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There Is An Air About This Side Now
Arsenal did the business yesterday, 3-1 at the Emirates. Though it could very easily have 6 or 7-1. Needing to win by four goals to go clear at the top of the table, Arsenal created more than enough chances to accomplish that feat. The only problem was that most of those chances fell to Nicklas Bendtner, who had one of the most shocking matches in terms of finishing I’ve seen in a long, long time.
It’s a bit harsh to criticize Bendtner as he took it in stride and consistently got himself into great scoring positions all afternoon. Perhaps more importantly, the crowd stayed behind him even when he came off with a thin 2-1 lead. It was a stark contrast to the reception Emmanuel Eboue received last year after a similarly tough match. It seems that this season the supporters have far more belief in the side and are more predisposed to support the team no matter what as we are only two points off the top.
The star of the afternoon was Theo Walcott. Before the match, I wrote that Theo needed to brush off the criticism he’d received midweek and not try as hard as he did against Egypt to have a “big game.” Well, he did that. He could’ve easily had four assists to add to his goal. He used his pace intelligently (take that, Waddle!) throughout the entire match and more importantly the midfield was looking for and finding him.
Theo consistently got in behind the defense and, even more encouraging, consistently delivered quality final balls into the box from wide positions. I don’t remember a better all-around performance from Theo. It was a sharp rebuke to the harsh criticisms he endured following a disappointing match in mid-week for England.
People seem to forget that he is not even 21 and his action has been limited all season due to being overworked during the summer when he played for the U-21s. As he said in his post-match interview, physically, he feels as if his season is just starting. A dangerous, pacy Theo Walcott flying down the right gives Arsenal back a dimension which they had been missing with Theo out injured for most of the season.
I’d also like to point out the performance of Samir Nasri. Having been similarly affected by injuries this season, Nasri is also beginning to hit his stride. His assist on the first goal was sublime and, after Fabregas came off, he played well down the middle. There were some tense moments when Burnley equalized, but the side grabbed the match by the scruff of the neck and Theo broke the deadlock with a smartly-taken left-footed shot just inside the box.
The return of Arshavin was equally encouraging. Today, we saw what we have been missing with Arshavin and Walcott out. If we are to make a serious challenge, we need Arshavin and Theo back to full-fitness and firing on all cylinders.
Fabregas came off with a bit of a hamstring problem, though he was already getting ready to come off when he scored the opener. Wenger says he will undergo a late fitness test before the match on Tuesday. Obviously, we will need Cesc to have our best chance at going through to the next round of the Champions League. He didn’t look particularly hurt and it appears that the substitution was more precautionary than anything. I would expect to see Cesc starting on Tuesday night.
After having most of the side away for the entire week and playing against a Burnley side that was not similarly affected by the international fixtures, we once again showed mental strength after the equalizer. The win sets us up well for the visit of Porto on Tuesday night. We have built some momentum here and need to keep it going. Getting through to the quarterfinals of the Champions League would only add to this side’s growing confidence.
The sense of confidence and belief growing within the side is almost palpable. There is an air about them when they are on the pitch in difficult circumstances during a match. You feel that they will find a way to get the job done. Now we must overcome the slight deficit against Porto and keep our march towards the League and Champions League trophies.
THEO WALCOTT POST-MATCH INTERVIEW
ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW