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Posted by Sam Limbert on 01/31/2012

Except for Thierry Henry’s goal against Leeds, the start to 2012 has been thoroughly forgettable and could ultimately have a long lasting effect on the second half of our season. With 45 minutes to go in the last match of January, although it didn’t seem possible, things had got worse. Aston Villa had undone us from a short corner and then picked us off on the break. Given how we’ve gone out of the FA Cup in recent seasons with a whimper away to Manchester United and Stoke City, I wasn’t expecting any sort of comeback and was going to have to accept that we’d have given up a chance of a trophy to concentrate on the league.

Most of us won’t know who said what in the Arsenal dressing room at half time, although to turn the match on its head in 16 minutes was a superb effort from the team. A lot of them have come in for a lot of criticism of late, most of which has been deserved, however this match was a reminder that some of the guys in this side are made of sterner stuff that recent Arsenal teams. It was also an indication that the team can be ruthless if needed and are determined to end the trophy drought.

The first half performance wasn’t bad, but it lacked intensity. Everything seemed slightly subdued. The players seemed to be waiting for something to happen to turn our bad run around. It would have been easy for the team to feel sorry for themselves at half time. We were in a similar situation at the end of last season against Aston Villa and lost 2-1 as we didn’t show enough determination in the second half. We did show determination on Sunday. Often when chasing the game, we’ll end up playing a number of meaningless passes around the opposition box and not create anything, but against Villa, we went more direct, but still in an Arsenal style.

Players were suddenly taking responsibility and not waiting for things to happen, they were making them happen. Instead of playing simple sideways passes, midfielders were looking forward and trying to utilise our pace out wide. Walcott, Oxlade-Chamberlain and others were running at players and committing defenders to make space for team mates. Everything was being done at pace, meaning Villa weren’t given the chance to organise their defence and limit the space. We all love our passing, but the more direct running and forward passes played to the strengths of the players on the pitch and made us look very dangerous.

After looking tired in recent weeks, Aaron Ramsey seemed to get a second wind and made some great runs into the box, one of which caused the penalty. Tomas Rosicky was also important for the team in driving us forward as, particularly in the second half, he was constantly looking to move forward when he had the ball. Instead of playing the easier pass, he was willing to try the more risky through ball and was prepared to run back and try and win the ball again if it went wrong.

The whole team were working hard in the second half to win the ball back and not allow Villa to settle. The third goal was a good example of the hard work, direct running and players taking responsibility. After we lost the ball, Oxlade-Chamberlain did well to win it back, and instead of turning back just to keep possession, Laurent Koscielny immediately looked to get forward and create a chance. His one-two with Song was slick and then his buccaneering run drew a deserved penalty. He forced Bent to track the run and committed defenders, forcing Bent to make the rash challenge.

In a second half where, as well as playing well, we were going to need a bit of luck to go our way to complete a comeback, it seemed a good time for our recent run of missing out on penalties to end. Both were clear fouls, but to get two seemed nothing short of miraculous following recent weeks.

With a lot of pressure on the spot kicks, both were clinically dispatched by Robin van Persie. He’s now scored 25 goals in all competitions this season. To have reached that mark by the end of January is sensational. With any chance of us signing another striker before the end of January virtually gone, it goes without saying that we need him to stay fit if we’re going to get back into the top four.

Walcott’s goal definitely had a large slice of luck about it, but his good run made it possible. Hopefully it was the stroke of luck that gives him some confidence back to start performing consistently well again. He was much improved in the second half, and with the competition in the squad following the emergence of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott should know that he needs to improve to keep his place in the side. He showed signs of that on Sunday.

To add to the positives of the second half, Bacary Sagna and Mikel Arteta came off the bench to return from injury. Obviously we could moan about and debate the issue of not signing a full-back for ages, but we’re clearly not going to get someone else in so we can be grateful that Bac is back. He is one of the best right backs in the league and will add a lot to our push for the top four.

The team seem to be taking the FA Cup seriously this year, and with a trip to Sunderland or Middlesbrough waiting in the next round, we have a fantastic chance of making it to the quarter finals. Making the top four will still be the priority, but I don’t want to see the team throw away their chances in the FA Cup as we have done in recent seasons. We had a horrible experience of Wembley last season, so let’s make up for it. It’s our most realistic chance of silverware so hopefully the players will show the same desire and determination in the next rounds as they did in the 2nd half against Aston Villa. Even though they conceded two penalties, I don’t think Villa threw the game away, we just won it well. The way Arsene Wenger has come under pressure in recent weeks has been well documented, but he deserves as much credit as the players for the comeback.

