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Arsenal End 2009 In Style
Arsenal closed out the calendar year of 2009 on a high with a 4-1 victory at Fratton Park. It was a cold, mid-week December evening on the south coast, yet an Arsenal side shorn of their two most important players still came away with a very convincing win. Yes, Pompey are bottom of the league, but, coming into the match, Pompey were 12th in the form table over the last six matches.
Arsenal’s four goals gave them 51 goals in their 19 league matches so far. That means that, mathematically, they are on pace to score 102 goals this season. Yet it is highly doubtful the club can replicate the same number of 4+ goal performances in the second half of the season, especially with van Persie, Bendtner, and Walcott habitually injured.
A few players deserve to be singled out from yesterday’s match, most of all, Alex Song. He was immense in midfield and, in the last year, has been transformed into one of the premier defensive midfielders in the Premier League. His work rate is enormous, his ability to hold the ball, mark tightly, and his distribution are all first-class.
Song was everywhere on the Pompey pitch. His attacking play is improving as well as he is now more selective about when to make forward runs and fully join in the attack. I believe that he has become just as important to this team as Flamini was in 2007-08. His work in midfield gives the rest of the midfield and front line the confidence needed to attack with an almost reckless abandon. Song, along with Gallas and Vermaelen, is this side’s irreplaceable players. Without Song, the Arsenal puzzle cannot be complete and that will be the case when he leaves for the African Cup of Nations next week.
Abou Diaby continues to go from strength to strength this season and was rewarded for it with a new contract. Diaby seems to be going through the beginning stages of Matheiu Flamini/Alex Song Syndrome. You know what that is… when a player seems to have no chance of making it for years and then out of nowhere turns into an indispensable part of the side.
I’ve always rubbished the comparisons of Diaby to Vieira, mostly because Diaby is a far more attack-minded player than Vieira was and his utter lack of ability or commitment when defending. However, seeing him making those powerful runs through the center of midfield with those long strides is a bit reminiscent of our former captain. Diaby even made some nice tackles last night. I’m not saying he can now be compared to Patrick Vieira, but he is definitely improving in areas where he has been sorely lacking in recent seasons.
Aaron Ramsey’s play overall on the night was pretty solid having assisted on Samir Nasri’s goal and then scored a stunner himself. Ramsey’s potential is indisputable and last night we also saw a bit of hardness as well as flash as he was subjected to a few very rough challenges. Samir Nasri also had a fine match. Nasri looks quite a different player since his arrival 16 months ago. His ability to hold the ball by using his increased strength has immensely improved this season. He has also developed more comfort and confidence in wide areas than when he arrived.
Another big key to Arsenal’s form this season has been the steadiness of the central defense. Gallas and Vermaelen have developed a great understanding having started every Premier League match together this season. I believe that Gallas was hampered in his partnership with Kolo Toure. Toure is not a natural center-back and I now realize that Gallas was made to look bad due to his lack of confidence in and compensation for his partner. But now, being paired with a strong, left-footed natural center-back, Gallas is free to worry about his job alone and he has excelled.
5 wins in six matches since the Chelsea defeat has brought Arsenal to Chelsea’s door, even more so should we win our game-in-hand home to Bolton on the sixth of January. It’s amazing to see so many pundits still not considering us as legitimate challengers for the title. Yes, Arsenal lost to United, Chelsea, and City, but we should have beat United, had a fluke against Chelsea and the City match was just strange. However, United won the league two years ago with a mediocre record against the other big 4 sides. It’s matches like last night that need to be won consistently to finish top of the table and Arsenal’s only hiccup in that department has been the Sunderland match.
Whether or not Arsenal can win the title will depend on whether or not Eduardo can regain his lethal finishing, Carlos Vela can take his chances, and the central defense and midfield stays relatively injury-free. In a run of matches beginning January 27th, Arsenal will face Villa away, home to United and Liverpool, and away to Chelsea. And all that within 15 days. The ACN final will be played on January 31st, meaning Song could conceivably miss at least two of those crucial four matches.
In other teams news, as reported above, Abou Diaby has agreed to a new contract with the club. Cesc is expected to be 50/50 for the Everton match on January 9th. Theo Walcott is expected to be out for two weeks and Nicjlas Bendtner is still three weeks away from returning.
In the interesting statistics category… in the calendar year of 2009, Arsenal scored more goals and lost less matches than any other team in the Premier League.