The Three Things I Learned From Sunday

By on December 14, 2009

I have to admit that I was not entirely confident going into yesterday’s match. Bad things have happened recently in our big 4 matches; that is, if Liverpool can still be considered a “big 4″ side. Liverpool had Gerrard and Torres available and our injury situation had not improved. The results on Saturday only made many of us even more worrisome.

With the place we were in, we just could not afford to drop any points on a weekend which saw Chelsea and United drop a combined five points. Had that been the case, the title could very well have been out of our grasp. It might not have, but it could have been. The point being that it is getting to that time of season where every opportunity must be taken; there can be no more “early-season blips.”

But, after watching Arsenal’s gritty determination enable them to turn around a 1-nil deficit and hold on to a 2-1 lead for over half an hour at Anfield, it seemed to me that three things became crystal clear over the course of the 90 minutes. Now, some of these may already have been obvious to some of my readers, so I only speak for myself. Here they are:

1. Andrei Arshavin is Robin van Persie’s “replacement.”

Arsenal have only seemed even remotely close to their early-season attacking threat after van Persie’s injury since Wenger has deployed Arshavin in the central role. The man is such an overall talented footballer that he made his reputation in Russia and international football playing behind the striker, then came to Arsenal where he has proved to be one of, if not the, best purchase in the last two years in the Premier League playing out wide on the left.

He has now shown that he not only can he play in the central striker’s role, but he is just as effective there as anywhere else. And he looks perfectly natural doing it. The timing of his runs against Stoke and against Liverpool, his movement between the center-backs… he looks more a natural central forward than either Eduardo or Carlos Vela, at the moment.

Both have failed to take their chances in the wake of van Persie’s injury. Yet moving Arshavin to the middle can actually end up benefiting both of them. It clears a spot on the left for Wenger to further utilize the rest of his attacking talent including getting the recently-returned Theo Walcott more minutes. But, with Arshavin in the middle and Theo on the right, it also opens up the left side for either Eduardo or Vela to get minutes out there. In the immediate wake of van Persie’s injury, Arsenal suddenly looked bereft of attacking ideas and while our early-season explosiveness is yet to return, Arshavin’s move to the middle provides the hope that all is not yet lost.

2. Almunia is not good enough.

I have always tried to give Manuel Almunia the benefit of the doubt. In 2007-08, most people were calling for us to sign a quality keeper, but I thought he did a great job that season. He wasn’t spectacular but he was very solid and inspired more confidence than the quickly-declining Jens Lehmann. When he struggled a bit last year, I was willing to put it down to the effect of the entire team having a rough season. But, Almunia has never recovered.

Rather than not improving, as a keeper in his early 30s should, Almunia has gone backwards. He was never dominant in the air but this season it has become damn near comic. He looks like a Keystone Kop going up for balls delivered into the box. Central defenders need a solid keeper behind them that inspires at least the bare minimum of confidence and Almunia is nowhere close to doing even that for Gallas and Vermaelen.

Obviously, the club has two options in this situation. Either Arsene can hand the #1 spot over to Fabianski to stake a claim to it, or he can buy in January or the summer.

3. We are back!

The most important thing we learned on Sunday afternoon was that we are back in the title race. If Arsenal win their game-in-hand, home to Bolton on January 6, they would be level on points with United and only three behind Chelsea. All of a sudden, a team that looked in crisis a few weeks ago, is a game-in-hand away from being level with United.

Arsenal showed a grit and determination in coming back from 1-nil down to take the lead at Anfield. But, even more impressive, they then went on to hold on to that lead for over half an hour. They kept pushing forward and, while Liverpool had some odd chances, they controlled the entire second half. It was the first time we had won there since 2003, which was also the last time any team had come from behind to win at Anfield.

Gerrard’s penalty-shout in the first half was the classic English way to draw a penalty. Just like Rooney did against us, Gerrard got a heavy touch on the ball putting it out of his reach and then made a meal of the contact. Howard Webb, to his credit, saw through the ruse. Yes, there was contact on Gallas’s part, but Gerrard had no chance to get the ball following his last touch. It’s a distinction in the penalty rules that is often ignored, especially when it comes to England’s golden boys. Torres, also, was more than willing to go to ground with the breeze, which is highly disappointing for a player of his caliber.


