through Abdoulaye Doucouré’s cross, rounding Héctor Bellerín before fizzing a ball into Roberto Pereyra to glance his instinctive header wide.

Fresh from World Cup qualification with Egypt, Mohamed Elneny tried his luck from range in a period where Arsenal began to show personal struggles in breaking the Hornets down, with the midfielder firing the ball just over Heurelho Gomes’ bar in the 29th minute.

The North Londoners would find their source for goals from a Granit Xhaka set-piece, attacked by Mertesacker and headed past Gomes in the 38th minute to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.

Arsenal’s one-goal-advantage could have soon been doubled on the brink of half-time, as Danny Welbeck picked out Bellerín inside the box before the Spaniard’s left-footed swing at the ball drifted wide.

With a goal between the two sides going into the second period, Watford came out looking for their response, as Richarlison sought an opening to bend a shot wide of Petr Čech’s far-post in the 51st minute.

Through Welbeck’s injury, Özil was given an early introduction into the game and imposed himself with immediate effect when slipping Alex Iwobi through on goal, who was later denied by Gomes with a crucial save from a side-footed effort into the far-corner in the 63rd minute.

Iwobi returned the favour with a pass that left Özil one-on-one with Gomes in the 70th minute, beating the offside trap before Brazilian shot-stopper could again keep Arsenal out, whereas the loudest roar would come at the other end where Neil Swarbrick had gifted Watford an avenue back into the game with a generous penalty, as Richarlison went to ground easily.

Second-half substitute Troy Deeney was the man elected to take the penalty, making no mistake from 12 yards and levelling the game moments later.

Another of Watford’s changes, Etienne Capoue, edged the hosts closer to all three points, as his shot from the edge of the box took a heavy deflection off Mertesacker’s chest to hit the opposing post in the 83rd minute.

The Gunners wouldn’t resist Watford’s ascendancy, however, as Mertesacker, with Čech floored, moved in to bail Arsenal out with a crucial block from Capoue’s shot before Tom Cleverley could sweep up and blast the 92nd minute winner into the back of the net.

Arsenal’s third league defeat of the season sees them drop down into sixth place.

By Patrick Ribeiro

(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings
Petr Čech (6) – Laurent Koscielny (6), Per Mertesacker (7), Nacho Monreal (6) – Héctor Bellerín (7), Mohamed Elneny (5), Granit Xhaka (6), Sead Kolasinac (6) – Alex Iwobi (6), Alexandre Lacazette (6), Danny Welbeck (5)

Subs: Mesut Özil (6), Olivier Giroud (5), Rob Holding (N/A)

MATCH REPORT: ARSENAL 2-0 SUNDERLAND

Arsenal have ensured the race for a top four finish will run until the final day of the season after claiming a 2-0 victory over relegated Sunderland at the Emirates Stadium.

The Gunners are back to being within a point of 4th placed Liverpool, courtesy of a brace from Alexis Sanchez, meanwhile also being three points behind 3rd placed Manchester City before this weekend’s fixture.

Nothing but a win would suffice beforehand for the North Londoners, who started right on cue through an Alexis shot that had found its way past Jordan Pickford in the 8th minute, but the early goal would soon be chalked off following a deflection from Olivier Giroud’s arm.

Giroud then found himself in half a yard of space inside the box moments later before the on-rushing Pickford did just enough to deter the Frenchman’s shot from finding the back of the net.

The ex-Montpellier striker was left claiming a penalty in the 22nd minute when a firm grapple from Lamine Koné inside the box impeded him from reaching Mesut Özil’s cross, with the referee ignoring such calls for an Arsenal spot-kick.

A measured pass from Didier N’Dong led Jermain Defoe into the channels, with the Englishman afforded enough time to fire a low shot at goal on his weaker foot before being denied by Petr Cech in the 38th minute.

Héctor Bellerín then teared away through the right flank with danger in the 43rd minute following a threaded pass by Özil, but the Spaniard could only find the side-netting when opting to surprise the keeper with a shot from a tight angle.

Özil was at the heart of it all again with a lofted cut-back for Aaron Ramsey to volley at goal, forcing a save out of Pickford.

The Gunners would go close once more from the subsequent corner, but Rob Holding could get little behind his free header that fell directly into the goalkeeper’s grasp.

Arsenal returned to the second half with a fright, as Nacho Monreal’s loose pass to back to Cech caused the goalkeeper to guide the ball out with an outstretched hand and concede an indirect free-kick inside the box, later dealt with by Granit Xhaka’s headed clearance.

Giroud neared Arsenal’s anticipated opener with a glancing header from Rob Holding’s cross, but the striker’s effort would go on to skip past the far post in the 65th minute.

Alexis was next in line to find himself in a heading position, getting his execution all wrong, but Danny Welbeck would offer Pickford a sterner test with a low drive from the edge of the box, forcing the keeper to parry the effort wide.

Through a searching pass from Granit Xhaka, Arsenal would finally manage to pick-lock Sunderland’s deep-block defence, as a deft touch from Özil from the left set Alexis for an easy tap in.

A couple of efforts from Xhaka and Alex Iwobi set the Gunners closer to a second, but it was Alexis who delivered again when required in the 81st minute. A deep cross from Shkodran Mustafi was hooked out of the air brilliantly by Giroud and into Alexis’ path, leaving the Chilean to finish from close range and double Arsenal’s lead.

Mustafi was unlucky not to have claimed Arsenal’s third of the night, seeing his headed effort tipped onto the bar by the ever-impressive Pickford in the 85th minute before the referee’s final whistle concluded a 2-0 victory for Arsène Wenger’s men.

By Patrick Ribeiro
(@P_SRibeiro)

Player Ratings: Petr Čech (7); Rob Holding (7), Shkodran Mustafi (7), Nacho Monreal (5); Héctor Bellerín (6), Aaron Ramsey (6), Granit Xhaka (7), Kieran Gibbs (4); Mesut Özil (8), Olivier Giroud (6), Alexis Sanchez (7)

Subs: Danny Welbeck (6), Alex Iwobi (6), Theo Walcott (5)