By Chris Harris
According to Arsène Wenger, Saturday's win at Blackburn provided further evidence that his young squad has made a significant leap forward this season.
Arsenal were outmuscled at Ewood Park last year but shrugged off an early red card for Gilberto to beat Rovers 2-0 at the weekend thanks to goals in either half by Kolo Toure and Thierry Henry. For Wenger, it was a sign that his players are physically and mentally stronger.
"I feel it is a measure of the progress we have made," he said. "In some games at the beginning of the season we were not as committed as we are at the moment but we have learned a lot and are progressing.
"We have improved, we have found the right balance between what is needed in the Premiership without losing our football. That is very important to us.
"Blackburn didn't play Tugay from the start, they went with a more direct style. The problem for us was to win the challenges in the air but not forget to get the ball down and play our game. For that you have to be calm and not panic under pressure, and we did that very well."
Wenger reserved special praise for his back four, which on Saturday had an average age of just over 22. It's easy to forget the summer departures of Sol Campbell and Ashley Cole, plus that injury to William Gallas, when the likes of Philippe Senderos, Gael Clichy and Justin Hoyte are growing up so quickly.
"It was one of the most satisfying performances because the spirit was strong," agreed Wenger. "Our defence is maturing, we never panicked and never made silly challenges to give a stupid free kick away. We didn't show signs of being under pressure and we won the challenges very well.
"We had a great combination I feel between strength, commitment and real class. For me that shows the team is growing and you feel there is a strength coming from game to game. There is great solidarity in this side."
Copyright 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 15 Jan 2007