April 5, 2013
Don’t look now, but Arsenal are one of the hottest teams in the Premier League. Prior to Saturday's game, Arsenal were 5-1-1 in the previous seven games, and we kept that momentum going with a 4-1 win over Reading. With just eight games left in the 2012/13 season, a good run couldn’t come at a better time.
Some veteran players stepped up against Reading. Bacary Sanga returned from injury and Tomas Rosicky started in place of Abou Diaby. Both have been impact players over the years – especially Rosicky during the run-in last season. But the player that ended up making the biggest splash on the day was Gervinho.
The Ivorian scored in his second straight game and also ended the match with two assists. It's encouraging play from a guy who a fair number of people had written off long ago. After the game Arsène Wenger even admitted that the player is not what you would call a "clinical" striker. However, the boss did explain why he thinks his finishing has suddenly improved. "His finishing is linked with his psychology … when he is completely relaxed he is quite good."
The squad is brimming with a confidence that is perfectly encapsulated by Gervinho. We've seen this team look relaxed before and it has come back to sting us. But since the win in Munich something seems very different. Before, that relaxed appearance prompted screams of "complacency!" But this time it simply suggests confidence.
That especially showed in the second half. While we dominated the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, we put the game well out of reach in the second on goals by Santi Cazorla, Olivier Giroud and a Mikel Arteta penalty.
The manager summed it all up ever so succinctly in his opening comments at the post-match press conference. "We enjoyed the game. I enjoyed our technical side, our creative side, our spirit and how disciplined and focused we were."
"Enjoyed." That is perhaps the best way to illustrate how well things are going for Arsenal at the moment.
But as thrilled as the manager is with the team's confidence and spirit, he was a bit concerned at the missed opportunities against Reading. Despite dominating play, Arsenal did only managed the one goal in the first half. Of course, it would seem whatever adjustments were made during half-time worked. Was it a change in tactics or something more abstract?
Aaron Ramsey suggested that team has simply altered its approach in recent games. Regarding Reading, the Welshman said, “I think you could see that we played without any hesitation and with the handbrake off.
Giroud explained it further. “We want to dictate the games. We are confident. We are used to finishing the Premier League season well. And again this season we will do the same."
It's almost funny. Pundits, journalists and bloggers poke fun at Arsène Wenger for his consistent comments about mental strength and confidence. And lo and behold, that is exactly what appears to be behind this turn in form. If we can keep up that confidence for the next six weeks or so – and on into next season – this change in form could most definitely turn into a change of fortune.
As the summer approaches, talk will inevitably turn quickly toward next season, the quest for silverware and … the summer transfer window. The rumors have already begun, and Wenger even touched on the topic. No, he didn't name names or even positions, but he did say that how his team finishes this season will very much influence the decisions he makes in the off season.
He also hinted at the possibility of promoting from within while discussing the achievements of the NextGen squad. “What is important is to trust young players to do it in the future because everybody just wants to bring in names. That’s where we have to be strong enough to do the right thing.”
But there is still a long road before we get there and a lot can change in eight games. Honestly, considering how close the teams are in the table – between two and seven anyway – a lot can change in one weekend. And this one is no exception. Spurs have a tough task at hand in Everton while Chelsea play a team with a brand new manager. Dropped points are a real possibility in both cases.
Of course, Arsenal need to focus on No. 1. We travel to the Hawthorns on Saturday to face a tricky West Brom side. Steve Clarke's team has had a very impressive season, even if recent results haven’t gone their way. They have a good midfield, and depending how they line up, a number of dangerous scoring threats all over the pitch. Arsenal won this fixture last season to secure third in the league, and while we did come away with a 2-0 win at the Emirates in December, it was far from easy.
The manager will be without the services of Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere, but otherwise the team news looks promising. If there is one thing we have learned this week, it's that all of Arsenal's players are confident, hungry and looking to finish the season on a high. Picking up three points on the road to a quality team at this stage of the campaign would certainly keep us going in the right direction.
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