The way the match went showed the difference in the sides this season. Liverpool took the lead after looking fairly confident throughout the first half. However, once Glen Johnson scored the own goal, they looked like a defeated side. Arshavin’s goal only sealed their fate, it didn’t make it. Liverpool did not have the strength of character to deal with losing the lead despite controlling the match up until that point. Arsenal, despite their ineffective start on the back of a run of a disappointing results, always believed that they could get three points from the match.

Even more so after Wenger’s supposed fit in the changing room at half-time. Cesc said that Arsene told them they weren’t fit to wear the Arsenal shirt. That must have stunned them because their second half performance was quite a contrast with the first half. They didn’t look a “different” team, but they did look a more determined and more motivated team after that. Arsenal have won their Champions League group and now sit within striking distance of the two sides above them in the table. And it feels good.

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  1. Caknucklehead

    December 14, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Well said, but very sad with the evident decline of Almunia. I remember him coming on in the Champ’s final in 2006 and thinking, “Oh shit” but he did well to overtake Lehman. Arsene should defo start Fabianski in midweek, he looked great against the Greeks. Then hit the market in January. Almunia the Albatross isn’t even a back-up that instills ANY kind of confidence, let alone when trying to hold a lead.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 14, 2009 at 10:31 am

      The thing is that it would be highly unlikely to find a quality keeper at all, let alone one that isn’t cup-tied in January. I think Fabianski should get this season to show Arsene that he doesn’t need to buy. And if he can’t, then we get a quality keeper in the summer.

  2. TC

    December 14, 2009 at 10:35 am

    #2 should read: Neither Almunia or Walcott are good enough

    • Pacemonster

      December 14, 2009 at 11:02 am

      Agree that Almunia is not top quality (and all the EPL winning teams have had top quality keepers) but I think Walcott needs more time to get his confidence up again and strengthen up. He’s clearly got huge potential and we just need to be patient. We’ve seen Flamini and recently Song develop over time into key players – Theo just needs more games.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 14, 2009 at 11:07 am

      It’s a bit harsh to say that about Walcott considering he is just back from a long layoff. I could’ve included Diaby, actually.

  3. Caknucklehead

    December 14, 2009 at 10:38 am

    Yes I definitely agree, Fabianski just seems hungry doesn’t he? I think after last night’s showing, Arsene will HAVE to look to the younger keeper and give him his chance. Although the competition doesn’t seem to add fuel to Almunia’s fire as it should. He should be stepping up and owning the box, but he seems scared to come off of his line. I just don’t get it, at 32 yrs old, he should be rarin to go, especially w the time he’s already missed this year. Hoping to become England’s number 1? Gimme a break!

  4. Aslak

    December 14, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I wonder whether Kamenei of Espanyol has penned a new deal? He was out of contract this summer, would be a fantastic signing, THOUGH will probably go to African Cup this winter.

  5. Norman Sheridan

    December 14, 2009 at 10:41 am

    I have to agree with your comments. We do need a good keeper and Arshavin is by far the best buy in the last two
    years. But still the speed we go at is not as good as when Henry etc were at Arsenal. Keep it up.

  6. Asenalboyi

    December 14, 2009 at 10:47 am

    Totally agree with ArsenalStation

  7. Tazz

    December 14, 2009 at 10:56 am

    Who said we need tall players, when we have Arshavin with us. He is pure magic. TH14 comes to mind, given his knack of coming alive on the big occasions. 7 yes Almunia is way below par, all of them are.

    Wenger was again right by sticking to his guns. Hail him.


  8. Carl Tatham

    December 14, 2009 at 11:03 am

    I agree with everything you have written, although i would love to see us play an attacking 4-4-1-1 with Arshavin sitting behind Ginac :) Yes we need a keeper, Almunia is just dodgy and i get a lump in my throat everytime a team attacks us…

  9. WarriGooner

    December 14, 2009 at 11:05 am

    You will notice that only one “away” team (West Ham), went back home without any points last weekend. All other teams got a pont at least on their travels. I took note of that after Saturday’s round of matches. It held true on Sunday as well.

  10. nashisarsenal

    December 14, 2009 at 11:20 am

    Im upset with the decline of Manuel, but it is a fact that has to be adressed.

    I think Fab is good, but whether he is the world class keeper we’ve been crying out for?.. Who k nows?

