5 W's, 5 at Chelsea and 5 to look forward to
February 16th 2011 vs Barcelona (H) - a memorable night for Gooners in it's own right of course but also the date and occasion of the team's last back to back W's in the form column, prior to collecting results against Shrewsbury (Carling Cup), Bolton (League) and Olympiacos (Champions League). The performances themselves may have done little to convince anyone that the team were equipped to compete for honours or that any of the obvious frailties had been resolved, but the results did end an utterly horrendous run of form and break the 'not winning habit'.
Although a contentious away defeat to Spurs followed the ground work had been laid, it wasn't always fluent, cohesive or defensively organised collectively but for the most part the will and application to put things right was there. The form from our captain Robin Van Persie, who can now justifiably enter the field of play with a red cape, took us over the line against Sunderland and Stoke and then admirably aided by Gervinho and Walcott, who had dipped of late, tore Chelsea to pieces with 5 smashing goals at the bridge. They were literally smashing too, Santos, Walcott and Van Persie's third all ripped into the net from range. It would appear that this season's team are far less reserved when it comes to having a shot on goal.
The possession game and tippy tappy probing approach has do a large degree gone out the window and been replaced by a more direct and thrusting 3 pronged attack. It's a mixture of formation from the previous couple of seasons but with a style of play more in line with the game plan from Wenger's 4-4-2 days. Gervinho's introduction has transformed the front line. The symmetry of pace is the key, as either Walcott or Gervinho break forward the other will act as the back post striker. It is a system that contains all the advantages of a 4-4-2 formation with two strikers, the advanced width of a 4-5-1 formation and bodies forward of a 4-3-3 set up.
There was one moment at Stanford Bridge in particular which captured just how devastating that flexibility of form can be, it came on 11 minutes when Aaron Ramsey scooped the ball over an on rushing Chelsea player to Arteta who nodded the ball back to Ramsey to release Walcott on the half way line. Walcott roasted Ashley Cole and hits an early low driven cross to a perfectly positioned Gervinho 6 yards out. Although the chance was dragged wide it highlighted the value of having that pace to match Walcott and to provide the extra striker. Moments later Walcott set through Van Persie whom missed over from similar circumstances. Those attacks would not have been possible by last year's team, the first in particular.
I noted in an earlier piece that the team would be more reliant on the front three, having lost the goal threat of Fabregas and Nasri, but that at the same time that they would be capable of filling the void. With 14 of our 20 league goals scored by the front three that has indeed born out and there is plenty of reason to be hopeful for much more of the same, BUT with little in the way of like for like replacements in terms of style or quality it's very much fingers crossed that all 3 players remain fit and fresh throughout a campaign. It seems a tall order and a situation the manager has to manage, his solution was to look to Ju Young Park for the home tie in midweek vs Marseille. A decent enough point was secured that continues the momentum, and a draw that doesn't directly count against the team as such. There was also a welcome and rare clean sheet for a team that has conceded on average 2.1 goals per league game.
A set back at the Bridge would have derailed our form, put further distance to our rivals and added yet further doubt as to whether Arsenal could compete at the very top. But with 3 points and a rousing emphatic win over our direct rivals secured Arsenal have put themselves right back in the picture for the Champions League places with 3rd as well as 4th places now well within close proximity with Chelsea, Spurs and Liverpool all within 3 point range. Moreover there is every chance for Arsenal to continue their recent strong form and capitalise upon what looks on paper to be 5 very winnable ties ahead starting today with West Brom (H) and followed by: Norwich (A), Fulham (H), Wigan (A) and Everton (H).
West Brom preview
This time last season, or there about, Arsenal came unstuck against a high flying Roberto Di Matteo managed West Brom with the visitors taking a 3 nil lead, and even afforded a penalty miss in doing so. Di Matteo has since been moved on and thankfully so has keeper on the day Manuel Almunia who endured his worst performance for Arsenal and the one that ultimately brought his Arsenal career to a close. The home defeat to West Brom was systematic of our domestic campaign with too many points dropped on home turf.
A win at home would leave Arsenal just 1 point behind last season's record in comparison to opponents played. West Brom sit in a handy 13th position and have gathered 7 of their 11 points on the road. An Arsenal win would be their 4th in a row at the Emirates and 400th in total in the Premier league, anything else would serve only to cancel out the points earned at Stanford Bridge but with Ramsey, Song, Walcott, Gervinho and Van Persie all in fine form and with West Brom without front man Peter Odemwingie a home win looks on.
The Tuesday Topic
Keep an eye out on the forum next week for our relaunched 'Tuesday Topic' thread where we'll be discussing whether changes to the team's game plan and personnel mean that we are perhaps better equipped for the domestic campaign and less so for our european campaign.