Back To The Future As Arsenal Return To The Top Of The Table?


Aston Villa 1 – 2 Arsenal

0 – 1 Wilshere (34)
0 – 2 Giroud (35)
1 – 2 Benteke (76)

It all came to life at a late stage, a titanic struggle between ill-matched opponents. Guile, a much prized weapon, was noticeable by its absence in the thrust and parry of a physical battle. The end came just when the spoils threatened to be shared; a violent tug and Arsène was able to take his place on the touchline, the zip of his coat fully drawn.

On the pitch, a comfortable evening turned unnecessarily tense as Arsenal, having established their dominance by half-time, allowed Aston Villa back into the game in final twenty minutes to create an almost barnstorming finish by the hosts. By comparison to their supine performance, the flurry of activity was rousing, it certainly brought the home crowd to life. Arsenal, buoyed by the ever commendable travelling support, had passed Villa into submission to that point. Stats on their own never tell the whole story but an away team with 71% possession at the final whistle is never going to bode well for their hosts.

Post-match, Arsène felt the team were too cautious having established their two-goal advantage. They weren’t helped by stray passes and the ball being cheaply surrendered as new life was breathed into Aston Villa with Christian Benteke’s goal. The Belgian international might have equalised with a similar chance shortly afterwards but his header was directed at Wojciech Szczesny and the points which Arsenal’s performance for seventy minutes deserved.

The result was decided in sixty first-half seconds. Jack Wilshere, maligned in the media for indiscretions on and off the pitch, produced two moments to bring sparkle to the occasion. He opened the scoring following Nacho Monreal’s galloping strides down the left, controlling the Spaniard’s pass and guiding the ball into the net with two sublime touches. Less than a minute later, the England international had harassed Delph into ceding possession before releasing Olivier Giroud, the Frenchman’s shot deflected past the sprawling Guzan and the match was effectively over.

Wilshere suffers the weight of expectations. The slings and arrows are more readily hurled in his direction from the media than most other players, seemingly keen to bring about misfortune for the player they hail as his country’s great – only – hope for the future. Last night, in front of the watching England manager, he produced his most consistent ninety minutes for a while, probing the Villa defence with passes and movement which lived up to those marks set. It felt like the shackles had been released, maybe it has been the mental pressure he has put himself under or that which he felt supporters had imposed on him. Even his manager believes that Jack is returning to his best form.

It was a good night’s football from the supporters point of view, a very good team performance yet there was always the feeling that Arsenal still had a gear higher they could call upon if needed. Except when we needed it, the acceleration was sluggish, the clutch took a while to bite and the handbrake, well you know what comes next. But we cannot lose sight of the fact that it was only for a small portion of the game, the rest of it was as good as we have played away from home this year. The tone was set very early on with the referee producing a yellow card as backsides settled in seats. The usual inconsistency would return later in the game but to set a marker when other officials excuse poor tackles as getting to the pace of the game, helped the match flow. Of course Mr Swarbrick missed key moments – Agbonlahor would surely have see red for the second yellow he deserved having teed Tomas Rosicky’s nose up for the elbow which caused the substitute to be substituted – but overall, I didn’t think he had a bad game; certainly better than some of his peers over the weekend.

Arsène was rightly pleased with the night’s work,

We had to give a strong response because everybody looks at you and see if you drop points because they have made their points over the weekend so the only way you can deal with that is we were a bit more under pressure when you play last. You know that you’re not allowed to drop any points but you can only give one answer and that is to win the game.

City and Chelsea had put pressure on with their wins, Arsenal returned the favour. Over the coming three weeks, the other two find themselves in the position of playing last on a weekend, culminating in the pair meeting at Stamford Bridge in a Monday night fixture early next month. Arsenal have the chance to put some points in the bag ahead of that, hoping that one of the other two will drop points in their matches. The key thing is that Arsenal have to keep winning; the pressure will build as the weeks go by and for these players, it is a novel experience. So far, they have responded by getting the results they need.

Of course, it would not be Arsenal if the night had been straightforward but Arsène may privately be wondering if he is that unlucky. As Kieran Gibbs returns to fitness, Nacho Monreal has picked up a knock – maybe a broken metatarsal – that solves that selection problem. Tomas Rosicky will miss a few matches with his “bad nose” just as Aaron Ramsey is knocking on the door for his place in the side once more. It solves those immediate headaches whilst at the same time creating others as key squad players are missing for a few games. The return of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is as timely as could be wished for.

But Arsène could not have asked for more, at the final whistle the players had achieved their objective. It was not an ugly win, it was not an aesthetically pleasing performance over ninety minutes, it was a bit of both. And a bit of both turned out to be a bit of alright.