The cup seemed like a release from the horror of our current league form. It should be a catalyst for more league points as the players have proved to themselves that if you close teams down, look to run at players and constantly look to move forward, you can dismantle a team very quickly. As we did when recovering from our start to season, we have to each match as it comes and just focus on giving everything in those 90 minutes and worrying about the bigger picture later. The team can’t assume that one good result means we’ll be ok. However if they show the same commitment, desire and application of skill as they did in that 2nd half, we’ll give ourselves the best chance possible of getting back in the top four and adding the first piece of silverware to the Emirates cupboard. All of that must continue at Bolton on Wednesday.

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Posted by s j liyylr on 01/31/2012

Yes but who is going to train these defenders to understand their job when wenger has no idea on defending or tactics.
Am active No 2 instead of Pat Rice might help to motivate the team before they fall to pieces in defence after they lose control once they equalise or go ahead in a match!

Posted by david .fitch on 01/31/2012

Great game wonderful come back the only down side is they allowed two goals to be scored before they started to play.The goals should not blind us there is still problems with the defense if they keep given up goals they may not be able to claw their way back into the game. If they really want a chance at the Cup or forth place they have to tighten up at the back this has been a problem for the entire season as the lack of another striker to give R.V>P. a rest all that Arsenal can hope is returning players do not take to long to get back to match fitness.

Posted by Malcolm Watts on 01/31/2012

Villa were robbed! Van Persie lucky to be on the field and not under a very heavy censure from the FA. Poor Referee and a totally incompetent FA!

The FA Disciplinary Panel should be wound up and referee be censured as he said he saw what happened and let it go! He therefore showed that he is not a neutral referee and should be kicked out of Sport.

Posted by Canberra Gooner on 01/31/2012

Great comeback from the team. A comeback that generates a lot of hope but unless we get a result against Bolton on Wed, not much else.

I am hanging out for a game where it all comes together and we just smash someone 5 nil.


Posted by adeshina oyedokun on 01/31/2012

its not easy to comeback from two to zero dawn, but arsenal show that they can put enybody wrong.

Posted by dchow on 01/31/2012

Sam: would like to hear your views about who should be our GK in future FA Cup matches, Fabiansky or Szczesny?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I think Fabianski might play in the next round, but after that, I think Szczesny will play in the later rounds.

Posted by Anonymous on 01/31/2012

At the start of the season our first choice wingers were in orxer arshavin gervinho walcott benayoun chamberlain ryo. i would say things have changed somewhat. as i see it now its more like chamberlain gervinho walcott arshavin benayoun ryo. ok so we know benayoun is not a winger but earlier in the season he was getting picked there ahead of chamberlain and i would say if the other 4 were out he would be next in line. but what this shows is the demise of arshavin the rise of the ox and gervinho and walcotts inabiloty to introduce consistency to their game. i just think if we can offload arshavin sign hazard then convert santos into a winger whilst buying baines we would then have walcott gervinho chamberlain hazard santos and ryo providing our wing play. benayoun should be sent back to chelsea unless we can take him on a free as far as i am concerned i would rather have lansbury on the bench than yossi. up front its clear that bendtner vela chamakh and park are not good enough get rid.

Posted by zebra on 01/31/2012

Thanks Sam!

was great to see the side win one again! and with such force. it's often been the case that our shying away and lack of ruthless desire has kept us out of any comebacks! this desire in the second half reminds me of our triumph at chelsea

i am so glad to see the bench so strong again! to have options and to threaten teams. i am amazed that without any substitution, the same team turned it around. i felt that we had also dominated in the first half but lacked that finish and sense of urgency. having arteta and sagna have especially given the team a boost, despite waiting on Wilshire's results..

i feel that the coming games will help reestablish our winning ways and allow us a platform to climb up to a successful season. our disappointing losses aside, there are many positives ahead. hopefully the side's surge will have us surpass expectations and enjoy the benefits of returning players and a deeper team!

Posted by JAPHETH PETER MATASI on 01/31/2012

Thanks sammy for your comments,indeed your a true gooner who speaks out your heart and mind. Just wanted to know is there a way the team and the board can be getting our views and observations for tha betternewss of the team

Posted by Chris Harry on 01/31/2012

Great article as always Sam. I loved the way Tomas Rosicky put in an extra shift in the middle of the park on Sunday, tirelessly tracking back and getting suck in there, to m he was my man of the match. Can't remeber the last time he scored a goal but I'd prefer such a performance over a goal anytime...

Posted by Nwabueze on 01/31/2012

Sunday victory did much to cover for recent lapses, and will also inspire a renewed hope for silverware and a top 4 position. The return of injured players boosts this hope.

