After a phenomenal start to the season, we are back on our feet, and Arsenal sit in sixth position, three points behind the scum with a game in hand. What happened?
THE FIRST 4 1/2 GAMES
The first few games against Everton, Portsmouth and Celtic in the Champions League showed amazing promise. A new system. Superb creativity. Lots of goals. Despite distractions, we went into the United game on a high. A winning streak.
And for 45 minutes we controlled the game and led 1-0 at half-time, thanks to a wonder strike from Arshavin. All this without our captain playing and things looked promising.
The MANCHESTER NIGHTMARE
Then why the hell did I stand in the pub at half-time shaking and willing to (happily) settle for a 1-1 draw. I saw something in that first half that made me very nervous. It was the feeling I felt when Theo put us 1-0 up against Chelsea last season in the F.A. Cup semi-final.
It was the feeling of a lack of belief, a lack of bottle. When United equalised against the run of play, I shook a little more, and wanted the final whistle to come. It didn’t and United were gifted the winner off the head of Diaby.
A week later and it was almost the same story in another part of Manchester. After Van Persie had equalised it seemed the game could have gone either way…but there was something missing. Bottle. Amazingly, even at 4-1 we could have gotten a result but failed to convert the chances that came our way.
Then came Standard, and for much of the game we looked like a team who were jaded, low on confidence and low on energy. Luckily for us despite putting up a poor display, we showed character, some might even say bottle, to come from 2-0 to win 3-2.
The only difference here though is that this isn’t the big stage, the big game. We are a better team than Standard. We are not a better team than United, even without Ronaldo and Tevez. We might even be on a par, but they have something we don’t—bottle, experience, ruthlessness, whatever you want to call it…and they have it in the big games.
BACK ON TRACK
Confidence seemed to be regained after the Standard game and it was almost business as usual against Wigan. I say almost because again there were a lot of faults with our display. But Wigan just weren’t good enough to exploit it and some of our forward play was exquisite and let to an easy 4-0 victory.
Our next four games are Fulham (A), Blackburn (H), Birmingham (H) and West Ham (A) before a visit from Spurs. All of the 5 games are in London and all the games before Spurs are a must win. And very winnable they are. None of the four teams have been very impressive so far this season and we should easily put many goals past all of them.
We need an unbeaten run, or more favorable, a winning run. We had one at the beginning of the year when Arshavin joined the ranks and we had good morale. We need something similar to really get some confidence in our players. Far too many of our players have been inconsistent so far this season.
I say inconsistent because many of them have been brilliant at times, yet horrible at times. Diaby, Song, Denilson, Clichy all fall into this category. Even Arshavin and Van Persie have been very off at times and absolute magic at times. There are only two players I seen for Arsenal this season who have been phenomenal—Vermaelen…and Jack Wilshere.
Vermaelen, a rock at center back, is our top scorer and scored two outstanding goals against Wigan, while also being our best defender. Jack, who’s only official appearance this season came in the Carling Cup, and was arguably the best player on the field.
In the Emirates Cup, he was the man of the match, twice, against good teams in Rangers and Atletico Madrid. The young man has the talent to start for Arsenal, just not the years.
Gallas has also been in good form, the Standard game aside and Fabregas has been effective, while Rosicky shows signs of his game before his injury.
A good performance and result against Fulham on Saturday could do wonders for this young (and it is young) team and inspire them to put a run together. A bad result and I don’t think it’s too early to rule us out of the title race. As it stands I think our best and possibly only chance of silverware this season will be the F.A. cup.
We don’t have to concentrate on that until 2010 however so a good league run is what is needed. Twenty-one points from our first nine games and we’ll have everything to play for going into the Spurs game.
First thing first with Fulham and in their last game, in the Carling Cup they pushed Manchester City right to the wire, forcing extra time and ending on the losing side of a 2-1 result. They haven’t been scoring too much so far this season so a clean sheet would be a good start and hopefully we can fire in two or three goals, the earlier the better.
Come on you gooners!