’til Tomorrow.

123 thoughts on “Back To The Future As Arsenal Return To The Top Of The Table?

  1. @Bill

    Do you mind if I reference each of your 3 points by number? Great 😉

    1. Theo is our best scorer and Podolski the best finisher that is why we can allow them to play on the flanks and make those runs from the flanks instead of centrally that allows for defenders to respect their width even when they make runs from a point of width to a point centrally.
    2.Giroud won’t be isolated because of the runs that Theo and our wide players make. Getting behind fullbacks on one side and sending in a dangerous cross that if Giroud misses on the front post Podolski or said wide player on the back side is there to finish it. With our fullbacks, they are unable to do that. Yes Giroud can lay it off to the late arriving midfielder but as we saw against West Ham, when Podolski made that run from the left flank to the center of the pitch he was able to get onto Giroud’s layoff and score.
    3. While are fullbacks are very good crossers(an underrated part of their skill set i.e. Nacho’s ball for Jack’s goal) Podolski and Theo are very good crossers of the ball as well. When RvCunt was here, Theo was providing the final crosses for him to finish.

    Again having width doesn’t mean hugging the sideline like it use to, its also about making the opposing teams fullbacks stay wide even if our wide attackers are making runs centrally. Theo is at his best when he is making those runs from wide areas or finishing at the back post. Obviously Arsene has got it right but at the same time as MA points out we are too narrow and those passes that Ozil, Jack, Santi, Giroud and Ramsey are playing tend to go no where because we have no attackers getting behind the defense.

  2. Bill
    19 year old Ryan Giggs played in 41 matches in Man Utd.’s PL winning team of 1992/93 & 38 times in the previous season, when they were also very close. If you are good enough then you’re old enough.
    Very few are that good so young but Gnabry does have the ingredients to continue to be really useful to us from now on. I thought he had a decent if unexceptional game last night.

  3. Miami @6.53 – as I said earlier – I like that about Santi too. It’s a pity his accuracy is not better but I am glad it does not dim his enthusiasm for having a go.

    C – @6.34 – I could not have a best team of the season without Mozart in the team. He provides more balance between attack and defence. For the added mobility, I’d probably play Flamini in place of Arteta too (though both have been excellent).

  4. @Jonny

    Trust I wanted to put Mozart in there and I guess he could play on the wing instead of Carzola but I can’t replace Ramsey with Mozart. I wouldn’t be adversed to playing both of them as the pivots but Flamini and Arteta have been really good.

  5. Very nice to see Jonny on the comments!

    C, I like your team but also like Jonny could not sanction it without finding a place for Rosicky somewhere! Midfield is hard that way…

    I am completely mystified, as I have been for all of last year, by the Podolski situation. I just don’t have a handle on what the issue is fitness-wise, tactically, and so on to make sense of what is going on.

    I have enjoyed the MA-Bill-C tactical discussions today. Good stuff.

    On the Gnabry issue, I’d take Rosicky or Cazorla over Gnabry most times in big games but I think he can flourish along with the Ox in January and early February fixtures. Then we can see whether they get games v. Bayern, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Everton in late Feb and March.

    We are going to miss Theo’s goals and the fear he puts into the hearts of defenders with his pace and finishing. Unless Rambo and Giroud catch fire or Poldi and Cazorla find form, we might have difficulty scoring against the best defenses. Happily our defending has been quite strong–league leading and that’s essentially why we are where we are now with a string of narrow victories to our credit.

  6. Flint.

    There are exceptions to every generalization and Giggs is one. However, having to go back 20 years to find that exception seems to help prove my point regarding how rare that type of player is.

    Gnabry has a lot of talent and I absolutely nothing against him. I think he can be an impact player for us at some point in the future. He is only 18 and I am certainly not saying he should be jettisoned. However, for the rest of this season we need to have the players on the pitch who give us the best chance to win every league game. A year or 2 on the bench or playing in an occasional cup game will not hurt his chances to make that impact when he matures.

  7. I think Gnabry and the Ox can certainly contribute a great deal the remainder of the season. In fact, we may really need them to make energetic forays down the flanks and are among the only options for genuine pace that we have now that Theo is out. Up to this point, we have managed quite well without Theo’s pace–he was out the first third of the season essentially. However, we won games because Ramsey and Giroud were absolutely on fire. They started to cool in November/December and the question is will they score at a similar rate? They are great players and will be excellent but we can’t expect the same prolificness in the final third of the season as the first third.

