Arsenal added another rung to their current unbeaten run in the Premier League with a seventh straight win. This is remarkable for a team given up for dead at the beginning of the year.
The final was Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa.
The goals came from Kieran Gibbs in the 16th minute, Theo Walcott in the 25th from Alex Song’s trademark lofted ball and from Mikel Arteta in stoppage time from a free kick, which was well struck.
Beautiful win. Delicious feeling.
The air is fresher now around Arsenal, and the feelings more mutual among Arsenal fans, who can bicker quite fiercely and petulantly when the clouds bring the frigid rain.
The sun is helping the mood, so much so, that the media seems happier around the Grove.
Here are my thoughts on the match.
Change at the Back
Arsene Wenger was forced to go with Johan Djourou, partnered by Thomas Vermaelen in central defense, after Laurent Koscielny complained of feeling some pain in his knee. This should give Koscielny a much-needed rest.
The forced adjustment worked.
Djourou gave an assured performance, devoid of the characteristic jitteriness that has accompanied him from the tail end of last season and for much of this season.
Rest and playing in his preferred position couldn’t have hurt.
He made a vital block in the final quarter of the game when Aston Villa would have surely scored. As it turned out, all Wojciech Szczęsny had to do was gather the ball.
Wenger Goes Direct
By deciding to go with Gervinho on the left instead of playing Yossi Benayoun on the false winger position, Arsene Wenger opted to go with his most direct formation.
It is direct because Gervinho provides width for Arsenal on the left.
This is different from what Benayoun’s role would be, who, being a midfielder rather than a winger, would tend to collapse the space up front instead of expanding it.
This, of course, admits a reverse scissors move, as Benayoun’s collapse inward calls for a reverse diagonal move from the other front men, either Robin van Persie or Tomas Rosicky.
Gervinho’s role pulls defenders away toward the byline, allowing the front men to make a more direct run.
The advantage of this strategy is that, if the move is executed swiftly, it forces the central defenders of the opposition to turn or to backtrack. Either way, it allows them little time to adjust.
Tap-ins from slicing crosses often result from such moves. Recall the Blackburn Rovers match.
It seems to me that Wenger opts for a direct formation, such as in this case, when the opposition is perceived to be relatively weaker than Arsenal.
But again, when Wenger opted for the lopsided formation in the Tottenham Hotspurs match, other options were hardly available for him.
Nevertheless, we shouldn’t forget that he opted to go with that formation in the first Milan game. It backfired, of course. It did, but it worked against Spurs and it worked in the Wolves game when Benayoun provided the assist for Gervinho’s goal.
Harass Them From the Start
This must have been Alex McLeish’s instruction to his players, judging from the fouls his players were committing in the early minutes of the game, until Phil Dowd decided to stop the nonsense by issuing an early yellow card.
With this in mind, Emile Heskey’s elbow on Johan Djourou, though appearing innocuous, could in fact have been calculated. It did look like a genuine attempt to head the ball, but the fact that he caught Djourou nastily admits no argument.
After the first yellow card, the niggling fouls stopped at the realization that early yellow cards could turn red later.
By the time Phil Dowd put a stop to this, though, 10 minutes of the match had flashed by, and it appeared as though Arsenal would get their essential early goals. That is, the strategy of McCleish and his lads was working…until it didn’t.
But Robin van Persie Did Not Score
When Arsenal’s first goal came in the 16th minute, it didn’t come—as would be expected—from Robin van Persie. It came from the unlikeliest of avenues: Kieran Gibbs.
What is remarkable is that Arsenal defenders are scoring.
All except one of the last four goals have come from defenders. That’s a good sign. No longer must the burden of scoring lie heavily on van Persie, even though it is essential that he keeps his scoring momentum going.
If there was a missing element in this match, it was the absence of a van Persie goal. It would have been gratifying to have him score in this match. But again, he rises to the occasion in the big matches.
Theo Walcott and Bacary Sagna are Beasts
When it comes to the finer letters of this expression, I must confess that I do not really know what it means. Don’t get me wrong; I understand its surface meaning.
I have heard it used enough times in the comments section of my articles to warrant admitting it here.
In this context, it means of course that they are super, as in Übermenschen. They are combining so well down the right flank—and with much joy too.
It is no coincidence that Walcott’s renaissance has followed Sagna’s return.
