Arsenal came in for some rare praise from former Manchester United defender Gary Neville on Sunday after their 0-0 draw away to Chelsea, but that still didn’t stop him having another go at Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
The 42-year-old was eager to praise Arsene Wenger’s team selection at Stamford Bridge, stating that the Arsenal manager chose hard-working players over talent – a telling reference to the fact that Sanchez started the game on the bench and Ozil was left out through injury.
Alex Iwobi and Danny Welbeck were in from the start and Neville was keen to point out how well the two players did to help compact the midfield in stark contrast to the Gunners’ performance in their 4-0 humbling at the hands of Liverpool earlier in the season, a performance which Neville was at the time extremely critical of.
“Iwobi and Welbeck did what Ozil and Sanchez didn’t do at Liverpool,” Neville is quoted as saying on Sky Sports.
“They attached themselves to the two central midfielders. When I saw Xhaka and Ramsey in this team today, I thought they would get bulldozed in midfield, however, Iwobi tucked in, making Chelsea go wide and Welbeck did the same on the other side.”
The former England international went as far as to say that the duo set an example to Ozil and Sanchez as to what they need to do when they return to the starting XI for big games.
Neville referenced how some of the sides he played with would sometimes do the same thing when it came to a tough away fixture, with Sir Alex Ferguson often deploying Ji-Sung Park and Darren Fletcher in the middle of the field to crowd out the opposition.
While Arsenal had the better of the chances and could’ve realistically came away with all three points, it was their discipline off the ball and their defensive shape which Neville was most impressed with.
“Wenger chose a hard-working attitude over talent. They got into the shape and did the job that we’ve been demanding from them over the last few years.
“It’s not difficult and ultimately that video should go to Ozil and Sanchez because they do need to come back in.
“Sanchez does normally work hard but Ozil now has no excuse not to get back into his position after seeing that today.”
Iwobi and Welbeck certainly did what they were required to do and caught the eye at Stamford Bridge. Performances like that are sure to add even further question marks over how willing Ozil is to work for the team.
Were Wenger to keep his star men out on a weekly basis then tension at the Emirates would be sure to grow even further but then again, the only thing that matters in football is results.
Given recent showings, Sunday’s result was a good one for Arsenal, and Neville is right in saying it serves as the perfect example for the necessary work ethic for success.
Jordan Norris, Pundit Arena