    So we need different options and reliable scorers. That means Ox, Gnabry, Podolski and Cazorla will have their chances. What is the best role? I think Ox and Gnabry are better coming off the bench. Poldi is fine for me starting or on the bench, as long as he gets minutes.

    So I don’t understand the position that sees the need to overhype Gnabry (or the Ox) rather than expect them to be helpful but not the key starters–they are young and relatively inexperienced. It seems folks have forgotten why we are in the position we are in right now–talented experienced players who are consistent and capable of grinding out narrow victories. Gnabry has not been playing in the first half of the season while Theo was out for a reason! If he is the answer, why has AW been bringing him on so slowly? Fundamentally, I think Gnabry is being touted by some as a starter in order counter a view that we should buy someone this window in light of Theo’s injury. Well, even before that injury we were looking and should be bolstering our front line. Theo’s injury just means we have more various options for the sort of player we can use and accommodate in our squad. If we can’t manage it, I understand, but it doesn’t mean we should heap pressure and high expectations on Gnabry. Hopefully he’ll get a few starts, make a few subs, and score 3-4 goals, 2-3 assists in the final 17 league matches. That would be terrific. That won’t replace what I would have expected from Theo, which is 10-12 goals, 6-8 assists. The final point to make about the youngsters is that they often find defending consistently a bit tricky and that has been the solid platform on which our consistent victories and limited defeats has so far been based.

  8. Thanks LSG – nice to be back, been a bit absent from all things internet for a while after a rocky end to last year.

    Should be about a bit more. Been such a fascinating season.

    Rosicky has been wonderful this season – I would have him in any Arsenal team of the season – but yes it’s a nightmare trying to fit all our brilliant midfield options in.

    It’s great that we finally have enough depth of quality to rotate him as his fitness demands.

  9. I’ve been wondering about Poldi too – I think has a lot to offer but, for reasons unknown, has had less chances than others.

    Def deserves some game time.

  10. “Fundamentally, I think Gnabry is being touted by some as a starter in order counter a view that we should buy someone this window in light of Theo’s injury.”

    300% yes – the usual dissenters – the familiar refrain… *pandiculates*

  11. I agree with Limestone @ 9:32

    My first choice would be Podolski on the left and Cazorla on the right. However, I suspect that Ox will be given the first chance to be the starter in Theo’s spot. I don’t think he is ready or capable yet of giving us what Theo would have given us but I would try him out there before we move Wilshere or Ramsey out wide. Rosicky is a decent option wide right but not someone who could play every game. I still think picking up someone like Yossi Benayoun as emergency cover would be a good idea if we don’t want to spend what it takes to get another top quality goal scorer in January.

  12. Giggs was not unique, Bill. Off the top my head Messi, Ronaldo, Rooney, Bobby Charlton, Ray Kennedy, Duncan Edwards, Cliff Bastin either won or came close to winning leagues in their teens & Pele won the WC at 17.

    Not suggesting Gnabry is going to be as good as them but who knows? What we can say is that in the games he has played in he has generally contributed & significantly at Swansea & Palace as well as last week. He might not play many more games this season but I feel he has the attributes to be able to play against any opposition, so currently a valuable member of the squad.

  13. None might be available within any kind of reasonable parameters too, Bill. I am not opposed at all to a cheap stopgap in that case–Vucinic, Berbatov, Benayoun type if it won’t hamper a big summer move. Someone experienced who can score a few goals. If Poldi isn’t to be trusted than the squad can use a veteran front three player for sure.

    Jonny, you old pandiculator, you! 🙂

  14. Limestone @ 10:04



    You know your football history a lot better then I do.

    Gnabry is a good player and his talent is obvious, but its my hope that we don’t end up having to use him on a regular basis the rest of this season. If we do then I suspect we will have had a couple of more injuries and we will be in trouble.

  15. Yup anyone with experience and goal nous who we can pick up just to cover the bases.

    Berbatov would be a great person to have as an impact sub – he still makes things happen.

  16. I just think if AW thinks he is the best option for certain matches he will not hesitate to use him. Losing Theo is a bummer but you have to get round it as best as you can, be it by a transfer or from within.

    My chief concern about the squad is we have no direct replacement for the BFG, if he went down for any period. We are short of defenders with experience.

  17. Flint, I certainly am frightened at the thought of BFG sustaining a serious injury. He is irreplaceable right now. TV is a very fine CB but doesn’t bring the organization and calm complement to Kos. Sagna can do it for a few games but that weakens RB. I hope he stays fit–he has been absolutely terrific!

  18. Flint:

    Fair enough.

    You are preaching to the choir about BFG. What a great season he and the entire team is putting together on the defensive end of the pitch.

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