January 18, 2013
A key player missing through injury, an early red card, a 2-0 deficit and an opposition that has a history of parking the bus meant that victory last weekend was going to be very unlikely just after the half-hour mark. And you wouldn't have been crazy to think that a big, ugly loss was looming.
But Arsenal thought differently. No, we didn't stage a comeback. No, we didn't score. But close calls from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott could have earned us a result despite an awful first half. As Arsène Wenger noted after the game, it was a very frustrating day, but the team showed a lot of heart in the second half.
And there were some bright spots. Jack Wilshere's man of the match performance once again showed us what we were missing last season. And Abou Diaby, while shaky in the first half, looked to come alive as the game wore on. The Boss is convinced Diaby will get stronger - and quickly - and the player himself said that while he wasn't at his best, he felt good and was glad to have played in the game. "It helped me because when you come back you need games and a bit of rhythm to be fully back," he told Arsenal Player.
And his rhythm looked much better against Swansea a few days later. The manager put together a very strong line-up and a formation that looked quite different from the usual 4-3-3. Diaby started in the middle of the pitch next to Francis Coquelin while Jack played just behind the striker while Santi Cazorla moved over to the left side and Theo Walcott played on the right.
And the experiment seemed to have worked. Arsenal got off 26 shots in the 1-0 win - a scoreline that was generous to the visitors. A strong performance by Swansea keeper Michael Vorm and some infuriatingly bad luck for Arsenal kept the game locked in a 0-0 draw until Jack brought the frozen crowd to their feet in the 86th minute. His powerful strike from just outside the area gave Arsenal the win they deserved and passage to a fourth round FA Cup tie against Brighton.
Amazingly, it was only his fifth goal for Arsenal. But the manager thinks that is something that will change quickly. "The way he took the goal was fantastic, because he didn't think too much ... He took his chance in a spontaneous way. It's good that he adds that to his game, because he gets in situations where you have to finish." Add goals like that to the leadership qualities he exhibits on the pitch and the sky is the limit for the 21-year-old.
The overall team performance also pleased Wenger, but left him ruing the first half against City. "It gives you a lot of regrets that we played with 10 men on Sunday when you see our second half and our game tonight." Kieran Gibbs expressed a similar view saying, "We have to start on the front foot. When we do that, teams find it difficult to play against us. We have to keep that in mind."
So in the end it was two games with different outcomes, but a similar storyline: we failed to convert a number of good chances. And with an open transfer window, rumors about whom Arsenal may bring in are running rampant. As in the past, Wenger has made clear that he is looking to being in a player or two, but only if he is top quality. But he also stressed that he wasn't going to make any moves until injuries have been sorted (I'm looking at you Abou and Tomas) and the future of Theo was settled. Lo and behold both of those boxes seem to have been ticked. Diaby is looking good, Rosicky nearly came back for Swansea and as of today, Theo has signed a new deal.
So who will Arsène bring in? It still remains to be seen. The most recent rumors have included Edinson Cavani from Napoli and Wilfried Zaha from Crystal Palace but concrete moves for any specific players are far from certain. But with the last week of the window approaching, the rumors will be coming in fast and furious. As ever, stay tuned to Arsenal.com for the latest - and y'know... real stories on player movement in and out.
Looking ahead, it's another big, big week. Arsenal head to Fulham to take on Chelsea on Sunday and then welcome East London's West Ham on Wednesday (ah... London geography). These are six points that we could really use right about now. The good news is that Chelsea have been struggling a little of late, especially at home. The bad news is that we aren't in a much better position. Still, to use WIlshere's words, hopefully we can "take game to them" much like last year's wonderful 5-3 win. Rafa Benitez has several options and can play two very different styles depending on whom he picks. Demba Ba could be a big threat, but their defense could have trouble dealing with Arsenal's pace.
Both teams really face the same glaring question: Which team will show up? The powerhouse that can score six, seven, eight goals... or the one that draws against Southampton? Find out Sunday. Same Bat-Time, same Bat Channel. And by that I mean Fox Soccer Channel in the USA and Sportsnet World in Canada kickoff at 830am ET.
Come on you Gunners!
- Kevin MooneyCopyright 2013 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 24 Jan 2013