With the 2015/16 season over, Michael Cox analyses three of the finest individual performances of the campaign.
Olympiacos 0-3 Arsenal
December 9, 2015
Arsenal are drawn against Olympiacos in the Champions League incredibly frequently, and the visit to Greece always seems to be the last group game. Often it's a dead rubber, with the Gunners already through. Not this time: Arsene Wenger's side didn't just need to win, they needed to do so by two clear goals to reach the knockout stage.
Olympiacos, peculiarly, were extremely attack-minded, pushing their wingers forward and playing a 4-2-4 formation at times. This left space for Arsenal to break into, playing into the hands of speedy players like Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Joel Campbell. Surprisingly, though, it was Olivier Giroud who proved crucial with a brilliant hat-trick.
Having missed the reverse fixture because of a foolish red card at Dinamo Zagreb, he owed Arsenal a big performance. And what a performance is was.
His opener was a fine near-post header from Aaron Ramsey's left-wing cross, putting Arsenal on the road to victory. At one point, it seemed Giroud would be forced to depart at 1-0, when he twisted his ankle and spent a couple of minutes limping. With few attacking options from the bench, it would have been disastrous.
But the Frenchman made a sudden recovery, battled on through the pain, and added the second shortly after half-time, slotting the ball home after a superb Campbell through-ball. There was no doubt who was going to take the penalty Arsenal were awarded with 20 minutes remaining - Giroud smashed it home to seal his hat-trick. Four shots, three goals.
“As he is not the electric type of player and he makes less spectacular actions, he gets less credit,” Wenger said afterwards. “When you dominate the game and need presence in the box there is no better player than Olivier.”
Leicester City 2-5 Arsenal
September 26, 2015
When Arsenal travelled to King Power Stadium in late September, few believed Leicester City were genuine title challengers. However, they started that weekend as the only unbeaten Premier League side but the Gunners, and Alexis in particular, ended that run.
The Chilean, at his best, is the all-round attacker - and from the outset this was a performance that highlighted all his qualities. Cutting inside from the left flank, he dribbled past opponents eight times, created chances for team-mates – three inside the opening 20 minutes – and got himself into goalscoring positions, too. He claimed a fine hat-trick, but also delivered a brilliant all-round performance.
His first strike was a close-range goal after good work from Theo Walcott in the inside-right channel. After a quiet start to the campaign, this was Alexis' first goal of 2015/16, and the second didn't take long to arrive.
His other strikes were spectacular in entirely different ways. He added his second with a towering header from Mesut Ozil's dinked left-wing cross, somehow managing to beat advancing Kasper Schmeichel to the ball. Alexis might not have the stature to suggest he's an aerial force, but his leap is quite remarkable.
Then there was his third, the best of the lot. Receiving a throw-in from left-back Nacho Monreal around 30 yards from goal in the inside-left position, Alexis poked the ball past N'Golo Kante - the best defensive midfielder in the league in 2015/16 - collected the ball the other side of the Frenchman, and then crashed home a bouncing shot.
A constant threat, he had four other efforts from good positions, all blocked by defenders. Wenger described him as “back to his best” afterwards, and when in this mood, there's no more complete attacker in England.
Arsenal 3-0 Manchester United
October 4, 2015
When the Invincibles were at their best, they used to destroy opponents within the opening half-hour, finding themselves 3-0 up before spending the rest of the game relaxing. Those performances sprung to mind after Arsenal's first-half thrashing of Manchester United at the Emirates, an irresistible display of attacking football, summed up by Mesut Ozil's display.
This is what the German is all about. While capable of finding small pockets of space against packed defenders, he thrives when collecting the ball on the run and bursting into space. Against a Manchester United side surprisingly trying to press Arsenal aggressively in midfield, he was allowed to play his natural game and dominated on the break.
Ozil created the opener for Alexis, supplying a low right-wing ball to allow the Chilean to majestically convert with a clever backheel.
The German then scored the second goal himself, leading a counter-attack and then waiting for Theo Walcott to slip him in from the left. Ozil's calm, sidefooted shot around a Manchester United defender and into the corner of the net gave David De Gea no chance. It was one of Ozil’s four attempts at goal, all struck from close to the ‘D’ on the edge of the box.
More than his goal contributions, though, the hosts' pace, directness and rapid passing combinations are hallmarks of Ozil-dominated football. Arsenal's chief playmaker is the type of player who can define a side's footballing philosophy, and this was a wonderful example.
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