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.
The West Brom win reminded me of the old teams from the Arsene Wenger era that we loved. There wasn’t a moment in the game that I thought we’d lose. We used to do similar things to teams at Highbury, where we’d give out an aura that there was no way the opposition were going to get a sniff of a result. The 3-0 victory was very comfortable, as West Brom didn’t really threaten until late on when the win was already safe.
Arguably we haven’t had that aura in recent years as we haven’t had players that the opposition are truly scared off. They’d line up at Highbury and see Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry and already think they were beaten. We clearly haven’t got the same number of world class players now, but in Robin van Persie, the opposition must look at him in his current form and know that he’s likely to find the net. The others around him are feeding off the Dutchman’s aura, and we’re now seeing the likes of Aaron Ramsey stride across the pitch with more confidence and he’s really dominating games in midfield.
We have to hope this next international break doesn’t disrupt the confidence the team are playing with, as confidence in sport, and particularly in this Arsenal team, as we’ve seen in the last few months, can be extremely fragile. While the team is on a high, we have to take advantage of it and be claiming as many points as possible. We’re definitely doing that at the moment.
As amazing as the win at Chelsea was last week, there were still questions over the defence. They still haven’t been fully answered, and won’t be until we go on a consistent long run of good defensive performances, but two clean sheets in a week since Chelsea is a good start. As mentioned in the last blog post, we now have a good problem at the back over who plays. Thomas Vermaelen has played three games since returning from injury, and in those we’ve conceded one goal. It was also good to see the attacking side of his game on Saturday as it offers the team another dimension when going forward. His finish for the second goal was excellent and, although he headed wide, he found space in the box from a set piece in the second half. Laurent Koscielny had another good game, leaving Per Mertesacker as the man to miss out this time.
As mentioned, Aaron Ramsey is playing really well, but as much as his individual performances have improved, the understanding he now has with Alex Song and Mikel Arteta is very good. What is also encouraging, is that we now have midfielders that are confident enough in themselves, and more importantly are confident in the ability of their team mates behind them, to feel that they can make runs into the box and not leave the team vulnerable at the back. Admittedly, West Brom didn’t offer much going forward, however we regularly saw Ramsey, Arteta and even Song, join attacks and try to break into the box to give other players options and support Robin van Persie.
I think that is key to seeing that we’re not reliant on our Dutch captain. We’re getting other players in and around the box, it just so happens that van Persie is in the right place to finish off most of the moves.
The third goal on Saturday was classic Arsenal. Despite the major personnel changes to the squad, it was refreshing to see them score a typical Arsenal goal under Arsene Wenger. The passing was crisp, the movement was excellent, and the finish from Arteta was perfect. You could just keep adding the superlatives for that goal.
I think there were a lot of expectations of Mikel Arteta to score a lot of goals as an attacking midfielder to compensate for the losses of Fabregas and Nasri, however in the last few weeks it’s been important for the team to work hard defensively, and Arteta has typified that by doing the simple things well and giving the team a good base from which to attack. He’s been sitting deeper than Fabregas or Nasri did, leaving Ramsey to be the more creative midfielder. However, more attacking contributions from Arteta would be very welcome as he can finish extremely well. As soon as he received the ball back from Robin van Persie, it seemed inevitable he’d score.
A minor point I’ve noticed in recent weeks, that might seem daft, but I think shows how much the team are gelling, is how happy everyone looks when we score. The players all seem to love playing for Arsenal Football Club, and look pleased with every goal. The jubilation against Chelsea was understandable, but even a comfortable victory against West Brom brought massive smiles. It’s only a minor point, but helps with the general positive mood around the club. Just look back at Yossi Benayoun’s reaction to Arteta’s goal, lovely stuff.
Let’s hope this two week break doesn’t get in the way of the gradual improvement of this new Arsenal team. If they can show the old Arsenal-like aura again, score some brilliant team passing goals, keep the team spirit up and work hard for each other, we can continue moving towards the top four. We must not assume that Arsenal are now back, and neither can the team. The hard work must continue because as soon as the team stop working hard for each other, we can easily slip back to our early season form.
So in the next two weeks, lets reflect on the successful start to the recovery, concentrate on what we’ve done well, and make we get straight back to the same level against Norwich in two weeks’ time. In a reflective way, I’m going to watch John Terry slip over again. That just doesn’t get old.