After the debacle at Ipswich last week Arsenal needed to show more professionalism and they did just that in the games against West Ham and Leeds. Both were beaten comfortably with the minimum of fuss and bother. If only it could always be like that against inferior opposition.
West Ham are a club in crisis at the moment - and it showed. It is hard to know what is going on behind the scenes there but what is happening on the pitch is evidently not of Premier League standard and it hasn’t been for most of the season. Trips to West Ham have often been hard work in recent years but there were no such concerns this time round. Goals from Robin Van Persie and Theo Walcott in the first half put the Gunners firmly in the driving seat and, after the Walcott had been felled in the area by Wayne Bridge, it was Van Persie who also stepped up to convert a 76th minute penalty to seal the game.
RVP Heads Arsenal's Third at Elland Road©Associated
The way the results went in other games last weekend, it was a vital three points (but then isn’t getting three points always vital?). More importantly, this was just the sort of display that Arsenal needed to produce after the defeat at Ipswich to restore confidence and nip in the bud any fears that the team were about to have a bit of a wobble. Had they failed to win, the trip to Elland Road last night would have been a whole lot more daunting. But, despite Arsene Wenger reshuffling his starting line-up a little for the re-engagement with Leeds, the Gunners continued where they left off at Upton Park.
Samir Nasri’s early goal settled the nerves in the face of a vociferous home support and Arsenal went on to dominate the first half. Bacary Sagna doubled the lead later in the half scoring a rare goal with a thunderous strike. Replays showed that Kasper Schmeichal in the Leeds goal might have done better with it having got a hand to the ball but the shot was hit with such force he couldn’t keep it out. Sagna’s effort was somewhat trumped in terms of power by Bradley Johnson’s spectacular reply for the home team just before the break. The Leeds man couldn’t have caught it any more sweetly and it flew past Szcesny in the Arsenal goal who found himself clutching at fresh air.
Leeds made a better fist of it in the second half but Arsenal rarely looked in any real trouble. With twenty minutes to go, Wenger brought on Cesc and RVP to seal the deal and in the 76th minute (again, spooky huh?), Nicklas Bendtner hung up a cross that was met perfectly by Robin Van Persie who headed Arsenal’s third and killed any lingering hope the Yorkshire fans might have been harbouring.
So, jobs well done all round and it sets the team up well for the next month when they will play seven games, six of which are at home. Though their home form has been a bit of an Achilles heel this season, now would be a great time to turn that around and start making a fortress of Ashburton Grove. Over the next four weeks there will be action in all four competitions with winnable-looking home games in the Premier League against Wigan, Everton and Wolves. There is the Carling Cup semi second leg against Ipswich and the fourth round FA Cup tie against Huddersfield. Finally, on 16th February, they start again in the Champions League against Barcelona. Good results in these matches could provide a very solid platform as the team go into the business-end of the season.
One of the refreshing aspects to recent games has been the lack of serious injury to key players and the fact that Arsene Wenger has had a squad he can actually "choose from" rather than "make do" with. It is particularly pleasing to see Robin Van Persie edging his way back to top form. The one area where there are immediate concerns though is at the centre of defence. With Thomas Vermaelen and Sebastian Squillaci both out for the next month or so, the Gunners look a little threadbare at the back and the quick and easy solution would seem to be a January signing.
The way Johan Djourou is playing means he would probably be first-choice to partner a fully-fit Vermaelen anyway and Lauren Koscielny has, on the whole, done very well since his move to the club in the summer. But an injury to either of these two would see the squad struggle. Alex Song could drop back and fill in or the manager might give one of the raw youngsters waiting in the wings, (like Iggy Miquel), a shot but the feeling is that a stop-gap signing is required during this window. Wenger has acknowledged this and the media have thrown up a few names but there hasn’t been anything in the way of real news. There are still a couple of weeks to go but despite his comments who would bet against Wenger taking a chance on his injured defenders recovering quickly and successfully and him signing nobody? It is easier, and more fan-friendly, for him to say that he is considering new additions than to rule out any purchases before the window is even closed.
Elsewhere this week, there has been some discussion about the comments made by Denilson in an interview secured by Arsenal Brasil and Arseblog regarding the question of leadership at the club and in particular whether Cesc cuts it as a captain. I think a lot has been made of this story and some of what Denilson said has been misinterpreted. It seems to me he was trying to emphasise the mantra that Arsene Wenger keeps repeating that the team must have eleven leaders and take collective responsibility. It wasn’t meant as a sleight against Fabregas and, thankfully, any misunderstanding between the players seems to have been cleared up.
Though many bemoan the fact that we don’t have a Tony Adams figure in the side to pick the team up and carry it when required, that has been the case since, well, Tony Adams retired. The attitude and commitment that TA showed is not something that can be easily replicated because it was really all about the person that he was and his relationship with the club and the fans. We have had various captains since who have all done it their way, with varying amounts of success. Cesc is a captain who leads more by example than by bawling players out and, looking across the current crop of players, for my money he is the right man to be captaining the club at this point.
It’s back to work in the Premier League this Saturday with the visit of Wigan to the Grove. The two teams shared a draw at their place over Christmas which was massively disappointing from an Arsenal perspective and Saturday is a chance to make up for that result. Let’s hope the team can keep the form of the West Ham and Leeds games rolling.
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