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Thursday, 20 January 2011

Leeds 1 - 3 Arsenal - no more messing about

There is a wrestler in the WWF called John Cena. Cena's signature move is called the "Attitude Adjustment" and I wonder if he's been training with the Arsenal squad this week. The display last night was a world away from the first match against Leeds, and the game against Ipswich. Right from the kick-off last night the players went out there with the right attitude and ran their socks off - even Arshavin seemed to be working harder when we didn't have the ball, even if his exploits with the ball at his feet are becoming all the more predictable. Following yesterday morning's controversy I thought we might see more from Denilson last night but he was the one really disappointing player last night for me - and that is not just me jumping on the "get at Denilson" bandwagon.
As I've said the players mindset last night was spot-on. The decision to make Nasri the captain ahead of Arshavin (who did wear the armband at Portsmouth a couple of months after his arrival two years ago) was a signal that Wenger wanted a player who would lead by example. Nasri set the tone as he dominated the ball in the early stages - though he was uncharacteristically profligate in possession a couple of times later in the first-half. Meanwhile Alex Song ran the midfield area as he broke up the play on numerous occasions and got Arsenal back on the attack. The two centre-halves were fairly faultless last night and the Championship is probably a level at which Koscielny would look a very comfortable player. Bacary Sagna was already in decent form before his suspension and the short break has done him no harm - his goal was a super strike, though I thought Schmeichel might have done a bit better having got his hands on the ball. On the other side of the defence Kieran Gibbs has really got to pay attention to his positioning as better players will punish his going AWOL far more effectively than Leeds managed.
In the attacking areas I though Chamakh had a fine first-half and was really unlucky to see his text-book downward header repelled by a fabulous save. Nicklas Bendtner was constrained to the right-wing again and did his best to make an impression. He tracked back to reasonable effect and his cross for Van Persie's goal was excellent. I just hope that Wenger doesn't take that cross as evidence that Bendtner is capable of playing that position on a more regular basis.
The first two substitutions were encouraging in that Arsene showed a genuine intent to win the tie. There was no question of making subs and "resting" players so we saw the removal of Arshavin, and a tiring Chamakh, neither of whom are likely to start on Saturday. I did allow myself a smile at the sight of Gael Clichy being brought on to play on the left-wing, what with his prowess and expert delivery in attacking areas...or not.
All in all it was a fine performance from the boys and showed once and for all that if you beat a team for effort, and make no mistake Leeds gave it all they had, you will surely beat them with your football. Were it not for Schmeichel and Arsenal's customary wastefulness, we would have been out of sight long before Leeds grabbed their lifeline. I was still worried at 2-1 as one small mistake might have let Leeds back in to the game, but they had little answer to us once Fabregas entered the fray. The Leeds captain, Howson, showed he lacks talent in the final five minutes as he tried to leave Fabregas with some new tattoos on his legs and should have been receiving his second yellow-card when he finally got booked (no surprise to hear Andy Townsend sympathising with the Leeds man - add him to the cretin list).
A home draw against Huddersfield now awaits us. The players must not believe that game to be a walkover and the attitude of last night must be present in everything they do between now and the end of the season. A defeat last night might have rattled the momentum they have been trying to build, but that has now been a problem averted. There's a big game on Saturday in the Premier League against Wigan who are owed more than one by this group of players. Then on Tuesday is the biggest game of the season so far for me, a must-win versus Ipswich, which might just set up a piece of silverware for the first time for this squad. There's much to look forward to, if the players can produce like they did last night.

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