Monday, 24 January 2011

Arsenal are a team in form. Wigan match report and thoughts.

Arsenal 3 Wigan 0

It might seem very odd to say this, but the last three Arsenal performances have to me indicated a team in form. It might seem odd because, frankly, the two performances before these three games - the first game against Leeds, and the match at Portman Road, were two of the worst Arsenal performances I can remember in ages and ages. Particularly back-to-back.

But against West Ham, Leeds, and Wigan, we've exuded a dominance - and more importantly a confidence - which I can't remember seeing from Arsenal in ages, at least consistently. In the three games, we've scored nine and conceded on - and that goal a wonder-goal - but more to the point, we've dominated the opposition. Yes, West Ham, Leeds and Wigan are not particularly good teams. Yes, they're teams who are struggling. And yes we've beaten Wigan nine times in a row at home now. But I'm not excited about beating these teams, I'm excited at the manner in which we did it.

How many important tackles have Koscielny or Djourou had to make in the last three games? How many saves has Szczesny had to make? The answer to both of those questions is not very many, but more pertinently, we are making them. In the past, we might have conceded a goal against the run of play. Not any more. Look at the goals we've conceded this month - both the Leeds penalty and the Ipswich goal came as a result of sustained pressure. The Leeds wondergoal at Elland Road was an aberration, because essentially, there's a defensive solidity which I can't remember us showing for ages and ages.

And once you have that, it's a lot easier to win football matches. It means players like Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy can push on and really help the attack, and it means Wilshere, Fabregas et al have more room for manoeuvre to pick their passes. And it produces sumptuous football.

Look at how Arsenal worked the ball outside the box before the first goal on Saturday. It was like a boxer manoeuvring the opposition into position before applying the final blow. The second, was a goal of quality from two world-class players. One superb Fabregas ball over-the-top, one touch from Robin Van Persie and 2-0. The third was a cute finish and he deserved the match ball, in spite of his Rooney-esque penalty.

With Fabregas and Van Persie together, this Arsenal team can really do things. Of course Robin might well get injured again - but when he's fully fit, he's one of the best strikers in the world. With Nasri and Fabregas also in the side, you can't imagine this team failing to score goals very often. It's about retaining the defensive solidity which will determine how our season works out. Certainly, having Eboué play against Barcelona is not going to help our cause.

A word too, about the Theo vs. Arshavin debate. At the moment, Theo is the man who starts, and you clearly get amazingly different options from a front three of RVP, Theo and Nasri. Whether Theo should start long-term is the big question. I've defended Arshavin strongly and I'm also not a big Walcott fan. He's clearly not as good a footballer as Shava, as his ridiculous refusal to shoot in the first half against Wigan when clean through demonstrated.

But he does offer something different. For one, work rate. Arshavin influences matches but he also goes missing. If he was still scoring wonder goals, it would certainly help his cause. I still want to see him play and I still want to see him do well at Arsenal, but he is a man out of form. He needs game time, and the fixture list is kind at the moment. But I can also see why Arsene is not keen to change a team which is, for want of a better word, purring.

It is a team in form, and with Tommy Vermaelen to come in - and having players of the calibre of Arshavin and Chamakh in reserve is a good place to be. And who knows, maybe Arsene will bring in somebody else in the next week. Yet 10 days ago, we were all down in the dumps. And that's the thing with this Arsenal team - they could kick on and challenge on multiple fronts, or they could fold.

It's a team with momentum, but one disastrous result could take all of that away. That's why we really, really, need to win the next two matches.

Keep the faith,

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