Sunday, October 18, 2009

Progress Report: Arsenal 3-1 Birmingham

I only saw the highlights of Saturday's game, so I can only draw half-justified conclusions, but there were a few to be drawn nonetheless. One thing that stands out is the goalkeeping dilemma. Almunia was back from his "flu", but only returned to the bench. We can surmise then that his number 1 spot is under threat, but Mannone may have blown his big audition, and so the plot thickens. Expect Almunia to be starting midweek, and in need of a performance not just for all us fans who are tired of this debilitating flaw in the side, but more importantly for his own fragile confidence.

All of our home games so far had turned out to be relatively straightforward, in terms of scoreline: 4-1, 4-0, 6-2. Yet in all of these games, before the result was decided, we had moments of worrying fragility. Against Portsmouth, at 2-1, Gallas could easily have been sent off for an APPARENT professional foul (replays proved the referee was right- but I doubt if he was right for the right reasons!). Against Wigan, Mannone was forced into important saves as our defence creaked first half at 1-0. And against Blackburn two weeks ago, we were behind twice and could have been level again at 3-3 if the referee had given the trip on Dunn as a penalty.

Against Birmingham yesterday, again the game ended comfortably but for long stretches it was closer than it should have been. Two early goals seemed to herald a bit of a rout. First, a trademark Van Persie finish. I get annoyed when people compare him to Bergkamp, but one way in which he emulates his fellow Dutchman is in the high ratio of eye-catching goals he grabs. For both men, these are often the result of an accomplished first touch in tight areas. Alex Song's pass was well aimed but awkward for RVP to take in his stride. The way he manouevred it onto his left was fantastic, and the finish, when he's on this kind of form, a formality. He has the potential to be more prolific than his legendary countryman, and one feels we'll need him to be this season. When you think about it, how lucky have we been... Bergkamp, Henry, Van Persie. Not many scruffy goals in there, even for the Frenchman who scored more than two hundred.

Van Persie's strike was quickly followed by a second from Diaby, after great work down the right by Eboue and Rosicky. And how great it is to have the latter back. Because he's not a regular scorer it can be easy to ignore him but he really does oil the gears of the team very well and I think we've looked more fluid from the minute he returned. I believe he played twice for the czechs during the international break aswell, so that can only bode well for his contract prospects. Let's be cautious though, we all know his history...

In any case, after that it should have been plain sailing. But Arsenal wouldn't be Arsenal without a soft goal conceded. In one of the few instances he was called upon, Mannone dropped a cross under a slight bit of pressure and Bowyer smashed it in. This happened not long before half time, and it wasn't til the last few minutes that Arshavin put the game to bed with an Henryesque finish on the break. Admittedly, Bimingham didn't threaten to equalise too often, but it's worrying that we made such hard work of them. Then again, the first game after the international break doesn't often see a vintage attacking performance, so we can be pleased with the three points.

The main worries are the aforementioned goalkeeping dilemma, and the equally ever-running injury crisis. The brittle Walcott was predictably crocked after a (legitimate) clattering from Ridgewell, and replaced by Arshavin. From what Wenger said, he's out of the AZ game, and you get the feeling it could be a few more. Also with Eduardo and Bendtner out of the squad, Robin Van Persie was in the unfamiliar position of being the only FIT striker. I said at the start of the season that while our attacking options are plenty in the sense of having plenty of ATTAcKERS, we don't have enough FORWARDS. Two injury-prone strikers, and Bendtner who seems to be getting into the Arsenal spirit of being oft-crocked, is not enough. I've never seen Vela or Walcott play as the spearhead so Wenger naming them as options was disingenuous, a bit disrespectful towards supporters he's developed a bit of a habit of talking down to. So now we're in the position of praying that RVP's glass legs hold up.

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