Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over Stoke would have been the perfect early Christmas present for Arsene Wenger if it wasn’t for injuries suffered to the likes of Shkodran Mustafi and Alexis Sanchez. The duo hobbled off in the first and second half respectively following reported hamstring and knee problems.
But while it looks like more Gunners players look set for a spell on the treatment table during another key period of domestic fixtures, Arsenal once again managed to get the job done just days after securing top spot in their Champions League group.
The absence of Santi Cazorla, who described surgery on his ankle as “perfect” last week, was expected to affect Arsenal’s manner of play and potentially cost them the quick, attacking movement which the Spaniard typically gave them throughout last season.
Tuesday’s European away win at a freezing cold St-Jakob Park against Basel proved that Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka is ready to step up in place of Cazorla while he is out. Despite possessing many of the complete opposite traits to the 32-year-old, Xhaka’s unique passing abilities and tendency to break up play in key areas has already won him admirers from the north London faithful at Emirates Stadium.
Xhaka’s passing accuracy of 88 per cent and two chances created are a reminder of why Wenger brought him to Arsenal for £30 million this summer. He comes with a big reputation after captaining Borussia Monchengladbach in the Bundesliga and continues to improve and adapt to the Premier League with every game played. The only worry over the 23-year-old so far has been his discipline and a clumsy challenge on Joe Allen to give away a soft penalty was a further example of that.
While Xhaka is fulfilling his own duties at the heart of Arsenal’s midfield alongside Francis Coquelin, there are a host of other players across the pitch who are making a difference and strengthening the Gunners title charge.
One of those is Theo Walcott. The England forward’s wife promised to buy him a a coffee machine if he managed to score 10 goals before Christmas and on 42 minutes Walcott edged into double figures with a clipped finish from Hector Bellerin’s excellent cross.
Walcott himself is the second highest English goalscorer this season (7) behind Jermain Defoe who has one more, but it’s the 26-year-old’s 10 goal haul and pair of assists this season which show his decision to revert to his favoured position on the right wing was the correct one.
Walcott, Sanchez, Coquelin and Koscielny are all key to Arsenal’s turn of fortunes recently and the improved form of Mesut Ozil is another reason behind that renewed form. Ozil scored eight goals in 45 games last season but this campaign he has already scored 9 goals less than half as many games.
It’s a magnificent showing from the Germany international who has now added goals to his game and continues to guide Arsenal to a title charge which no-one can have any doubt about now.