The Perfect Gift for Wenger’s 60th Birthday

By on October 18, 2009

Robin van PersieSee below, as always, for match highlights and a post-match interview with Arsene Wenger.

Another multi-goal margin of victory. Another “more than two goals” tally. Another soft goal conceded. Arsenal have seemingly picked up  where they left off before the international break. Birmingham’s visit to North London proved to be an entertaining match that is open to interpretation.

Goonerholic, rightly, stressed the grittiness of the victory. This is the type of match which, in late 2007-08 and 2008-09, we would’ve been likely to concede a second goal and end up walking away having given away two points. However, and it’s a testament to the growing maturity of the side, I never really feared that we would give away an equalizer, even as we continued to push forward without qualification.

That may be just one supporter’s growing confidence in the side, but I suspect many of you felt the same way I did. Of course, there will be many who have become a bit jaded over the last couple of years that would’ve still expected such disaster but I suspect that even they are beginning to soften their pessimism.

On the other hand, this was a match which Arsenal dominated as well. We had 19 goal attempts to Birmingham’s 3 and shots on goal were 11-2. We completely dominated play until the 39th minute when Bowyer drew one back for Birmingham with their first shot on goal.

Was Mannone Theo Walcott injuryat fault for the goal or was he impeded? Both, I would say. The replay angle from behind the goal certainly looks like Bowyer impeded Mannone’s arms. But, at the same time, Mannone needs to be more decisive and go get the ball. His challenge should have been strong enough to withstand the minimal contact offered by Larsson.

When asked whether or not Almunia would be starting in goal on Tuesday, having recovered from the longest chest infection known to man, Arsene said, “I don’t know.” Mannone is not ready to hold down the number one spot but it appears that Wenger’s confidence in Almunia has taken a hit and I would like to see a healthy Fabianski get a run of games and a genuine chance to lay claim to the spot.

Meanwhile, Theo Walcott’s injury nightmare continues after a crunching tackle from Ridgewell. Ridgewell got the ball first but his trailing leg just demolished Walcott who fell awkwardly over the Birmingham player bent over his back. Walcott now is almost certain to miss Tuesday’s Champions League fixture at Alkmaar. He will be scanned today to determine whether his knee is just bruised or whether there is a problem with his ligament, in which case he could be out for a few weeks.

The concern over the lack of scoring by the forwards a bit earlier in the season can now be seen for what it was… useless worrying and media fear-mongering. Robin van Persie’s goal showed him and his technique at its best. He has now scored once in each of Arsenal’s last four matches and even the concerns he voiced about the need to become more comfortable as the spearhead of the 4-3-3 should be assuaged.Andrei Arshavin 4

The third goal, and the fifth against Blackburn two weeks ago, are perhaps the most encouraging for me. Both were lightning-fast counterattacking goals. The thing that I have felt that separated this Arsenal side from the Invincibles, and even the Wenger teams before that, was the counterattack. The Invincibles were, quite simply, the greatest counterattacking side I have ever seen. They broke with pace, precision, intelligence, and creativity regularly.

In the last few years, as the play has been completely directed through Fabregas, in a deeper position than this year, and our style has become more about intricate passing, we seemed to have lost the will or initiative to counterattack in that manner. That is why it is so encouraging to see these quality counterattacks from the current side. They seem more willing to get the ball up the pitch quickly. How much of this has to do with the formation or Fabregas’s more advanced position I am not sure, but who cares?

With the personnel we have in Arshavin and Walcott, we now have the capability to be devastating in counterattacking situations in a way we were not when we had Hleb and Rosicky on the wings. Arshavin is so dangerous in a one-on-one situation from a wide position, especially when he’s running at defenders. Their reluctance to close him down in those situations is due to a fear of being embarrassed when he blows right by them. So they give him space and he can either do what he did yesterday or what he did against Blackburn.

The third goal looked easy but what made it possible was everything Arshavin has done before. The 4 goals at Liverpool, the great debut goal, and all the other stunning moments in his brief Arsenal career. Because of those, he poses a threat to defenders that is not equaled by many, if any, in the league when he is on the ball. That is what made the third goal possible… defenders’ fear.

Since September 16th, Arsenal have played 7, won 7, scored 21 goals, scored 2 or more goals 6 times, and conceded only 5. Not too bad for an immature side that was in such crisis and unable to challenge for any trophies, according to the media, following the two Manchester defeats.

