Thursday, 3 October 2013

Arsenal are the new Backstreet Boys

...In that they're back. Hopefully this time it's for good.

What I watched on Tuesday night was the finest performance from Arsenal in several seasons. No longer can the recent run simply be attributed to playing not particularly good teams. Napoli are a very good team who out-classed BVB on Matchday One but who were simply no match for Arsenal.

I saw some people claiming that Napoli struggled because they insisted on taking pot-shots from 25 yards but that was the outcome, rather than the symptom. Napoli were forced into taking long shots because of Arsenal's intelligent pressing and defensive shape. In football, when you have the ball you have three choices: run, pass or shoot. At the point the first two of those are repeatedly made impossible, you have to resort to shooting from distance. That this happened means Arsenal deserve a lot of credit.

And it's probably the best thing to watch about this current Arsenal team. People used to mock Arsenal fans for getting jittery when a team came back from 2-0 to 2-1 but it was precisely because Arsenal had a history of letting leads slip and never seemed especially comfortable trying to hold a lead rather than adding to it. From the back-end of last season onwards, Arsenal's defensive positioning and shape has been much better with the team genuinely defending as a team.

The tangible benefits of this are huge. Because even when you are slightly profligate in your attacking play - like against Napoli - if you're comfortable at the back, it doesn't tend to matter. Every time I see Arsenal defending a one-goal lead late on now, I'm very confident they'll hold it.

I've been made to look foolish in the past, but the signs are incredibly encouraging for this team. Finally, the shadow of the twin departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri has lifted. I no longer need to bemoan them leaving because the team can compete again. I said at the beginning of the season that the fixture list was very kind to Arsenal until November - but the team still needed to take advantage of that, and has. And whatever question marks remain over whether they can keep it up in the Premier League, it's six points from six in the elite competition in which Arsenal were supposedly 'dead'.

Keep the faith.

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