By Patrick Grove
Arsenal Football Club returned from Norwich City with their fifth consecutive win in the league on Saturday afternoon. The trip to the Canaries of East Anglia proved to be dangerous as expected but the Gunners managed to come out victorious.
AFC started the game about as well as could have been hoped following an week international break. Right off the blocks Gervinho, Walcott, van Persie, and company were putting the Norwich goal under siege with pace, slick passing, and some good improvisation. Had it not been for Russell Martin, the Gunners could have had the opener on 3 different occasions in the first 15 minutes. Then, against the run of play, it happened. The BFG that Arsenal had picked up on the last day of the transfer window finally made the huge mistake most had predicted he would after his purchase. A relatively routine long ball was sent forward and dropped between Mertesacker and the goalkeeper. Mertesacker hesitated and probably felt safe with his body between the ball and Steve Morison. Morison however, taught the BFG a good lesson that you are never safe in the Premier League as a defender and hasseled (fouled) the ball away from him before putting it in the back of the net.
In years past, you would have put your money on a loss or a draw. But straight away after the restart, Arsenal were on the attack again. Another one or two good chances went begging for Gervinho and Robin van Persie before the Dutchman finally netted the equalizer. A good ball played out to the right side to Walcott in space opened up the defence. Theo danced around Tierney with far too much ease and then played in a magnificent low cross. Gervinho probably should have finished it whiffed completely. Thankfully, our goal maestro was there to clean up the pieces. All that was left was to enjoy a sweet golf swing with his assist maker. This was a real poachers goal and I will talk more about that in another article, but it was the type of goal Arsenal need to be scoring.
For most of the match, Arsenal was in complete control from defence through midfield and into the final third. The number of chances created was astounding especially when you consider only two goals were scored. Gervinho’s profligacy in front of goal may have exaggerated how poor the finishing was, but one man found a way to clip the Canaries wings. Van Persie’s second, and 31st in 29 games calendar year, was cheeky and sublime. The deft right-footed chip from a difficult angle was something very few would try and only a select few could duplicate. And that’s including those players that use golf clubs. Yet, in the form of his life, fans expected nothing less.
Aside from a single cross and one free kick in the second half, the home team managed very little as far as a fight back. Take nothing away from Norwich as they worked hard to close down space for most of the game and got their reward in a goal. But the difference in class between the teams was clear from start to finish and the game could have easily finished three to four more goals in AFC’s favor.
There were a few players that were particularly impressive while a few others failed to show their best side. I’ll leave RVP out of the conversation because although his performance was again brilliant, it’s almost become routine. Thomas Vermaelan gave another great performance as a solid defender but also showed his class going forward. He made 2 or 3 marauding runs forward and provided an inch perfect cross that Gervinho should have finished. Koscielny played very well considering he was out of his regular position at right back and may well see more time there with Jenkinson and Sagna both sidelined with injuries.
Walcott also showed why he is a consistent figure in Fabio Capello’s England squads now. He skinned Tierney too easily for the entire match and really should have had 3 or 4 assists. If he continues to play like that, I will have to change my opinion of him. I currently see him as a slightly above average winger with very little trickery but plenty of pace. Saturday he looked like one of the best right sided midfielders in England and if he can play that way consistently he will see is stocks take a huge rise.
Unfotunately, on the disappointing side I have to name three of my new favorite players. We’ll start with Mertesacker. Although overall his performance in the game was not horrible, his one glaring, abysmal mistake really soiled his image for the whole game. A simple header back to the keeper or a hack clear would have sufficed but he found himself dawdling. He then managed to get muscled out as if he has all the strength of a rag doll before smacking the ground in understandable disappointment. I believe in the long run, the BFG will prove to be a great purchase, but that mistake cannot be repeated or he may find himself in the long line of Senderos’s and Squillaci’s that are generally disgust the Arsenal fanbase.
Next worst performance on my list goes to Aaron Ramsey who is currently one of my favorite Arsenal players. There is no doubt that the young Welshman has plenty of talent and at times he shows the guile of men with 5-10 years more experience. His one problem since his return from the horrific double leg break is consistency. He will have one fabulous performance followed by an absolute stinker. He made some good passes and controlled the pace of the game but he gave up possession in very dangerous areas at times and just didn’t have the influence on the match that we need from him on a regular basis.
My worst performance of the match goes to Gervinho. That may seem a bit harsh but wait for the final words before criticizing my choice. Gervinho did make some good runs and find himself in good space at times. However, given what we have seen he is capable of, this was well below his best performance. He seemed a step or two of his normal pace and just didn’t show the dynamic play we are used to seeing. He beat virtually no one in a one on one the entire match and was only involved when he was passed into the game. And when he was passed into the game his finishing was absolutely atrocious. He had two one v one’s with the Norwich keeper and failed to convert either opportunity. He also had two to three other clear-cut chances that were spurned. He is definitely a rising star and seems to be one of Arsene Wenger’s best purchases but this performance was right up there with his worst for the club.
Next up for the Gunners is the Champions League match at home to Borussia Dortmund. The two teams played out a 1-1 draw that left both teams probably feeling disappointed in Germany. Since that time though both teams fortunes have risen dramatically and Dortmund now find themselves 2 points of the Bundesliga summit after a win at current Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich over the weekend. The young midfield maestro Mario Goetze found the net for Dortmund in the match against Munich again proving himself to be one of the next German greats. This will prove a tough home Champions League fixture for the Gunners and will require a top, top performance to earn a victory.
However, I do feel this game comes at a good time for Arsenal. The Germans will be playing their second of two consecutive away games when they arrive at the Emirates. Also, they will have just played a very intensely fought and emotional match against their closest rivals. As we showed against Marseille in the last Champions League match, the game immediately following a powerful and emotional victory can be a dangerous proposition. And although the Germans will be coming to the Emirates full of confidence after their win at the weekend, hopefully, their physical and emotional tanks will have not refilled by the time they take the field against the Gunners on Wednesday night.
Let’s get behind the boys and show some real support. Let’s make it another atmosphere like Barcelona at home last season and send ourselves into the knockout stages with a victory.