- Arsenal boss confirms defender could leave in January
- 4-2-3-1 v Boro: Iwobi & Cazorla out? My Arsenal starting XI
- Arsenal boss confirms fresh injury concern + Sanchez update
- 6 Arsenal players named in the Champions League Team of the Week
- [Tweets] Ozil, Ox & more: Arsenal players celebrate after CL win
- [Video] Mesut Ozil arrives home with his hat-trick match ball
- Ratings: Hat-trick hero Ozil shines as Arsenal thrash Ludogorets
- Video: Arsenal 6-0 Ludogorets: Ozil bags hat-trick in rout
- Teams: Arsenal v Ludogorets: Gibbs & Coquelin start
- [Tweet] Arsenal ace ‘can’t wait’ to play as he closes in on comeback
We Asked For A Good Start… (Full Highlights & Interviews)
Christmas seems to have come early to us Gooners this year. We’ve been praying all summer long for the club to get off to a good start and, well, here it is. Could we have asked for two better results? I am sure most of us would’ve been relatively satisfied had we gotten a point at Everton and a scored draw at Celtic. Instead we have a +5 goal differential in the league and a foot and a half in the door to the Champions League Group Stage.
I watched Match of the Day this weekend and saw Shearer praise our football, as he usually does, but, like many of you, I also saw Alan Hansen dismiss Arsenal once again. But this should come as no shock to any Arsenal fan who reads and watches the English media. Of course, Everton were poor but had Manchester United even drubbed Birmingham 6-1 at home, they would all be saying how United have laid down their title credentials right on the spot.
Will this famous victory at Celtic Park change anyone’s minds? Probably not. Even though the list of teams Celtic has beat at Parkhead is a Who’s Who of Champions League semifinalists including United, Milan, and Villareal. Only Barcelona, Dinamo Moscow, and, now, Arsenal have won at Parkhead in 36 European matches. Getting a result at Celtic Park is no mean feat in Europe.
I said yesterday that this match was a test. Well, we passed. Yes, both goals were quite fortuitous. I can understand Celtic fans feeling a bit hard done by but, in reality, they were outclassed by a superior side. Arsenal controlled the game. Celtic only looked threatening early on when they were getting balls into space out wide to McGeady and Maloney. Celtic came out in a defensive 4-5-1 with Samaras alone up top and a mentality reminiscent of a bottom-half Premier League side. They sought to try to press Arsenal in midfield as hard as they could in an attempt to keep them from developing their rhythm. But it really shows where a team like Celtic would place were they to ever play in the English top flight. Arsenal’s midfield, along with the advanced Arshavin, were superb except for a short spell in the middle of the second half. They had trouble getting anywhere near the ball, yet no trouble getting near Fabregas who was fouled so many times and so blatantly late that it felt like a match against Bolton.
Martin Samuel’s piece in The Daily Mail on Arshavin makes for good reading and he praises the Russian’s “coolness under pressure” as “remarkable” considering the atmosphere. He also praises his ability to hold the ball in tight situations and rarely ever lose possession. Sound familiar? Didn’t we all praise these very things as Alexander Hleb’s most valuable traits? Except Arshavin actually shoots, and scores. That he is starting to develop a real understanding with both Gael Clichy and, even more importantly, Cesc Fabregas is undeniable. Denilson had another solid performance following on from Everton as he won and held the ball in midfield and his distribution from midfield continues to improve. He also had a long-range effort go just wide.
There are three players who should be singled out along with Arshavin for exceptional performances. While Cesc may not have had his greatest game in an Arsenal shirt, we saw his development as a captain and a leader on display. Despite being kicked and hacked and frequently on the end of what Wenger called “bad fouls” and “harsh treatmeant” in a hostile atmosphere, the skipper never lost his calm or his nerve, and, therefore, neither did his team. Second, Thomas Vermaelen was absolutely outstanding in much the same way he was at Everton. Winning headers, clearing balls, stepping up when necessary to intercept passes, and, betraying his Ajax pedigree, even getting forward into the attacking third.
The Gallas-Vermaelen pairing is not prone to leaving huge gaps between them like the Toure-Gallas partnership did on a regular basis. This tightness has reduced Arsenal’s vulnerability to the long ball so far. It has also finally given Gallas a partner in whom he feels fully confident. Vermaelen is an out-and-out center back’s center back. He is a born defender. And, as Gilberto Silver from Gunnerblog pointed out, this is something Arsenal haven’t had since the likes of Sol Campbell.
And last, but certainly not least, there is Alexandre Song. A player who in the space of two games has shown himself to be as indispensable to the club in it’s new 4-3-3 guise as Matheiu Flamini was to it’s 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 two seasons ago. Neither result could have been possible without Song’s work in midfield. He seems to have developed a love for the challenge necessary to a modern defensive midfielder. He has become aggressive, but only occasionally reckless, in his challenges, and his passing and distribution from deep has improved beyond almost all recognition from 12 months ago. Most importantly, he knows his role… and has accepted it. A truly effective defensive midfielder can have no pretensions that he is primarily an attacking player. This is why Diaby was never going to be a solution in that spot. Song’s work rate and his overall effectiveness has, in turn, set Fabregas free. Perhaps more interestingly, it has shown that the 4-3-3 can be effective in difficult away matches both domestic and in Europe and should be the final nail in the coffin of the oft-maligned 4-5-1, which Wenger has used in tough away matches for the last few years.
Despite coming out with a pressing game plan, it was Arsenal’s tenacious midfield that pressed Celtic and dominated the middle third of the pitch for almost the entire match. It was another sign of this team’s desire, hunger, and motivation that I wrote about after Everton. This is a truly significant result for this side, this group of players. It may not be for the media, but it most certainly is for the players whose belief will certainly be strengthened having now, only 4 days into the season, already stepped up to two legitimately formidable challenges and emphatically seen them down.
Robin van Persie: