Arsenal vs. Manchester United: How the Gunners Have Progressed Since Their Match
August 28th, 2011 is a day that most Arsenal fans are wanting to forget but most likely to remember.
As I sit here on Thanksgiving Day, almost three months to the day since that dreadful defeat, Fox Soccer Channel has done me the favor of replaying this match for their "Feast of Goals" promotion they have going on for today.
I sit here, absolutely dumbfounded as to how this match came to be. In truth, I'll take that back. I know how they got here. A recovering side, who lost its captain, one of its key defenders and one of its midfield maestros, facing injury troubles that had exposed the side down to its core, deep into its third- and fourth-string players.
It is shocking to think that this side even walked out onto the field that fateful day. Of course they had to. Fans of both sides would have been shocked if they hadn't followed through with the match, not to mention the legal repercussions with the league.
Moving on from that though, this side I am watching fall apart before my eyes is no longer the same Arsenal side that I watched put away Borussia Dortmund this past Wednesday, in the Champions League.
The side I get to watch week in and week out now is one growing back into the Arsenal name and becoming true Gunners.
The Arsenal defenders that faced the powerhouse Manchester side were haphazardly thrown together and expected to gel against one of the world's juggernauts.
Carl Jenkinson, Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny and Armand Traore were the defensive madmen who faced the Red Devil firing squad that day, Koscielny being the only one of the four to have survived the mauling and still be on the starting 11.
That line of defenders looked well out of their depth on that match day, with several examples being made of them, like Welbeck's opener or Young's curler into the top, right-hand corner.
Since then, the Gunners defense has grown in strength and confidence, as Wenger added German international Per Mertesacker to the side to aid in the absence of Thomas Vermaelen, who at the time was out on injury.
Andre Santos was also brought in and has brought with him his Brazilian flair and strength to North London.
Out of the last 16 matches that Arsenal have played since that dreadful defeat, they have only let in 17 goals in all competitions.
At first glance that may not seem like a statistic to boast, but since the return of Thomas Vermaelen against Bolton on October 25th, Arsenal have only let in six goals, solidifying the back line with Vermaelen's experience, defensive positioning and power in the air, something the Gunners lacked in their stretch without him.
With that said, and the more consistent lineup including Koscielny, Santos, Vermaelen and Mertesacker to tower across the back, Arsenal have progressed far on the defensive front this autumn.
Francis Coquelin, a name I had never heard of before the whistle for kickoff, made his Premier League debut against Manchester United.
Though he has showed a lot of promise in recent matches, he was never meant to face the Red Devils.
With Wilshere out and both Nasri and Fabregas gone, the middle of the park was utterly in shambles. With Jenkinson sent off, the midfield was having to drop back further and further, allowing the middle to open up for Cleverley and Anderson of United to run the game through Arsenal.
Since then, the Spanish master of the ball, Mikel Arteta, was signed to the side, bringing in a bit of hope to the side. With the winging play of Gervinho, signed earlier in the summer, adding to the pace of Walcott on the other side, Arsenal have turned into quite the ground-ball passing machine that they once were not so long ago.
The biggest difference-maker so far this autumn has been the signing of the former Everton man, Mikel Arteta. His controlling of the pace of the game and distribution through the heart of the midfield has been the spark to many of the Arsenal goals and attacking moves.
This midfield will continue to improve as time passes and should be interesting when Jack Wilshere makes his reintroduction to the side late in January of next year.
Robin van Persie, a True Striker
Robin van Persie has been absolutely fantastic, not only this season but this calendar year for the Gunners.
Since his dreaded penalty miss and consolation goal against the Red Devils in August, it seems like van Persie has been on the score sheet in every single game that Arsenal have played.
In a large part he has! With 19 goals in 26 appearances this season alone, van Persie has grown into his newly found role as captain for his side, physically leading his side to victories on his own accord.
With regards to Bayern Munich's Mario Gomez and his fantastic form, my vote would have to be for Captain van Persie as the best player in Europe at the moment, if not the world right now for Arsenal.
As long as Captain van Persie can keep in shape and off the injury sheet, look for him to take the top scorer award month after month, if not for the 2011/2012 season.
Arsenal have gone nine straight games unbeaten since their upset at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur.
With this streak of eight wins and one draw, the Gunners have been consistently building their fitness, gelling as a team and becoming better and better as each game has passed. As such, their confidence has grown in leaps and bounds since their shutdown at the Theater of Dreams.
With an earth-shattering, landmark win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, all of the pieces came together for the Gunners. The defense still didn't look quite as strong as they could have, but they were and still are gaining in confidence and learning how each other plays.
The offense, however, was another matter.
Robin van Persie had a hat trick against one of the strongest defenses in world football. Theo Walcott had an interesting goal, where he half-slipped but recovered to burn Cech with a laser of a shot. Then there was Andre Santos, bringing forward that ball that Ashley Cole used to bring forward while he was apart of Arsenal, giving that extra depth and attacking options to the Gunners and slotting in a sweet goal.
As it happened, Arsenal has built upon small success after small success, building into a true driving force within the league, getting up to seventh in the Premier League table and advancing to the Round of 16 in the Champions League, the only English team to do so, so far.
Now there's something for those Gunners out on the field and the ones in the stands to be proud of moving forward in the season.
With that feel-good feeling starting to edge into the Emirates, Arsenal could really make a push for a top-four finish in the league and make a deep run in Champions League play.
With the expectations lowered from their insanely slow and stumbling start to the season, the Gunners could really be the dark horse in this running for titles, championships and silverware.
Look out for continually impressive performances from the Gunners as they get into a crucial part of the season, a part of the season they tend to struggle with.
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