During the height of fans’ frustration with Walcott, I had noted that his impotence had a lot to do with the absence of a true full-back behind him.
It appears my observation was right. Stats now show that Arsenal’s major threat comes from the right.
Notice that when Walcott gave way to Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sagna curbed his overlapping runs.
This may have something to do with Oxlade-Chamberlain’s more direct approach—an approach that allows little overlap from the full-back.
This isn’t criticism. It is simply a different way of playing, and it has its own advantages.
Alex Song is the New Fabregas?
Alex Song sits deeper, of course, and the comparison isn’t meant to be understood in terms of like for like—that hardly exists anywhere anyway. It means to underscore the fact that Song is making a habit of picking out inch-perfect passes that result into goals.
Let me state an irritation, the thought of which still infuriates.
I read a comment that accompanied Arsenal’s victory over AC Milan, which said that Song is frustrating. Give him the ball and he makes the wrong pass. Song is annoying, blah, blah, blah…
I was annoyed, because this comment was on the back of a Song pass that gave Arsenal victory at Liverpool—a pass reminiscent of the one that enabled Arsenal triumph over Everton in December and guess who made that pass.
I cannot understand such fecklessness. This is my chance to exact my pound of flesh….
I feel better.
The Little Mozart is Back
If the last six or so matches haven’t convinced someone somewhere that he's back, the argument from this match should add another layer to the evidence.
He is back.
He flies; he skips; he conducts; he orchestrates; he breaks up; he deceives with off-the-ball runs. He is good, and he has a new contract.
Who else. Tomas Rosicky.
One Cannot Help the Greediness
As the match wound down, a niggling disappointment played in my mind.
I wanted more goals, and I wasn’t going to get them. My philosophy is that the more ruthless you are, the more your opponents fear you, and the more they fear you, the greater your advantage and momentum becomes.
Put simply, never let your foot off the pedal when you have the wind in your sails—pardon the discordant metaphors.
I wanted four or five goals, heck, six or seven.
Lowliness is young ambition's ladder,
Whereto the climber-upward turns his face;
But when he once attains the utmost round,
He then unto the ladder turns his back,
Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees
By which he did ascend.
I was the one with his back to the ladder of two goals.
But be lenient in your judgment of my character. You see, I believe goal-difference matters, especially when the final position on the table comes down to the wire.
Mikel Arteta’s well-struck goal provided the needed gloss to a dominating performance by the Gunners. It also sated my appetite for more goals.
Mikel Arteta Can Hit Them
I’m not just talking about his excellent free kick that ended nestled in the Villa goal with Shay Given well beaten, I’m also recalling his first-half strike that drew a fine safe from Given.
Arteta has scored from such long-range shots before, but today’s shots where top notch. The technique with which he hits them admits not spin from the ball; the shots advance toward their target fierce and sure.
Arteta’s goal, together with Gibb’s and Walcott’s, means Arsenal have scored their last four goals from different sources.
Surely, if there still remained the nonsensical one-man-team cliché anywhere, this must force a recalibration of the thought.
Second Half Relatively Frustrating
No, no, no, no…I’m not starting a rant. Even here, the Gunners were in firm control of the match.
Villa rarely threatened to score. What they did was to force so many stoppages to the game, disrupting any incipient momentum from the Gunners.
Without the use of this strategy, Arsenal surely would have scored more than the solitary goal in the second half.
The positive thing here though is that, unlike in the Everton match where the opponent’s strategy negated Arsenal’s, here, Arsenal never lost the plot. They just carried on from wherever the previous line ended.
Andre Santos Return Got a Shaky Start
Andres Santos returned: more good news to the Gunners. As to the shaky start, it really wasn’t, just one misplaced pass—dangerous admittedly—that’s all.
From thence, Santos did just fine.
Arsenal Are the Best Club in London at the Moment
I want to underline “at the moment.”
Twenty-four points are left in the remaining eight matches to the season. These are enough points for both Chelsea and Spurs to turn their seasons around.
It is incumbent upon Arsenal to not allow this to happen.
We couldn’t ask more of them this week, though. They took care of business, and now, they have a three-point cushion over Spurs, eight over Chelsea.
This means that even if they lose the next game away at QPR, the implication wouldn’t be dire. In other words, the Gunners have a slight margin for error, slight, but nonetheless, essential.
It would be best, of course, if they don’t slip at all, but continue building on the present momentum.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed then.