I don't think it was that crazy to be a little worried about the state of the team coming out of the first two matches - the horror-show against Liverpool and the damp-squib draw at Leicester. But, in the time that I was away / recovering my trip, the club have largely pulled themselves out of the mire, even if the performances are not quite up to full power as of yet.
The Watford match was the one that I saw nothing about. I was actually in Berlin at the time, and I got to see a bonkers game between Hertha and Freiburg. All I saw was the score - very much a case of job done, on to the next one.
I was back home for the Southampton game, but was still mega-jet lagged. We weren't great by any stretch of the imagination, but I did think we were OK defensively. The free kick goal was more than a little unlucky, really. I wasn't in love with Petr Cech's positioning, but he still did get there and make the save. Having it come off the bar and then straight down was rotten luck.
Still, picking up maximum points when you don't have your A-game is what the best sides do, and frankly we haven't done enough of it over the last few seasons. You don't need me to tell you just how huge the Laurent Koscielny bicycle kick goal was - and you also don't need me to tell you that if a City or United or Liverpool player had done it, the media would still be wanking themselves silly over it. That obviously galvanized the team, and while I thought we were a little lucky to get that penalty in injury time, Santi Cazorla's winner was probably deserved with the balance of play.
PSG, on the other hand, I didn't see except for highlights of David Ospina's massive day in goal. I did see a little of the Twitterverse's meltdown that he was starting, though I do think that's a case of the stupidest people being the loudest. The guy is absolute class - you don't have stellar World Cups and Copa Americas otherwise. Anyway, I was chuffed to bits for him that he was able to shove it down the throats of all of his detractors.
The performance itself, from what I saw, was utterly dreadful. I know that Shkodran Mustafi made several mistakes, and otherwise had Edinson Cavani not had a mare, we probably would have gotten stuffed regardless of how well Ospina played. Still, a point on the road against our toughest opponent is beyond valuable.
That brings us to today's match against a strangely frisky Hull City. In the grand Arsenal supporter tradition of always needing something to bitch about, the starting XI caused another shitstorm on Twitter. OK, kids...here's the thing. Football is a squad rotation game these days, especially at the biggest clubs. We have our most balanced squad in ages - everyone is going to get games when you factor in how many matches we have, injuries, suspensions, etc.
That's true for a central midfield in which we have a wealth of options. That's true for guys who are still bedding in. That's true for our goalkeepers (and we're hardly alone there - Leicester and Sevilla both played reserve keepers in league matches today).
Chill pills are badly needed 'round these parts.
As it is, it took a while for us to get going. We looked a little clunky in possession, and Petr Cech had to be alert to come well off his line to clear away an early chance. That proved to be vital, as we were ahead a few minutes later. I didn't see who took the initial shot, but Eldin Jakupovic might have done a little better with his rebound control. Can't say I'm complaining though, as Alex Iwobi turned it back in. The goal should have been his, but it nicked off of Alexis Sanchez's heel on its way past the keeper.
We spent most of the rest of the half on the front foot, but Jakupovic made up for his hand in the first goal with some excellent saves. Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott were a little off, Walcott in particular seeming to lose the ball every time he touched it (more on him in a bit). The game was turned on its ear though just before halftime. I can't say I'm a fan of how often Francis Coquelin is pushing forward in general, but this surge arguably won us the game. His goalbound shot was probably going in, but Jake Livermore got a hand to it. Pretty good keeping, but still a clear penalty and red card.
The penalty itself, however. Hoo boy. Honestly, there should be a moratorium on anyone taking penalties other than Santi Cazorla at this point. Alexis' weak, undercooked effort was easily repelled by Jakupovic. Why can't anyone on this team take a bloody spot kick? Anyway, the red card blunted any real threat that Hull had on the counter, allowing us to pretty much play at will.
The chances kept coming after the restart, with Jakupovic continuing to play well in the Hull goal. The breakthrough finally came around the 55th minute, though. Another foray upfield saw Alex Iwobi brilliantly back-heel the ball into Walcott's path. The angle was a tough one, and Jakupovic came off his line well, but Theo threaded the needle beautifully to finish into the far corner.
See, the thing with Theo is that he is a guy with exactly one skill - put the ball at his feet in the area, and he knows where the goal is. He's a pure finisher. That's it. He can't pass, can't hold the ball in the midfield, can't really support his fullback...he's a bit of a luxury player. But, you can't take his finishing ability away from him, that's for sure.
Up 2-0 and up a man, the rest of the game should have been a cakewalk. But, you know our Arsenal, we never do win easy when winning ugly is an option. I honestly don't remember where the breakdown occurred, but Hull countered and Cech was forced to take down their attacker. Thankfully it was only a yellow for our keeper, but there was nothing he could do to stop the excellent Robert Snodgrass from slotting in the spot kick.
So, 2-1 with 10 minutes to go. To be honest with you, I was bricking it a little. But, to our guys' credit, they kept calm and continued to press. Just a few minutes later, Alexis was there to cash in a rebound off of a shot from Walcott, and that was that.
Well, that is, until Xhaka decided to have a lash from about 4 astronomical units away from goal. Basically, the timeline of that was:
0.0 seconds: "Wait, we're shooting from distance? What?"
0.2 seconds: "That's going miles over the bar."
0.4 seconds: "Fuck me, I think that's going in."
1.0 seconds: "YEEEEEAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!"
Actually, it kind of reminded me of that Alexis thunderbolt from the FA Cup final against Villa. Either way, it added some gloss to the scoreline and sent our smarter supporters home feeling good. Stay off Twitter though, it's a festival of nitpicky nonsense.
Look, we haven't been perfect by any stretch of the imagination. But, one of the side effects of having a bigger squad and new blood is that it's going to take time for all parties to gel, and for the boss to figure out what our best XI. Next week is going to be a much sterner test than anything we've faced so far (now that we're not hamstringing ourselves by playing Calum Chambers and Rob Holding in a match that matters). Want to complain? Complain if we lose that one.
In the meantime, I'm quietly confident that the best is still to come.