Arsenal vs. Blackburn: Despite a Shaky Start, Wenger Targets Top-Four Finish

Mohamed Eldin MasriSenior Analyst ISeptember 16, 2011

DORTMUND, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 13:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on from the stands during the UEFA Champions League Group F match between Borussia Dortmund and Arsenal FC at Signal Iduna Park on September 13, 2011 in Dortmund, Germany.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Ian Walton/Getty Images

It has hardly been a good start to the season for the Gunners, with Arsene Wenger and his men losing two of their opening three games. One of these games was a thrashing against Manchester United, where the Gunners conceded eight goals in one game.

While Arsene Wenger claims it's a one-off, and indeed that might be true, it doesn't change the fact that the Gunners were humiliated and looked like a mediocre squad. In all honesty, the team that faced the Red Devils that day was mostly mediocre in performance.

Perhaps that thrashing was a good thing for Arsenal in the long run, for Wenger has realized that he was wrong with his assessments. The Frenchman bought five players, and while he's still cheap when it comes to transfer dealings, having made over sixty million euros from the sales for Fabregas and Nasri, yet only paying a small part of that money, some of the players Wenger has brought it can only take Arsenal forward.

For example, in the defensive part of the team, the upcoming game against Blackburn was always a problematic one, Koscielny and Djourou would get the hell beaten out of them by a more physical Blackburn side.

This time the Blackburn Rovers have the daunting task of playing against Per Mertesacker, and while Arsenal fans would have loved to have Vermaelen instead of Koscielny, it's safe to say that so long as Mertesacker knows how to order Koscielny around, those two might get along after all.

Of course, this all depends on the plan Arsene Wenger wants to use, while he is known as a poor tactician at times, Wenger's plans regarding Mertesacker and his defensive partner will play a major role in Arsenal's season. Should the Arsenal manager play with the offside trap, it's safe to say that he will have ended Arsenal's season with his own hands.

Mertesacker simply doesn't have the pace to play with such a game-plan, especially against the EPL teams. Should Wenger go with a more defensive minded approach, it's safe to say that the games might be easier for the Gunners. With Vermaelen's attacking nature and pace, coupled with Mertesacker's man marking ability and his ability to read the game, those two defenders might complement each other like milk and honey.

Adding to Vermaelen and Mertesacker, Sagna is a world-class right-back, and Kieran Gibbs has been progressing wonderfully. This team now has three experienced players and one talented youngster among them, ensuring that this time there are players who know how to react once the late season collapse hits them. Unlike the inexperience of Koscielny and Djourou displayed last season, and this season in the game against United as well.

Not to mention of course the new Brazilian left-back Andre Santos, who still needs to force his way to the starting line-up, for the first time in years, the Arsenal defense now looks experienced. The game against Dortmund was a good example of that, despite conceding a wonderful one-off volley, the Gunners defense was solid, and Szceszny might be the best thing that happened to Arsenal at goal since Seaman and Lehmann back in 2004.

Meanwhile, the midfield looks new, yet somewhat assuring. Song is a world-class defensive midfielder and man does he have eyes in the back of his head. Emmanuel Frimpong is one of the youngsters that are actually displaying massive potential, and gradually realizing it, rather than the hype that exaggerates some of the younger players. Arsenal now have two quality defensive—midfielders, one of which has the ability to give a spine to a team. This is a massive difference from past seasons in Arsenal, Denilson and Diaby are not to be missed. 

Arteta has shown in the game against Dortmund that he is a fighter, getting a cut from being too committed, and then simply getting up and doing it all over again without much of a thought. The Gunners were missing this kind of commitment from players in past seasons. He still needs to adjust and quickly, but his hunger alone makes Arsenal look like a different side in the final third of the pitch.

With Arteta, Benayoun and Rosicky playing with youngsters in the shape of Wilshere and Ramsey, it seems that Arsenal not only have a quality squad in midfield, but they have quality on the bench.

Certainly, seeing Ramsey coming in instead of Denilson is a breath of fresh air, and while Benayoun seems to be the Israeli version of Rosicky, showing flashes of brilliance in short bursts, he and the Czech captain must increase their work-rate. Their experience is crucial but not without hard work to complement it.

The only question mark in the Arsenal team at the moment is their attack, they haven't been scoring as many goals as they're used to. The Arsenal captain, Robin van Persie has been doing more than anyone could ask of him, but Walcott and Gervinho need to be more clinical. 

Theo has already shown signs of massive improvement this season, not only with his finishing, but also with his passing, his assist against Dortmund was a beautiful one, and it was with his weaker foot. However, in terms of dribbling, he's still a one trick pony, and as things stand would face a hard time against the likes of Patrice Evra and Ashley Cole in one-to-one situations. That has got to improve.

As for Gervinho, he is a brilliant player, but he seems to have that problem most Arsenal players have. He dribbles with the ball, and then dribbles some more, and then some more. He is a great dribbler, but after a while, you need to pull the trigger and take a shot on goal. It seems Arsenal players have that problem in abundance.

While the Gunners still have a lot to do, it's safe to say that with Wenger finally making signings, and younger players like Song and Szezscny displaying class like they did against Dortmund, finishing in the top four again isn't as crazy as it sounds. It's a shame Wenger bought these players after dropping eight points from nine, because Arsenal might have been in a better position, but it's safe to say that they have what it takes to scrap their way through.

Now, if only they can win a cup this season.

Arsenal winning a trophy, stranger things have happened.