02 April 2016

Sánchez, Iwobi, and Welbeck, oh my! Arsène unlocks a lethal trio!

After what has to count as Arsenal's cakewalkiest of cakewalks, it's starting to look as if Arsène might have a few tricks up his sleeve even as the baying for his dismissal continues unabated. For the first time since doing so against Leicester way back in the old days when scoring against the Foxes was easier than scoring against Aston Villa, we put our past a Prem opponent and did so with a swaggering style that we haven't seen in ages. On one hand, we might say to ourselves, "yes, but it's only Watford", let's also say "this is the same Watford that had conceded just five times in its previous five outings." As for us, we've now scored eight in our last three. Arsène may have not found a magic potion, but he's not the snake-oil salesman some have suggested.

The ingredients to that potion (bear with me as I stretch out that metaphor just a bit) are three: Danny Welbeck at centre-forward, Alex Iwobi on the left, and Alexis Sánchez on the right. While the first two are still more potential than proven, the third is proof-positive. This is not to say that we've solved our scoring struggles over the long term, but the early returns suggest that we could still fire our way towards the top of the Prem.

Alexis on the right
After a scintillating season in which he delivered 25 goals and 12 assists across all competitions, playing almost entirely on the left, the Chilean's second season has been underwhelming. Everyone down to the worst right-back on the pitch could see that cut-right move coming. He had seemingly gone stale, bereft of ideas and options even in a season in which Özil was serving up chances and assists at a record-setting rate. Yes, he's been hampered by injury, but even more than that, defenses had finally figured out how much he depended on that cut-move to get the ball on his right foot to shoot. Having moved to the right didn't just strip him of that option; it has dared him to develop a wider range of attacking options, whether they be dribbles, passes, or moves off the ball. Not only has he found a goal and two assists in his last two matches; he's looked much more energetic, incisive, and dangerous. We've been looking for someone to hit a purple-patch for weeks, if not months. Perhaps Alexis will be that one.

Iwobi on the left
First things first: we're not boarding a hype-train. We're discussing a 19-year old who's played just over three hours of Prem League football. Yes, he's now scored two Prem goals, but it's just a bit early to anoint him as anything other than a starlet. That said, he's shown himself to be confident and versatile, getting two goals (and maybe an assist) in his last two outings. His verve and movement have been tantalizing, to say the least. To see him hit the woodwork just after halftime suggests, in many ways, an audacious talent. Rather than deferring to the more-senior players around him, he saw a chance and was unafraid to take it. That's not to say he's arrogant. He was well within his rights to seize that chance. Just as encouraging has been how well he's blended in. His movement and his passing have been solid, and his chemistry with Welbeck is undeniable. Of course, we've been tempted by others in the past. It'll be up to Iwobi to prove that he's more than a flash in the pan...

Welbeck as centre-forward
It's getting harder and harder to resist the idea that Welbeck should be the centre-forward of the near-future. Even when he doesn't get on the score-sheet, he's shown time and time again that our attack can still carve a defense apart. I've fretted that, in the absence of Giroud, our attack will flounder. Giroud's hold-up play and donkey-work have, after all, been valuable in breaking down parked busses or in wearing down Orc-ish centre-backs. However, Welbeck has shown himself to be just physical enough to offer similar threats while adding all sorts of pace and movement of the sort likely to discombobulate defenses. He may not be quite as capable as Giroud at grappling in the trenches, but he's held his own while stretching defenses out of shape with pace and positioning. He's still learning. With him in the middle, there's a fluidity that Giroud can't create. Welbeck can't quite be the focal point that Giroud offers. Then again, there's a certain advantage to not having a focal point.

In the end...
This little recipe is still a long-way off from proving itself in the long run. This Alexis-Iwobi-Welbeck attack is new enough to catch opposing defenses off-guard. We're less-predictable and more-fluid, it's true, but it's only a matter of time before defenses figure out how to adapt. With just seven Prem fixtures left, though, this recipe might offer just enough to see us surge enough to cause some panic over at Tottenham and Leicester. That surge and that panic could wreak just enough havoc with those above us to keep our razor-thin hopes of winning the Prem alive.