G'day fellow Gooners,
It doesn't get much better than spending a blissful Saturday afternoon, soaking up the sunshine at the Grove (ask the Villa lads!) watching the Gunners cruise to victory, with results elsewhere going our way. In fact I heard some stat on the box this weekend which suggested that we've won every single game we've played when kicking off at 3pm on a Saturday, which is just more grist to the mill of my grievances about the Premiership's infuriatingly incessant tinkering with the fixture schedule.
The other stat trotted out after Saturday's 3-0 success was to demonstrate that we're not quite the one-man-band that we've previously been perceived to be, in light of the goal-scoring contribution from all comers in recent weeks. Truth be told, although our Robin reliant hasn't exactly been off his game (take RVP's piss-taking "tekkers" on Saturday for example), he seems to have racked up a whole heap of missed chances during the past three games.
Still at least this has afforded others the opportunity to step up to the plate and after having been so dependent on Van Persie's set-pieces for far too long, it was great to see Arteta and Theo arguing the toss over the odd free-kick against Villa. What's more, although Miguel's invisible contribution in matches was evident in our dip in form during his absence, I'm delighted that he's begun to have a more tangible impact in the final third, as I've always believed him capable of imposing himself more in many of our encounters (in the manner of his "main man" role for Everton).
And while Kieran Gibbs deserves all due respect for finally putting a notch on his Premiership belt on Saturday, I simply can't sign off without giving a shout out to Sagna. I can't recall noticing it in the past and so perhaps he's recently been supplied with spring-loaded boots. But during the course of the past couple of games against Everton and Villa and despite competing against various opponents who are several inches taller, I simply can't recall Baks ever getting beat when competing in the air for headers.
Also after watching MOTD on Saturday night and contrasting Liverpool's woeful showing against Wigan, with our walkover against Villa and after seeing Alex Song set-up yet another goal with a perfectly weighted 30-yard pass, one could be forgiven for thinking Song is actually Steven Gerrard in disguise and that the Scousers have been left with some mediocre body-double, while Alex already has his feet up on a beach in Cameroon.
I've some sympathy for Rangers due to the fact that I know several long-suffering Hoops fans. Should they survive the threat of relegation, I'd be happy both for them and for the fact that with Loftus Road being such a short hop down the A40, it's almost like a home fixture.
However I'm hardly Mark Hughes' No. 1 fan and after seeing that compelling documentary about QPR on BBC2 the other week (a highly recommended watch - revealing everything one had ever imagined about the clubs which have become the playthings of their arrogant rich owners, but which you never actually expected to see shown on camera) and following the positively shameless way in which Briatore dispensed with both players and manager who achieved their promotion to the Premiership (where judging by the evidence of the Football League show on Saturday night, ironically it would appear as if the majority of players who were deemed superfluous to QPR's Premiership needs are currently assisting other clubs in their push for promotion), I wouldn't exactly lose any sleep if we stuffed them next Saturday.
Come on you Gunners. Let's keep this run going and maintain our focus for the sort of big sprint-finish that will at least ensure we end the season on an optimistic note, full of renewed hope for a success-filled future.
Pilfering a set-piece goal and then shutting shop might’ve been a trademark of the more resilient, “boring, boring” Gunners’ sides of yesteryear but with Arsène’s offensive focus and our resulting fragility in defence, success has been largely dependent on our ability to out score the opposition.
Considering our competitors have come away from Goodison with nothing but cavities to show for their efforts, I was astonished how easily we chewed up the Toffees during a scintillating 15-minute opening salvo. However it was somewhat disappointing that our ebullient start only resulted in a slender, single goal lead. After expending so much energy early on, it was inevitable that we’d eventually invite our hosts back into the game and I really didn't fancy our prospects of grinding out a good old-fashioned “1-0 to the Arsenal”.
A settled defence, in which everyone can trust their team-mates to fulfil their TCB (taking care of business) obligations, could well be the most significant factor in what might hopefully be the Gunners rediscovery of the long lost art of “winning ugly”. The crucial contrIbution of Sagna & Gibbs since returning to fitness is the most obvious factor, but the beating heart of the Gunners’ recent success has been the developing partnership between Tommie and Laurent, our two wholehearted centre-halves.
