Wenger means business: Three things we learned from Arsenal 4-1 win v Basel
By Matt Farr
Football Insider analyses three talking points from Arsenal’s impressive 4-1 victory over Basel in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
Arsenal mean business
While Arsenal had already secured their place in the knockout-stages, there was still a lot of work to do if they were to qualify as the top side in Group A. The Gunners needed to beat Basel to stand any chance of finishing ahead of leaders Paris Saint-Germain, whilst also relying on group minnows Ludogorets to get a result over the French giants. Fortunately, Arsenal walked away from their Swiss tie with the best possible result. Their 4-1 victory was impressive enough in itself in terms of the attacking display, but what was more impressive was their desire and hunger to finish the job. They knew what they had to do, and in the end it all worked out. As a result, thanks to Ludogorets’ 2-2 draw in France, Arsenal qualified as group winners – ending a six-year run of failing to top the group – and allegedly securing themselves ‘an easier’ tie in the knockout round. The Gunners came through the group undefeated, recording impressive victories over Ludogorets (6-0) and Basel (4-1). At this stage of proceedings, things do get a lot tougher, but Arsenal have done themselves very proud – and they have made a strong case for themselves to be taken seriously. As things currently stand (the final games will be played on Wednesday), the Gunners have earned themselves a potential tie with one of the following: Benfica, Bayern Munich, Bayer Leverkusen, Real Madrid, FC Porto or Sevilla.
Wenger risks burnout
In the build-up to tonight’s game, many Arsenal fans called for the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to be rested, but Arsene Wenger chose to stick with his two star performers. The Gunners have a very busy schedule ahead of them for December, with three Premier League games in the space of just eight days before Christmas. Their Premier League title challenge is also a cause for Wenger to keep an eye on his players’ fitness, and he cannot afford to take risks – particularly with Sanchez, who has scored 13 goals so far this season. Arsenal had already qualified for the next stage of the competition, so elimination was not an issue if they failed to beat Basel. The chance to overtake PSG at the top of the table remained a possibility, but they had to rely on Ludogorets restricting the French giants to no more than a point. Prior to tonight’s proceedings, that seemed a highly improbable event. Therefore, Wenger surely had a compelling reason to rest Sanchez in favour of Olivier Giroud Sanchez and Ozil did have a huge influence on proceedings in Switzerland tonight, so we can be thankful that they were on the pitch. They were both withdrawn in the second-half to keep them fresh; however, had something gone wrong and one of them got injured, would it really have been worth the risk?
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The midfield roundabout continues
This was the first time that Wenger had paired Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey together in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield. The loss of midfield playmaker Santi Cazorla to a long-term injury has forced the Gunners boss into trying a number of different combinations in midfield, with options ranging from Francis Coquelin to Mohamed Elneny, to Ramsey and Xhaka. In fact, this was the sixth different midfield pairing since Cazorla’s last appearance on October 19. It did work very well, mind you. Rotation is one thing – see my earlier point – but you also need a settled team. Wenger already has two settled centre-backs in Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, but the central-midfield partnership is equally as important. The battle is often won in the centre of the park, and experimenting in that area can be a risk. Wenger’s continued rotation also suggests that the Frenchman is not entirely certain on who his best central midfielders are.
In other Arsenal news, here is how the players rated in the victory.