  11. DB10

    December 14, 2009 at 11:41 am

    I really don’t know what Le Boss see’s in Almunia.
    Doesn’t command his area, awful at crosses, no ‘presence’ in the box, and an average shot-stopper. Fabianski seems a tad excitable to me, but even he’s better at crosses and appears significantly shorter. Must say I liked the look of Mannone. Physically big, opens his gob, and goes thru players (friend and foe) to get his ball.
    A sure route to undermineing the confidence of your defence is to stick with a keeper they are afraid to trust. At 30 Almunia should be in his prime and if this is it, then nowhere near the top quality our team deserves.

  12. Julius

    December 14, 2009 at 12:17 pm


  13. TonyM

    December 14, 2009 at 12:36 pm

    Akinfeev looked good in champions league. the french number 1 looked good in the ireland play-off. What about Boruc? Jaskelainen? I don’t think its hard to find better than what we have. I think on almunias current form there’s 19 better keepers in the league.
    I’m sure if Arsene wants a new number 1 he will have someone in mind we probably never heard of. I think its about time we spent big on a keeper but who knows how he feels about manuel. As a man who lives by statistics lets hope he is taking notice of almunias shots on/saves ratio. worst in the league i believe

  14. Ted Harwood

    December 14, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    I watched the game with my friends, who are Liverpool supporters, and they were pretty grim during the second half.

    It’s funny, because I have thought a couple of times this year that Wenger might have to say something a little bit fiery at half time, and it appears that he finally found an opportunity to do so. It was, as he said, a matter of commitment in the 50/50s, and once the players started believing they could win the challenges, things turned right around.

    I always thought that when we got “out-physicaled” (as certain pundits said after Chelsea), it wasn’t a physical problem, but more of a belief or confidence problem. Our players are good enough to outplay anyone in the world, and when they have confidence, this shows.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 14, 2009 at 2:33 pm

      I think you’re right, Ted. You could see in Fabregas and Vermaelen’s interview (which I’ve added) that they were genuinely shocked at Wenger’s comments at half-time. A manager who yells all the time gets his players to the point where they just tune him out. Wenger, by being so calm and collected all the time, gets a far greater reaction when he does air his frustration. I’m sure telling them they weren’t fit to wear the shirt must have been an absolute wake-up call to most of them. The fact that that is what he told them and they responded to it shows that they know there is something special about the shirt and that it is something which they cannot take for granted and are justified in having pride in.

  15. Brahma

    December 14, 2009 at 1:14 pm

    I think the keeper we’d all like, including LeBoss, is Hugo Lloris, but his team is still involved in the Champions League, so we’d have to wait until next year regardless. But yeah, Almunia’s time has come and gone, we need a dynamic goalkeeper, not a “placeholder”. Fabianski it is then, I think, we’re not going to grab anyone in January.

  16. guest

    December 14, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    are you people deft? Fabianski is streaky not consistent. we definitely need to buy a big goalkeeper.May be Green?

  17. Pompey.T

    December 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I must commend the author of this site for such great coverage of arsenal fc. Its my first time and it has impressed me. I feel that i must respond to some of the comments made. I like to be fair in my evaluations, first almunia does have his faults, commanding the area, covering when the defence is beaten and his ability to dream at times. He however did well in the last minutes of the liverpool game. The ability to slow the game down. Now i read a whole list of articles about arshavins goal and the own goal and theo wallcotts bad run of form. Now to be fair i agree that he needs to improve and u his game but you cant deny that he had a positive impact on the result at liverpool. Three moments that stand out to are (1) The ball that he recieved then pass to sagna on the right wing in the final third under immence pressure. (2) For the own goal his positioning and agressive attitude to attack the ball caused johnson to react, for the pass was intended for walcott. (3) Walcott’s positioning and the ability to jump for the ball, enable arshavin to receive the ball and score.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 14, 2009 at 2:30 pm

      Welcome aboard, Pompey.T. I am very pleased that you are enjoying the blog and appreciate your comments.

      Those are all very fair points in assessing Walcott’s performance. Like I said above, I, too, am loathe to criticize Walcott so soon after his return. Like any other footballer, he needs far more minutes than he’s gotten so far to get back to being truly match-ready as opposed to match-fit.

