November 30, 2011
So our first chance of a trophy this season has gone, however I doubt there were many Arsenal fans who didn’t feel proud of the efforts put in by our second string against moneybags Manchester City.
Apart from the strikers, it was hard to fault the performances of those in red and white on Tuesday. The effort and work rate of the side were fantastic, everything was there in the performance except for in the final third. Given we had players facing up to an opposition that cost a lot more to assemble, they gave a fantastic account of themselves and dominated the game for long periods.
The only difference between the sides, that highlighted the monetary difference, was finishing in front of goal. When given the chance, Sergio Aguero took it. When there was a sniff of a chance near the end, Marouane Chamakh couldn’t convert. Otherwise we matched, and bettered, those with the bigger cheques.
November 29, 2011
The draw with Fulham was a reminder that, despite our good form, this Arsenal team are still progressing and are nowhere near the finished article. It also showed the reality that the team have put in so much effort over the last few weeks to compensate for the failures at the start of the season, that they’re suffering physically and there were definite signs of fatigue on Saturday.
That said, it was the sort of match we’d have lost last season or at the start of this season. Despite being near the bottom of the table, Fulham were really organised and defended very well. Even with Philippe Senderos playing for them we struggled to break through.
Saying Thomas Vermaelen had an interesting game is an understatement. His own goal was unfortunate, but arguably came from poor technique when trying to clear the ball. Having scored the own goal though, I doubt there are many centre backs in the Premier League who would be able to atone for the error in the way Vermaelen did.
November 25, 2011
When Antonio Di Natale was preparing to take his penalty at Udinese in August, I’d never have thought we’d be the first English team through into the Champions League knockout rounds. Wojciech Szczesny saved the penalty superbly, Theo Walcott went down the other end and put us through to the groups, and now we’re the only English side through with a game to go. Plus, we’re guaranteed to be top of the group.
The Dortmund match wasn’t a vintage performance, but it we came up against a good side and put in a solid performance to get the job done. It’s hard to not get carried away by the improvement of this side, considering where we were at the start of the Champions League campaign and the current state of the other English Champions League sides. Given our epic failures at the start of the season, I doubt there isn’t an Arsenal fan who is secretly laughing and is desperate for the other three English Champions League clubs to end up in the Europa League.
I think I’ll get the customary superlatives for Robin van Persie out of the way early. Two goals a game is almost becoming standard for the skipper. Against Dortmund, he didn’t seem to be at his best as he didn’t see much of the ball, but in a game where our chances were limited, when they did arrive, van Persie was never going to miss. The second goal was just about being in the right place, something van Persie is great at, but the first goal was a superb header. He was reaching for the ball and had to generate a lot of power from the header, but managed to get it down and in. With the top spot secured, we can now rest Robin in the next few midweek games with the Carling Cup and Olympiacos to come.
November 20, 2011
Given our excellent run of form before the international break, I was very worried that the momentum, team spirit and confidence we’d built up was going to evaporate as players jetted off for meaningless friendlies with the risk of injuries. Fortunately, as we showed at Norwich, this Arsenal team weren’t going to let their recent improvement go to waste and have now won five Premier League matches in a row.
In many ways, the 2-1 win at Norwich told us more about the improvement of this Arsenal team than the sensational 5-3 result at Stamford Bridge did. Earlier in the season, a defensive mistake, similar to the one that allowed Norwich to score their goal, would have rocked Arsenal’s confidence, and we’d have seen one or two more goals conceded. However there now seems to be a belief in the team that if we do concede, they can tighten the defence up and know we can score enough at the other end.
Even at 1-0 down, I was more relaxed when watching the match than at the start of the season as the players are going onto the pitch looking much more confident. Confidence can be extremely fragile in football, so it was a massive relief to see it not get broken up by the international break.
November 7, 2011
Since the last international break, it’s fair to say that the new Arsenal’s form has been excellent. We’re still fighting back, and we can’t get complacent over recent form, but even the most optimistic of Gooners couldn’t have predicted the relatively rapid improvement of our newly constructed side after the defeat away at Blackburn at the start of September.
We can now realistically challenge for the top four, and despite those around us in the top half also winning at the weekend, we’re well positioned going into the next international break. In some ways, the two weeks off will be good for those not involved in international fixtures, as they’ve put a lot of effort into games during the last few weeks. However, every Arsenal fan will be keeping everything crossed and waiting anxiously for news about the fitness of our international players when they return to the club in a week and a half.
I’m sure I’m not the only Arsenal fan who is seriously worried that Robin van Persie, or others, will get a long term injury in a friendly. It’s happened before, and inevitably will happen again. Just please can it not be now.
November 2, 2011
Amongst all the excitement and euphoria from Gooners after the Chelsea victory, it was easy to forget that we had a Champions League match four days later. It seemed some of the players had forgotten as well. The team put so much into the win at Stamford Bridge that it wasn’t overly surprising that we looked slightly off the pace against Marseille. The match wasn’t without positives though.
Whilst we struggled going forward, to keep a second consecutive clean sheet in the Champions League is worthy of note. Marseille have been struggling in Ligue 1, but still have some good attacking players. In the game between the two of us in France, neither team were overly adventurous, but Marseille attacked more at the Emirates, so a clean sheet was very welcome.
Given how open we’d looked in the first half of the Chelsea match, we kept things tighter and it looked like Marseille were going to need to score a special goal to get past us. I was encouraged by the Mertesacker and Vermaelen partnership, and it puts us in the strange situation of having three good centre backs to choose from.