This blog post has the potential to be very similar to last week. We started well, conceded a goal from a set piece and had Robin van Persie to thank as he bagged a brace to win us the match.
It may seem like it to many, but we’re not a one-man team. We’re just lucky to have a captain and striker in the form of his life, and he is rightly grabbing the headlines with some excellent performances. I would happily argue with anyone who doesn’t think Robin van Persie is the best striker in the Premier League at the moment. 25 goals in 26 league games in 2011 tells its own story.
Even with his history of injuries, I was surprised to see him rested on Sunday. With the Carling Cup in midweek, he was going to get six days off anyway. It was a slight gamble from Arsene Wenger, but it definitely paid off as van Persie only played 25 minutes, continued his great goal scoring form, won us the game and didn’t get injured. Arsene must have had a quiet, and deserved, smile to himself after the game.
I could go on and on about how good Robin van Persie is, but there were other notable performances in another hard fought victory. Even if van Persie hadn’t have come off the bench, I think we’d have had enough to win game, although it would have been very close.
Gervinho produced an excellent display on the wing, one that was a bit reminiscent of Freddie Ljungberg at his best. The Ivorian ran well at the full backs on numerous occasions, and made clever runs into the box at good moments to create and score goals. It wasn’t the sort of game that I’d have expected Gervinho to shine in as Stoke are normally well organised at the back and space to attack is usually limited. However Gervinho’s pace helped create the space needed to open up the defence.
His goal was brilliantly taken. Aaron Ramsey’s pass was fantastic, and the control and finish were exemplary from Gervinho. It was a sign that our fluid style of attacking was beginning to return. It could have been due to the absence of van Persie giving the Ivorian more responsibility, or just because of the returning confidence of the team, but there seemed to be more movement from Gervinho going forward. Having already popped up and spurned a chance on the right, he ghosted in from the left to the centre to score. When you see a good diagonal run from the wing into the centre to score, it’s hard to not make comparisons with our red haired Swede.
His assists in the second half showed his pace and willingness to actually beat a player. It can be incredibly frustrating to see Arsenal move the ball wide, and then whoever receives it not attempt to beat the defender, and just pass the ball to where it came from. However it was refreshing to see Gervinho get the ball and immediately look at beating the man in front of him, as clearly he has the pace and trickery to do so. After beating the defender for the first van Persie goal, he didn’t just try and put the ball in a good area, he was able to pick out the man in the box and give him a great chance of scoring. He was helped by the sublime movement of van Persie, but the pass still needed to be right to find him.
I particularly enjoyed the third goal, as it briefly reminded me of some of the goals we used to score before the trophy drought. We were helped as the game had stretched with Stoke pushing a few more men forward looking for a goal, but the execution of the move was excellent. Arshavin made the initial burst, Gervinho’s run was well timed before he found RvP and he unsurprisingly found the net. It all happened so quickly that it was impossible for Stoke to stop it. It was the sort of goal I’ve been wanting us to score more of for ages.
It’s crept into our game since the move to the bigger Emirates pitch, and in football in general as three central midfielders has been more common, that possession is more important so the game can get slowed down as teams make sure they hold onto the ball. On Highbury’s smaller pitch, we had to attack with pace to deny the opposition the chance to close down the little space there was. At our peak, we could rip open any team in the space of a few seconds, and it was fantastic to watch. It shows that confidence is beginning to come into the team that we scored a goal from a pacey attack such as the third goal on Sunday.
Obviously we went to sleep for the Stoke goal, which was criminal against a team we knew we going to be dangerous from set pieces. Otherwise, we restricted their opportunities well and made them think twice about pumping the ball up to Crouch due to the presence of Per Mertesacker. I still can’t quite put my finger on why, but the big German is currently my favourite of the deadline day signings. He’s improving, gives us more of a presence on the pitch and he seems to understand the club and what it means. I like that a lot.
Mikel Arteta had another tidy game in midfield, whilst Aaron Ramsey’s confidence looks high after his late strike in Marseille. The big concern is what happens if Robin van Persie gets injured. Marouane Chamakh looks like a player that is desperate for any sort of goal to get himself going. He clearly is a confidence player, and is completely bereft of it at the moment. Should he play well against Bolton in the Carling Cup, Ju-Young Park could move ahead of Chamakh in the pecking order. Ideally, it’d be good for Chamakh to get a run of games to restore confidence. However we can’t afford to have a striker that isn’t scoring in our team, and there’s no way Wenger can drop van Persie. The Dutchman’s movement in the box when he came on was brilliant, and should be watched by all lone strikers as an example of how to find space.
As with the last few weeks, we’re nowhere near the finished article, but six wins from seven in all competitions is very encouraging. Our gradual improvement has seen us move up to seventh, and we’re now just two points behind Liverpool. However we will be seriously tested at Stamford Bridge next week. Any sort of positive result will be great, and will show that the 8-2 hammering at Old Trafford is completely out of the players’ heads.
Before that, we face Bolton on Tuesday night in the Carling Cup fourth round. It’ll be a much changed team, but a win will be important for the momentum of the club, even though the players will be different. As mentioned, Park will get a long awaited second chance up front after his debut against Shrewsbury. I’m also looking forward to seeing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain again.
For all of those first teamers that won’t be involved in the Carling Cup match, if you could all go and buy some cotton wool and wrap Robin van Persie in it ahead of Saturday, that’d be great.