  18. BendyTheViking

    December 14, 2009 at 6:59 pm

    Almunia is done. I have said it since he ousted Jens that Arsenal will win nothing with Almunia between the sticks and week after week he continues to prove me right. At this point we need a new keeper. And I agree with Arsenal Station that January is not the ideal time to find one with players cup tied and all. At this point I would rather have Fabianski in there. Sure he makes mistakes but can he possibly be worse then Almunia? The difference is he is a young keeper and should be learning from his mistakes where Almunia should be hitting his prime. It is time the boss do the right thing and sit Vanilla Ice back on the bench and give Fabianski a run out.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 14, 2009 at 9:19 pm

      Bendy, I always thought you jumped the gun a bit on that one. I, on the other hand, was willing to give Almunia a chance. And for a 2/3 of the season in 2007-08 he looked like he had the potential to be a good enough keeper. However, he has basically self-destructed in the last 18 months.

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  20. Cobravich

    December 15, 2009 at 4:40 am

    I think the Gerrard pen decision is definitely a contentious one, probably would have expected it had it been one of ours as Gallas had no way of knowing wether the ball was essentially dead, but more contentious was the way Match of the day completely ignored Rooney throwing himself to the ground in the box against Villa, not only didn’t they mention it but then went on to list the positive attributes of his performance in which he didn”t score in 90 mins. After the CSI style dissection of the Eduardo pen, in a game we won 5-1 on agg, it beggars belief. Will Rooney be booed on his next 5/10 games, no, because the baying hounds havn’t had the bloody Rag{get it} waved under there noses every 5 mins on Sky S news/ Motd/ football focus. Up the Arsenal!

  21. sonnu

    December 15, 2009 at 5:18 am

    we need clever keeper.not dumb almunia i do not c arsenal winning with the keeper they have. against man u he gets nervous this year last year.change da keeper for arsenal shake and theo run like horse but without brain.theo movement i don’t understand he goes somewhere where as he is supposed to be somewhere.its easy so to mark theo.he just runs just runs no asssit no goals no cross no dribling.wat is this.and there is denilson useless.

  22. Tosin Luji

    December 15, 2009 at 5:19 am

    This is a good assessment of the position of things at Arsenal. We need a better GK and a point perfect striker in the mode of Drogba or Toress. Almunia is gone and Ashavin cannot do the job alone. We were just fortunate to have won the match against Liverpool. Pls AW act fast.

    • ArsenalStation

      December 15, 2009 at 8:09 am

      Tosin, I will admit that I sometimes wonder what Arsenal would be like if we had Torres. Or even just that type of player… a consistently lethal central striker. If Arsenal had that kind of threat, the rest of our attack would become that much better.

      However, let’s not forget that van Persie was far more valuable over the first 2 1/2 months of the season than Torres… 8 goals and 7 assists in 15 games tells the whole story. My biggest fear is that we will spend the summer wondering, “What if van Persie hadn’t gotten injured?” If we lose the title by even as many six points, those are six points that RvP could’ve earned on his own given his long-term form before his injury.

  23. Harry Barracuda

    December 15, 2009 at 7:18 am

    Almunia’s sudden decline is mystifying. Did he get his English citizenship or something? :)

  24. swarve

    December 15, 2009 at 8:58 am

    The short sighted ignorance of sum gooners perplexes me. So walcott needs time but diaby shud go…? Pisses me off2be honest! Both have shwn glimpses of brilliance bt both continue2be plagued by injury which ultimately effects der performance yet walcott gets the cuddles while diaby gets the electric chair! Movin on…..Gr8 post altho I still think we need a striker I dnt c arshavin bein kept there in the long haul, almunia is nt wrthy of wearing the shirt bt wenger can only sort that out in the summer unfrtun8ly! Lloris or Mandanda for me. Red Arrrrmy

    • ArsenalStation

      December 15, 2009 at 9:38 am

      In all fairness, swarve, Diaby is 23 and Walcott is only 20. Diaby has had far more first-team action than Walcott has in the last few years. I think that’s why you’ll find that many people have more patience with Theo with than Diaby. For me, and obviously not Arsene, I think this season is Diaby’s last opportunity to show that he can stay injury-free and that he can integrate himself into the first-team. I thought he began playing well a month or two ago but now he needs to come back to the same form.

  25. jackie the goon

    December 15, 2009 at 10:11 am

    arsenal have a european top psychologist. he gets dem boyz well wound up for da 2nd halve

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  27. Zap

    December 18, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    i bet you weren’t saying this abt almunia after the penalty shoot out in rome were you?

    • ArsenalStation

      December 18, 2009 at 9:20 pm

      No, I wasn’t. But I also wasn’t saying he was fantastic. We got through the shoot-out in Rome due to misses and some of the worst penalties I’ve ever seen taken, not by some extraordinary feat of goalkeeping by Almunia.

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