February 25, 2009
When questioned about whether Arsenal have any natural leaders within the squad this season, Arsene Wenger has often responded by talking about "shared leadership" and, after the victory against Manchester United at Ashburton Grove, even talked about the team containing "eleven leaders". The Gunnersâ€™ last two performances have shown that either this theory is total bunkum or the current squad is only able to raise its game for big matches.
Saturdayâ€™s encounter with Sunderland was frustrating in the extreme. With Aston Villa having been beaten by Chelsea earlier in the day, there was a real opportunity to make some ground on the top four. The Gunners started brightly enough. Debutant Andrey Arshavin produced a couple of near misses and Robin Van Persie lobbed a shot wide with the hard work seemingly all done. The Black Cats also had a few chances of their own in a lively first half.
February 18, 2009
In beating Cardiff City 4-0 in the FA Cup Fourth Round replay at Ashburton Grove on Monday night, Arsenal finally delivered a performance to lighten the recent mood and, more importantly, the goals started flowing again.
Unsurprisingly, it was Eduardo's two-goal comeback display that grabbed all the headlines and there was no doubt that his triumphant return was emotional for both the player himself and the supporters.
A year ago, everyone watching the aftermath of the challenge on Eduardo at Birmingham City was overcome with that sick feeling one gets when it is clear that a player is seriously injured. When the extent of the damage became evident, few imagined that the Croatian would have been able to play ever again.
Consequently, his inclusion in the team on Monday was the culmination of twelve months of hard work by the player and the Arsenal physios and the warmth of the reception he got when his name was read out by the stadium announcer was palpable. For him to then score two goals was the stuff of dreams. The joy that greeted both strikes exorcised all the ghosts of that dark day in the Midlands last year.
February 12, 2009
Sunday's encounter with Spurs at White Hart Lane was always going to be a tough assignment for the Gunners. On top of all the pride at stake, this game could have been significant in defining the course of the remainder of the season for both teams. A defeat for either side had the potential to be a disastrous blow to both confidence and point's totals with ramifications beyond any of the usual post-match banter or gloating.
As it was, a draw was a fair result and, from the Gunners' point of view, arguably represented the best they could have hoped for from a game that they had to play the majority of with ten men. Once again, Emmanuel Eboue let himself, the team and the fans down with two instances of petulance that earned him a brace of yellow cards and, thus, a sending off. What made his dismissal more frustrating was that in the opening stages of the match he had produced some of his most encouraging football of the season so far, even getting as far as putting the ball in the Spurs net only for the goal to be ruled out for a push.
February 1, 2009
A stout defensive display from West Ham kept the Gunners at bay at Ashburton Grove yesterday and earned the visitors a point in a match in which they had been pinned back in their own half for virtually the whole ninety minutes.
On Arsenalâ..s part, there was plenty of perspiration but precious little inspiration as they plugged away trying to prise open the Hammersâ.. defence but just could not whittle out enough gaps to claim a winning goal. Despite holding huge amounts of possession throughout, they failed to really work Robert Green in the West Ham goal to any significant degree and it was another disappointing outcome for the home supporters who, though refraining from noticeably jeering the team as they left the pitch, were entitled to a few grizzles at the final whistle.
The Gunners have only netted five times in their last six home Premier League fixtures. This statistic highlights where most of the Gunnersâ.. problems have lain in recent months and emphasises how much the team has struggled without the creative contribution of Cesc Fabregas, the width provided by Tomas Rosicky and the pace of Theo Walcott. On the other side of the coin, the team are unbeaten in their last ten Premiership matches, which does at least suggest that the ship has been somewhat steadied from a defensive point of view. That said, even the most positive Arsenal supporter would have a hard time being convinced that the current back four have the potential to be as consistently mean as the famous "One-nil to the Arsenal" defensive line.
The injured players mentioned above will eventually recover, but with the earliest expected return of all three not being for at least a couple of months yet, (and depending on any late action in the last 24 hours of the transfer window), the opportunity for anything to be taken from this season could be long gone by then.