The clocks have gone forward, spring is absolutely here and what a day for a game of football yesterday was. By English standards, the heat was blistering, which as we all know, suits the Arsenal boys perfectly. The prematch didn't exactly start well, Koscielny picked up some sort of illness (injury?) , so we lined up with JD instead. He's a bit of a calamity at times, but at least he lined up as a centre back.
Within minutes, it was actually JD who was rolling around on the floor with a head injury. He wasn't moving from what we could see, so we did fear the worst, especially with Jenkinson as the only potential centre back on the bench. He picked himself up and carried on.
Arsenal had most of the early possession, however, it was Villa who had the better of the chances with Albrighton taking advantage of some slack Kieran Gibbs tracking. Lucky for us his shooting boots were back in Birmingham.
Arsenal were working the ball around the pitch quite nicely, the best move before we scored came when Sagna worked his way down the wing, he played the ball into Robin who laid it off to Theo for a snap shot that was too close to Given.
It wasn't going to take something that spectacular to open up Villa. Gervinho picked up a roving Gibbs as he was making a play for the box, he controlled the ball, struck his shot low and reasnobly hard at the near post, Given misjudged and the ball slipped under him to give us our first!
How easy was that? Very my friends...
It wasn't all one way traffic, Stephen Ireland found himself in our box, he cut back to Heskey who flew his shot wide of the post. Albrighton again made a pacey run for our goal, Gibbs was nowhere to be seen, but Gervinho was and showed off his pace with a superb bit of back tracking!
The next goal came from another bit of Alex Song wizardry. He played one of his now trademark chipped through balls into the path of Theo Walcott. He trapped it, moved into space and placed his shot under the keeper. So much technique in that goal. An absolute masterclass. Alex Song really is starting to frighten me with all these assists!
Arteta also took time out to remind us that in a distant career elsewhere, he could shoot. He let off a bullet from outside the area but Shay Given had it in him to tip it over the bar!
The final moment of the half worth mentioning came when Alex Song played Robin into the box, the Dutchman lost his balance and fell, the ball came loose, he rose to his feet, gently swept the ball to his good foot and shot in one movement... sadly a Villa player flew back to clear the shot.
Robin is on fire. An absolute class apart!
The second half was a bit more of a tame affair. We were two up, we didn't need to commit bodies forward and really, we needed to make sure we didn't over exert ourselves to the point of injury. Villa were offering up nothing, we needed to realise that and keep the mistakes to a premium.
I have to say, I can barely remember anything of note in the second half? Villa made it through on goal late on but Chesney saved with his legs. I thought Chamberlain was fouled inside the box but the ref decided otherwise. Oh... and Alex Song was brutally chopped down in the last minute from the type of challenge that is typical of players working under Mcliesh. That's why when I typed his name into my address bar this morning, I enjoyed the top suggested search result.
Anyway, the resultant freekick that looked to be about 35 yards out was smashed into the top corner by Arteta! What a way to finish a very efficient day at the office.
7 wins on the bounce... this is all starting to shape up rather nicely!
What can we conclude from a win like yesterday? Well, there are a few things for me. Firstly, I don't take too much notice of the opposition. You can only beat who the league put in front of you and that Villa side went two up against us in the cup. What you can take note of is the difference in confidence of the team at the moment.
Theo Walcott, since the fans gave him a bit of stick at the ground, has become a different beast. I can't work out what has been the bigger driver for him in the second half of the season. Is it the realisation that he actually had to start performing if he wanted a new gold plated deal? Was it the emergence of Chamberlain? Or has he had this summers England exploits in his head? Or has the return of Sagna made his life that little bit easier? It's probably a combination of the lot. He's added variety to his game, he's far more clinical in front of goal and he's decisive wherever he is on the pitch. His goal yesterday was superb. I'm not sure the Theo of last year could have scored that.
I think experience has been a major driving factor in the resurgence of the squad. In seasons past, we've tended to fall apart in the business end of the year. Not so this year. We've capitalised on some great form and we've kept it going. Alex Song, Thomas Vermaelen, Thomas Rosicky, Mikael Arteta, Bacary Sagna and Robin Van Persie are all mid twenties and up. They're all in form and they're all totally focused on Arsenal. Could we say the same last year? Certainly not for two of our star players
I think the other major factor is time. The players have started to work out how to play with each other. The impact of losing your two best players is always going to be massive. We had to work out a whole new way of playing and that finally seems to be clicking. More players are taking responsibility to create. More players are hungry to land themselves on the score sheet and over all, there is total belief that they can win any game against any team.
It's the perfect storm at this point in the season.
A few people have asked if I've changed my opinion on the manager. Well, first things first, I'm over the moon about the turnaround. I've said all season we can make top four, which it seems like we're on course to do now. My opinion of the manager has always been around learning from his mistakes. If we make top 3 this season, will he reflect on last years errors and make the changes he needs to early on... or will this year be vindication for him to continue as is. If we have another summer like last year, we'll have another similar season. If Wenger keeps hold of Robin, bakes in 2-3 world class players into the mix and makes a real go of it next year... I'd be more than happy for him to see out his forever contract.
The big difference for me this year is Robin. The captain has been vocal with the manager about the lack of experience around the squad before. Wenger knows if he has a chance of winning the league over the next three years, he'll need a player like Robin in the squad. Robin will know that a Wenger promise on super quality players doesn't always stack up. I'm guessing he's asked the club to show him ambition if he's to sign on. Hopefully, that'll be the tipping point for Arsene and a policy change.
However, lets take this one step at a time. There are still 8 games left. A lot can happen in that time. It's looking good though. We're 3 points ahead of Spurs, we're 8 ahead of Chelsea and 16 ahead of Liverpool. Yep, 16. King Kenny. What a manager.
Next up is QPR on Saturday, they're without Cisse, which is bad news for them, they're also without any form players, which is even worse news. We need to beat one of Chelsea or City at home... if we can do that, I think top 3 is ours. It's tense though... who would have thought 3rd Place Trophy could be so much fun?
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See you in the comments!