Posted by Alex G on 01/31/2012

I do enjoy your blogs Sam!
The comeback in the second half was commendable, and the team deserves ful credit. Unfortunately the damage to our season has happened (during two critical yet entirely avoidable spells in the season) thus while it is important to give credit while credit is due and remain hopeful, this is another false dawn. Nevertheless we continue to support the Arsenal!

Posted by Arsenal Army on 01/31/2012

I'm really glad that Arsenal win in such crucial game even tho the advantages are on us as we played at home and win by 2 penalties and 1 very lucky goal.People might said we deserve that penalties but for me,it still a penalty.
We still can't create & score goal from good movement,creativity or tactics.We still lack so much especially the finishing in front of goal except RVP.That's worrying me so far.
So AW must look deeply to solve this issues and as for defender-I wait so long and don't know when we gonna settle it.Our defender truly very poor beginning of the season,then start to pick up and defend well without let any silly mistake goal.Since Dec until now,they began to show their lack of tight defend,not focus,not organized or well prepared.
Still I say..Arsenal lack of 'The Champ' attitudes-can't always maintain the performance, high fighting spirit and play smart.You just can't predict what kind of performance,they will show us on next game.Just look 90% of MU or Barca games.

Posted by chuckles on 01/31/2012

Hi Sam, I love the way you see this Arsenal team with rose colured glasses - yes, we won the game, but if we hadn't got the 2 penalties and Theo's utter fluke, we would have lost again.

Did anyone read Gazidis hilarious claim about City being jealous of us? He more or less stated we are now a selling club! What is going on at the Board level, where is the ambition? Why did AW loan out 19yr old midfielder Miyaichi to Bolton then buy a 19yr old midfielder from Dortmund?

Posted by Anonymous on 02/01/2012

its the inconsistent results that have made me a cynical supporter, i love the team and think we have enough talent to challenge most teams, but the squad is thin and i'm really worried about the ability of this side to continue the push (as sad as it is to say) for 4th. i really hope wilshire returns sooner than later, and that the lack of action in the january transfer window doesn't bite us because we really have no one off the bench who can change a game. we need the desire we showed in the second half against AVFC in most games if we have any shot at the top 4

Posted by Raza on 02/01/2012

Great blog as usual Sam. Why cant the team produce the same Arsenal performance week in week out? They clearly have the ability, and claim to be motivated enough, so dont know whats wrong. Anyways, Arteta and Sagna returning is great; we have missed them so much. I cant praise Rosicky enough; he's been so good that we should be putting him as CAM instead of Ramsey. I remain hopeful that we can still make top 4, perhaps even top 3 if spurs collapse, and do the FA cup with Utd and City out.

Sam do you know anything about this kid we have signed? Most of us haven't heard of his name before this. Do you think he can offer us anything this season? He's old enough by Wenger's standards (19).

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. Honestly, I know very little about Eisfield. I've not seen him play before so hard to make a judgement. I don't expect to see him in the first team until pre-season.

Posted by blave on 02/01/2012

Great comeback. I have to admit I was feeling pretty sour at half time. Seems like the kind of result that could be pivotal for the season and I'm so happy the way it went!

Credit goes not just to the players for performing with great tenacity and desire but to AW for sticking with them instead of feeling like he had to make substitutions at the half, especially with criticism of late.

Wonderful to see the first of the reinforcements coming Bac. No doubt Sagna will bolster our potency at both ends of the pitch.

Two more quality goals for our captain and very pleased he wasn't given any undeserved punishment in spite of what the Villa manager and fans think. What a joke!

Cmon Gunners! Keep playing with that 2nd half spirit!

Posted by gunner138098 on 02/01/2012

Great comeback by Arsenal!now that we've loaned Miyachi out & signed Eisfeld,where do u think Wenger will play him?is he the next Fabregas?

Posted by andrew kiken on 02/01/2012

Arsenal need Gervinho he creates chances for van persie as walcott sometimes does. Arsenal is losing close games, that if Gervinho had played in he would have a positive influence in at least a few of them. Walcott is underrated, you have to leave him on the field. If you were a defender, you would be worried if Walcott ran at you with a few feet momentum. I think Arsenal fans are a little blind to who your good players are. Oxlade Chamberlin is a good player as a midfielder, but not the same threat that walcott is.

Posted by patrik bergstedt on 02/01/2012

Hi Sam,

Here´s a suggestion for a topic/post; the enigma that is Arshavin.

As many fans clearly would have seen him sold in the january window. There might be a reasonably fair assumption that he´s rubbish. I agree with that picture up to a point.

Arshavin is rubbish as a winger. But he isn´t a winger. He excels in a trequartista role, as the link between offensive midfielders and strikers.he wreaked havoc on the swedish national team in Spain 2008. Great pace and fantastic linkplay.