There’s some frustration about Sczczny’s palpably poor kicking ability and his frequent naivety, in not hanging onto the ball and wasting a few precious seconds when the situation dictates. Yet Mannone’s hapless display for Hull demonstrated quite how fortunate we are to have the young Pole tending goal, instead of a triumvirate of frail keepers, whose inflated incomes only add to the unwanted burden of immovable ballast, currently weighing heavy on the Arsenal’s books.
Le Gaffer’s glory-hunting critics have mostly all crawled back under their rocks and in some respects our worst start to a season in 58 years and our more recent misadventures (Milan & Sunderland) have resulted in an expectation reset amongst the more fickle of our not-so-faithful home fans. Seasons past have often petered out when we’ve reached this stage, with nothing but Champions League qualification to play for.
By contrast, much like a marvelously dramatic episode of Upstairs Downstairs, we’ve been so rejuvenated by the thrill of putting our neighbours firmly back in their servile place, with the 13 point swing between us and Spurs over the space of a mere couple of weeks, that suddenly we’re raising the roof at the Grove, roaring the team on to finish in 3rd, perfectly satisfied to see us restored to our rightful seat amongst the aristocratic elite, despite any prospects of silverware for yet another season.
So long as we can maintain this winning momentum, Wenger can do no wrong. Still this doesn’t make his recent ‘square peg in round hole’ preference for playing Ramsey out wide on the right any more fathomable. Aaron's natural tendency to drift in towards the middle of the park deprives us of width on that flank. While opting for experience at Everton was understandable, it seemed ridiculous to bring him on for Gervinho when 2-0 up on Saturday, with our little Ox so eager to take on Villa’s tired legs that he was trotting up and down the touchline with steam coming out of his ears.
I can appreciate Arsène’s desire to want to protect our latest young prodigy, but at some point he needs to remove the reins and give the Ox his head. Alex is far too talented for ten-minute cameos, as he ably demonstrated when he eventually appeared during the dying throes, bristling with positive energy in his desperation to make some impact.
Flattering TV highlights left us looking like world-beaters but as Villa’s slide down the table suggests, in truth the visitors barely turned up. Heskey might’ve been auditioning for his future role as a nightclub bouncer but their appetite was pitiful compared with the passion of the Birmingham side that bullied us out of the Carling Cup Final. With Villa still playing for time after going a goal down, one might conclude that their match with McCleish is not exactly a marriage made in heaven?
Meanwhile the omens weren’t particularly auspicious prior to kick-off, when, having dawdled for fear of walking out the door while Chelsea v Spurs was still 0-0, I ended up leaving home too late for a pre-match pie. Having thus opted for an alternative route, I was just questioning the foolhardyness of wholesale changes to my ritualistic regimen, when news came over the radio of the inclusion in the starting line-up of the liability that is Djourou, after Laurent injured himself in the warm up.
My anxiety level only increased on eventually arriving at my seat, on finding myself beside a couple of infuriatingly annoying strangers, who insisted on gabbling their way through the entire game. Mercifully I blocked most of their chatter out by transferring the earphone from my terrace tranny to the other ear, but from the little I did overhear, they appeared more interested in discussing their wallpaper than they were in watching the football. Not that I mean to get all homophobic on your ass but I thought they might at least pass judgment on the players performing in Nike's nauseating new peach flavoured boots and the resulting clash with our red & white shirts.
Thankfully any such concerns soon evaporated as I savoured the Gunners stroll in the sunshine. I can’t recall if these unappreciative tourists interrupted their conversation for the first couple of goals, but it served them right that they missed out on the highlight of the afternoon, having made their exit moments before Arteta crowned the perfect afternoon, with his belter of a free-kick.
A reminder (if any was needed!) of what makes the long schlep
of an 8-hour round trip drive to Goodison feel so worthwhile
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