November 15, 2013
We're in the midst of the third break in the schedule since August and it’s a bit difficult to gauge whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.
On one hand, it's more time for our injured players edge ever closer to full fitness. There have been some missing elements in the squad in the last few weeks, and knowing that Theo Walcott and Lukas Podolski are on the cusp of retuning is exciting.
The flip side is the extra games and the fatigue that comes with them to several important players. Our French contingent of Olivier Giroud, Bacary Sagna, Laurent Koscielny are involved in an all-or-nothing World Cup qualifier against Ukraine over the next five days. And that doesn’t include the dozen other players who will play in friendlies or U-21 competitions.
But perhaps a bigger inconvenience is that Arsenal do not have the opportunity to respond to a somewhat lackluster performance against Manchester United last weekend.
Despite United's position in the table, going into Sunday's game, the players and manager were proclaiming the importance of the game. Mikel Arteta proclaimed that United are still the team to beat if Arsenal want to win the title this year, and Arsène Wenger said that no matter how well his side have played thus far, "people judge you on how well you do" against them.
Unfortunately, weren't at our best. But to be fair, neither were they. Still Robin van Persie's first half goal was enough to give them the 1-0 win – ending our 15-game unbeaten run away from home.
The team sheet brought with it some positives and negatives. Mathieu Flamini returned after missing out on Liverpool and Dortmund due to injury, but the flu took out Per Mertesacker and Tomas Rosicky out of the line-up and at least somewhat hobbled Arteta and Serge Gnabry.
It's important to note that Thomas Vermaelen stepped up and his first Premier League start of the season did an admirable job. But you could wonder if Mertesacker's presence and organization were missed when United scored the lone goal – a Van Persie header off of a Wayne Rooney corner kick.
The second half saw Arsenal as the better team, and an equalizer seemed close after some truly impressive crosses by Sagna, but the goal remained evasive and the home team held on for the win.
Wenger was disappointed – and a bit angry after the loss. He said that he felt his team "were a bit nervous at the start of the game and didn't play our game." And overall he thought that Arsenal "had the opportunity at least to get a draw out of this game."
He later added that he hoped the players were angry at themselves "because it's unbelievable to lose a game like that."
Sagna agreed, "The only positive today is we kept playing during the second half, we showed them we were a better team but we had to do this all through the game and we started playing too late."
But as Vermaelen noted, "We're still top of the league and need to keep the confidence we've had over the last couple of weeks. There's no reason for that to change dramatically." Yes, the cushion shrunk to a mere two points over Liverpool, but it's still an enviable position.
A big part of that position has been the play of Wojciech Szczesny. He has improved dramatically over this time last year when he was ultimately benched for a few games after a sub-par season. Whiel he says he has put some extra effort into his training, the main difference is not physical. "It comes down to maturity. The older you get, the more games you play and you know how to deal with things, you know how to prepare for things." He also added that he feels much more relaxed, which again is something that only comes with experience.
And now he's using that experience to help some of his younger teammates make the transition to first-team football. And when you consider that the 23-year-old has already played more than 100 games for the Club, those younger players have a great person to look up to.
Of course, they also can look up to Jack Wilshere – figuratively of course. The 21-year-old – yes, 21 – has also played in more than 100 games for Arsenal and is rapidly approaching 100 starts. Of course, what’s really remarkable is that you see it all over this squad. Remember when the five British players signed long-term contracts last season? They are all under the age of 25 and only Chamberlain and Jenkinson have fewer than 100 appearances.
And it turns out that not only are they sticking together on the pitch, they are friends off the pitch too - and the results of that team spirit are paying off in spades.
Of course, they and the rest of the squad won't be hanging out this weekend. FIFA will see them spread far and wide until next week when the last break of 2013 comes to an end. After that, it's 10 games in the final six weeks of the year – and plenty more to come in 2014.
Rest up Gooners. We'll see you soon.Copyright 2014 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 15 Nov 2013