Why Wenger doesn´t play Arshavin in his natural role is beyond me. There is of course a question of other players and so forth. That is a valid argument but doen´t explain why Wenger keeps him and defines him as a winger.

I would very much like to hear your opinion in this matter.

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I don't think Arshavin works hard enough as a third central midfielder to play in there. I'd be intrigued to see him play there in a bigger game as he was good there when we played Bolton in the Carling Cup, but playing him on the left wing definitely isn't helping him.

Posted by fakazani on 02/01/2012

I am glad we won but the team doesnt concvince me of the ability to finish in the top 4.Honestly we repeat the same mistakes over and over again and in most cases dig our own holes.
Sam what do you think will happen when Gervinho comes back, should Walcott or the Ox start on the right wing against the so called bigger teams?

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. Honestly at the moment I'd like to see the Ox and Gervinho start to give Theo a reality check.

Posted by Gooooooner on 02/01/2012

Nice write-up. I agree that the boys played well. The goals were both somewhat unfortunate. I was of the opinion that there was a foul leading up to the header, as I felt Dunne used one or two arsenal players for leverage. As for the second, it was a nice bit of skill from Bent, but the defense shouldn't have been caught out so easily. Though Per is not fully to blame, a lack of pace is definitely apparent when Arsenal is scrambling back.

I also want to make more mention of how far Koscielny has come. I remember last season seeing him sitting with his head in his hands, completely lost for confidence. This season, he is a whole new player and his driving run shows a complete turnaround of confidence and with fit fullbacks, I see Koscielny and Verm as our top CBs. Per is a nice back up but he doesn't hold a candle to those two.

Up Arsenal!
Thanks for writing Sam!

Posted by praxis on 02/01/2012

lol. Walcott! The only thing he scares are the daisies when he shoots and his teammates as he gives away the ball. In fact this entire team is soft. Are Arsenal fans really OK with band-aids like Arteta in the team. There is a reason he can't find a spot on his national side and that should be the same at Arsenal. Think about he is not even a backup plan for Spain. The lack of action in this transfer window is deplorable. Aresene Wenger has lost the plot.

Posted by Kevin on 02/01/2012

Wenger has had time, to make adjustments and bring in the rite players to replace the ones we've lost. The majority of Arsenal players belong in a bottom of the league table team like Wigan. If it's up to Wenger he'll wait to sell RVP to Man City before he makes a half decent signing. If Mourinho is back in England next yr, get rid of Wenger and get Jose.

Posted by Surya on 02/01/2012

can Bolton win today?

Posted by MonroviaGunner on 02/01/2012

You have it right with this: "Players were suddenly taking responsibility and not waiting for things to happen, they were making them happen. Instead of playing simple sideways passes, midfielders were looking forward and trying to utilise our pace out wide."

This has been the problem with the current Arsenal side. Most seem afraid to take the ball diretly to the opposition. To avoid losing the ball and being seen as incompetent, the safest to do is to pass the ball laterally, which means more time is spent in the center of the pitch thus allowing stranded opposition defenders to consolidate. This is the wrong kind of Arsenalesque passing game. Swansea, I dare say, now plays more like the Arsenal of years ago.

Posted by hasnanyunus on 02/02/2012

Where's Arsenal's style of play gone? It's reduced to nothing, all those years of hard work. It's very frustrating.......Emmanuelle petit says

Posted by Kenneth on 02/02/2012

Andrew Kiken must be blind and do not know how to rate a player. How many time did Walcott run at defender and deliver a good cross? How many time did he make the right decision when in dangerous decision? How many time when on one to one, he failed to beat the goal keeper?

Posted by JoolzyBergkamp on 02/02/2012

Sam, I like your reply above where you think that Gervinho and Ox should start over Walcott so as to provide a reality check for #14. Walcott has been very wasteful for too long, esp. on that thru-ball against Bolton yesterday-- that was the best chance for the team to score and we needed it badly.

What do think of the Ox? I like him ... very Pires-esque in the past three games and steadily improving-- darting in from the wing to make an incisive pass into the 18' and the occasional shot.

Sam Limbert: Thanks for your comment. I'm a big fan of the Ox from the games he played so far. He's not afraid to run with the ball and try to take players on, but is also confident enough to have a shot. Has massive potential to do well at the club.

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David Young Sam Limbert: My retirement as a football player came at the age of 14 due to being rubbish, it's fair to say I was more Kaba Diawara than Thierry Henry, so I turned my focus to writing about the game. I'm a lifelong Arsenal fan and have been lucky enough to watch the team across England and Europe. My favourite Gunner of all time is Dennis Bergkamp, and the 2004 Invincibles is the greatest side I've ever seen in English football. I try to be positive about the Arsenal as it's the hope that keeps us going! Follow me on twitter @SamsMatchReport.

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