February 8, 2013

Do not adjust your television, normal programming will return shortly.

And it can only come soon enough. Last week the hype, furor and general silliness that is the January transfer window came to an end. This week was taken over by a quick international break. And in between Arsenal played Stoke to a 1-0 win. Not exactly a ratings machine right there, but some rather interesting things did in fact go on.

Some fans may have been left disappointed that Arsenal did not bring in big name players in a number of positions in the January window, but Arsène Wenger did make one late move for Spanish defender Nacho Monreal. The left-back's signing was became necessary after Kieran Gibbs picked up an injury that will likely keep him out of action for four to six weeks. The Boss raved about Monreal's abilities and said he jumped at the chance to pick him up because "we believe he can integrate into our style of play and adapt very quickly to that."

And he definitely had to adapt quickly. After just one day of training with his new teammates, Monreal was named to the starting line-up against Stoke. Welcome to England, young man. While we didn’t get much of an opportunity to make a decision on his defensive play – again… Stoke – the new signing did show off some of his attacking instincts in the second half. So far, so good.

With the visitors defending very deeply, the reality of more dropped points was looking like a rather likely scenario. But with the additions of Lukas Podolski – who picked up Man of the Match honors – and Santi Cazorla in the 68th minute, things changed for the better. Theo Walcott was clipped on the edge of the area, and Poldi's resulting free kick deflected off of a Mordorian defender and into the net.

The manager actually gave some praise to the visitors for being well organized and defending well, but felt that his side deserved to win the game. He was especially pleased with Arsenal's defensive play, saying "I am happy that for a long time now, we didn't concede and the defence looked solid." He later added, "defensively today you could see that in Sagna, Nacho, Koscielny and Mertesacker we have some experience and stature there. We are not small at the back."

No major errors and we dealt with the "pass to the really tall guy" style of offense. Not a bad day's work.

As for the new guy, the manager say, "[Nacho] dealt well with the situation. I believe tonight everybody is convinced that he has the quality to play for Arsenal."

Another big change in the game was the return of Mikel Arteta, who also took the role of captain in Thomas Vermaelen's absence. The Spaniard was quick to point out what his presence made quite obvious: that Arsenal has pretty decent strength in depth at the moment.

That said, out depth at striker could still be better. We certainly have options in Theo and Poldi, but the fact remains that should we lose Olivier Giroud for any length of time between now and the end of the season we will be rather short – literally and figuratively – in that position. The fact of the matter is, despite taking a little while to find his scoring boots, the Frenchman has become incredibly important to this team. Even when he's not the one scoring the goals, as tactical expert Michael Cox spells it out.

Internationals dominated the rest of the week, and Arsenal players were very much in the news. First up, Gervinho was left disappointed when his Ivory Coast side was eliminated from the Africa Cup of Nations by Nigeria. There is some good news in there however: after being one of the top players in the tournament, he'll return a bit sooner than expected. And hopefully he'll bring some renewed confidence with him.

In Europe, five Gunners played in Paris on Wednesday as Germany topped France 2-1. But the highest profile match featured England beating Brazil at Wembley 2-1. As Arseblog points out, Jack WIlshere was the star of the show, but Theo contributed in a big way, setting up Wayne Rooney's opener.

But now that all of that is done and dusted, we can back to the important football. Coming up on Saturday is a trip to Tyne and Wear to take on Sunderland. Martin O'Neill's side held us to 0-0 draw at home in the season opener, and we certainly shouldn't expect to get any easier in the away fixture. In fact, the Black Cats are now playing a much more positive style of play now and are dangerous in a number of different areas. Long-distance strikes and set-pieces could provide the biggest threat. The tricky part for Sunderland, however, is just how open of a game they play. The more open the play, the more it suits our style.

Without question it’s another big, big game for Arsenal. It may not necessarily be a "must-win" situation, but it's not far off.

Come on you Gunners!

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 Kevin Mooney 8 Feb 2013