Alex SongI should also mention the solid matches had by Alex Song and, even, Abou Diaby. Besides for his goal, Diaby put in one of his better off-the-ball performances. Song continues to grow on a weekly basis in the holding role and the better he gets, the better the team gets. The holding role has become almost necessary in modern football but it is definitely so for Arsenal. When Flamini played it well, the club was flying. Last year, with Song just learning the position, the side struggled. The team’s maturation is tied to the development and maturation of Song as a holding midfielder.

Those who question the depth of the side should have a look at our bench yesterday. Almunia, Sagna, Silvestre, Traore, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Arshavin, with Eduardo, Nasri, and Vela besides. Depth for this side is not a problem. As long as Senderos remains, we are only troubled depth-wise when we reach the number four center-back. And even that is only because of Djourou’s long-term injury. We are most certainly deeper than Liverpool, and I would dare to say that we are also deeper than United this season. Chelsea look to have depth but that will be put to the test come January and the African Cup of Nations.

So it’s on to Holland for our Matchday 3 of the Champions League Group Stage to face Ronald Koeman’s AZ Alkmaar. Underestimating this side would be a big mistake as they are the current champions of the Dutch Eredivisie. However, should we come away with maximum points from our first three group matches, our qualification for the knockout round is all but assured.

And the biggest benefit will be that when the fixture list gets hectic, with 8 games each in December and January, we will be able to afford to rest key players in the latter part of the Group Stage.

If we beat Alkmaar and Standard Liege at home in the next two matches, we would be able to rest players for what is the most difficult fixture of the Group Stage, Olympiacos away. This would greatly play to our benefit with Liverpool away in the league only four days later.

And, so, in the week of Arsene’s 60th birthday, he is given the gift of seeing this side, which he has created from scratch and nursed for years,despite massive criticism of both himself and the players, finally maturing and approaching something resembling their potential. We’ve waited a long time for this and I believe we are finally bearing witness to the coming-of-age of this seemingly forever-young side.

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Arsene Wenger Post-match Interview

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  1. Comrade23

    October 18, 2009 at 11:39 am

    Agree with your assessment, especially regarding the importance of Song’s emergence as such a quality holding midfielder. I have to disagree however, on Fabianski. Whereas Vito, also a young ‘keeper, has had instances of difficulty asserting himself on the ball into the box (see N’Zonzi’s goal and Bowyer’s yesterday), this is something that is easily corrected in time, and he appears very poised. Fabianski, for me, seems to look nervous between the sticks, often manifesting itself in over-aggressive play (a la Chelsea last spring), leaving an exposed goal more often than not. Additionally, while he is capable of some fantastic saves, he can look absolutely shambolic a moment later. If Almunia has lost his place (and it remains to be seen), I have more faith in Don Vito than in our young Pole.

  2. ArsenalStation

    October 18, 2009 at 11:52 am

    Fabianksi’s over-aggressiveness is just as easily corrected as Mannone’s timidity. Maybe even more easily. Let’s not forget that Fabianski’s aggressiveness was an act of compensation due to his lack of confidence in the defense, especially when Silvestre was in there. This year that is not an issue.

    Fabianski has far more experience than Mannone and I’m personally not willing to place what looks like being our best chance at silverware in years on a 20 year old kid who is not even a full international. That’s not to slag him off… he has great potential and in 3-4 years could be good enough for the #1 spot outright but at the moment, if it’s not Almunia, then it has to be Fabianski.

  3. Frichie

    October 18, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Song is dominating the middle of the pitch, if not 80% of the whole pitch, he appears everywhere sometimes and his assist was great. Played to feet at pace. i dunno if anyone else noticed the amount of times he received the ball in the centre circle and he had no support, he holds it like a erm…holding midfielder…but still manages to pick out an advanced teammate with a good pass…and i like wengers description of him as a slalom runner, he is getting better and better.

    Other than that Mannone is doing brilliantly but accept that he is young and will take a knock in confidence, but i dont think he was too much at fault for the goal, Larrson jumped back into him, and maybe he needs more power to just flatten the attacker but the ball wasnt that close to him…he had to come a bit out for it, Almunia prob would have punched it rather than trying to get two hands to it…but thats down to exp…and for Vito to be learning in the 1st team while still winning is fantastic!!!

    • ArsenalStation

      October 18, 2009 at 1:10 pm

      I agree about Mannone. I’m not slagging him off or anything. But this looks to be our best chance at silverware in a few years and I would be really wary to entrust it to an inexperience kid just getting his first run in the time when we have Almunia and Fabianski, a full international, on the bench.

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