Arsene Wenger’s side managed to sweep aside Mark Hughes’ Stoke City with a comfortable 3-1 victory at the Emirates to keep the pressure up on league leaders Chelsea.
It was a less than convincing performance from the Gunners, but one marked with many positives such as the successful return of Hector Bellerin, Mesut Ozil’s good form and Theo Walcott’s 100th goal. The fact that they managed to get the numbers in their favour on the score-sheet despite not playing to their best is a mark of champions.
Shkodran On The Sidelines
The Gunners suffered a blow early in the first half, after the German suffered a hamstring injury in the 25th minute. Since arriving at the Emirates from Valencia in the summer, he has formed a formidable partnership with Laurent Koscielny in the middle of the Arsenal defence and the understanding between the two seems to be top notch. This hamstring injury is set to keep the 24-year-old out for the next three weeks, which means he will miss huge matches against Everton, next week’s clash against Manchester City, West Brom and maybe even their first match of the new year against Crystal Palace.
Gabriel Paulista, who has been filling in for Hector Bellerin in recent weeks at fullback and has impressed, is a candidate to partner Koscielny at center-back as is young Rob Holding. The 21-year-old Englishman, despite his inexperience, has thoroughly impressed this season, most recently against Basel in the Champions League. But neither of them are of the same level as Mustafi, and it will be interesting to be seen how Wenger copes with the German’s absence in the following weeks.
Arsenal’s equalizer against Stoke was the Englishman’s 100th goal for the club. Currently in his 12th season with the club, his growth, development and most importantly his influence at the club has been severely limited due to the amount of injuries he’s suffered throughout his career. In 18 appearances this term, he’s managed to score 10 goals and in doing so he has surpassed his tally of the last three seasons already. The 27-year-old was boosted by the return of Hector Bellerin on his flank and was a constant menace throughout the game. His work rate on the night was excellent and he has established himself as one of the main players of the Arsene Wenger’s starting XI and it is integral that Arsenal focus on keeping him injury free for the rest of this campaign.
The 21-year-old has been out for nearly a month after suffering an ankle injury, and on his return the Spaniard immediately showed what Arsenal were missing in his absence after coming on in the first half for Mustafi. Bellerin brought a new dimension to Arsenal’s attack, with his pace and his involvement going forward. It soon yielded results, after he assisted Theo Walcott for the equalizer with a superb cross in the 42nd minute to ensure that the game would be level going into the first half. He also created wonderful chances for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil in the first half itself, both of which should have been finished off. While Gabriel Paulista has been putting in a decent shift at right back, he doesn’t quite offer the same going forward and Bellerin’s return would surely help soften the blow suffered from the loss of Mustafi.
Sign Him Up!
Mesut Ozil must be given a contract extension. The German cannot be allowed to leave the Emirates at any cost and last night, he once again showed why. He notched what was essentially Arsenal’s winner on the night, soon after the start of the second half with a wonderful header. The goal was his 5th in the League and 9th of the season in all competitions in only 20 appearances so far. Last season, he made 45 appearances in all competitions and only managed to find the back of the net 8 times, 6 of which came in the Premier League. There is half a season left for the World Cup winner to keep improving and increase the stats in his favour. His improvement and consistency in form this season makes one wonder why the Gunners hierarchy haven’t tied him and Alexis Sanchez down with lucrative and very, very long-term contracts.