It’s not been often that Arsenal have won in the league without a contribution from captain Robin van Persie – that being a goal or assist – in fact, just twice before Saturday had it happened (against Swansea and Sunderland, home and away respectively). It was different against Aston Villa though – the Gunners comfortably brushed them aside without needing so much as a nutmeg from van Persie.
In truth, when Arsenal were relying on van Persie to win matches, it was because the system wasn’t quite working. While they were doing well to supply him, the goals should have been being shared around more. It was only natural for Wenger’s men to look to van Persie seeing as it was a tried and tested method, but now the North London side are more confident in their own abilities.
Arsene Wenger had always put the lack of creativity early on at Arsenal down to a lack of confidence, and should be given credit for his faith that his players would eventually come good. Saturday was another victory for his apologists to enjoy, with much-maligned Theo Walcott grabbing an excellent goal. The football is once again free-flowing, and goals are coming from several different areas. The players feel less inclined to search for van Persie, and instead are more confident about doing things by themselves.
The first goal was borne out of a passing triangle you’d usually see on the training ground. Tomas Rosicky, Kieran Gibbs and Gervinho exchanged passes, untroubled by any Aston Villa players. The latter found Gibbs’ run into the box, and the English left back found the net via Shay Given’s glove. It showed how much Arsenal have missed the overlapping of the full backs, having had to cope with centre backs out wide in defence for months.
For Arsenal’s second, the pressing from Tomas Rosicky paid off once again. He put Carlos Cuellar under pressure, which forced a poor ball to Gervinho, who knocked it inside to Alex Song. From then on it was classy stuff from Arsenal – a lovely curled, lobbed ball from Alex Song, which is fast becoming his trademark, to find the intelligent run inside of Theo Walcott, who cushioned the ball delightfully to finish expertly past Shay Given.
In games previous Walcott might have miscontrolled the ball, or scuffed the finish, so it showed how much his new confidence is affecting his game. Young footballers are often confidence players, and make no mistake, Walcott is still in that bracket at 23, but he’s recently shown the potential that made him so coveted as a teenager at Southampton – the clever run (the football brain is clearly there), the delicate touch and the clinical finish.
There is little to analyse about the third goal – although Arsene Wenger did a pretty good job by discussing the size of Mikel Arteta’s feet in the post-match press conference – so it’s probably best to throw some adjectives at it and be done with it; it was a simply superb strike, delightfully driven past Shay Given (sibilance, alliteration and a rhyme within eight words, my English teacher would be so proud of me) with absolutely zero ball rotation.
It was the second time Arsenal had restricted their opposition to no shots on target (hat-tip to @Orbinho) and while Aston Villa offered very little, it showed how the Gunners suffocated the away side by dominating possession. Pressing has come back into Arsenal’s game lately – it’s a mystery as to why it ever disappeared – and it’s helped them to monopolise possession and therefore limit the number of chances that come to the opponents. It also helps in attack of course, as Arsenal consistently won the ball close to Shay Given’s goal.
Analysis aside, it’s been seven league wins on the trot for Arsenal, a superb run of victories which makes them the Premier League’s form side. That’s the main thing – as well as the fact that I can now empty the recycling bin wearing my away shirt with Walcott on the back without my neighbours pointing and laughing.
That’s what Sunday’s performance was – woeful.
The players put in a poor, lacklustre performance and it was shown in the result. Despite the refereeing decisions that may have gone against us (I don’t know what we should have had as I haven’t watched the game again since getting back from the Emirates) we didn’t deserve to win the game. We didn’t even look like scoring when we got inside the box, we didn’t even look like scoring.
We were sloppy in defence, too – the goals we conceded were just shocking from our point of view. Simple balls split our defence in half, and Bent had the easiest job in the world.
It’s weird, because that was a very similar team to the one that beat Man United at the Emirates just two weeks ago. And it wasn’t like there was nothing to play for – Chelsea had just slipped up and we had a chance for second, with City breathing down our necks for third.
It was the final home game of the season, it was the last chance for the players to apologise for their previous failures. Interviews and tweets are all very good, but the real way to show that you’re sorry is by going out on the pitch and playing your heart out. Only two or three players did that for me.
It’s worrying that the players couldn’t get motivated for a game like they did on Sunday. They should have absolutely no trouble doing so, but if they can’t then it’s the manager’s job to do it for them, and he didn’t seem to do so.
Having said all that, the fans getting on the team’s back wouldn’t have helped one bit. I completely disagree with booing, granted you want to make your feelings heard, but it’s only going to make the players play worse. We should be getting behind the team no matter what in my opinion.
I would be surprised if a marquee player, like Arshavin, wasn’t signed to appease the fans during summer. Perhaps Benzema or somebody like that. I can see Wenger breaking the bank, and our record fee, this summer. There are definitely changes coming.
I don’t think I saw Almunia in the lap of honour, so he’s gone. Rosicky wasn’t even in the squad and I’m sure he’s available so he’s gone. Denilson was in the squad for the first time since West Brom so he’s gone. I’m sure a few others will make way too, then we’ll need some additions to the first team and more back-up players.
It’s going to be an interesting summer.