Gervinho, Lukas and Mikel - the stars of the show
For twenty-five minutes of the first-half yesterday Arsenal clicked into gear in sensational style. The old swagger was back and the passing was fast, accurate and one-touch. Down the left hand side of Arsenal's attack there were some wonderful combinations between Gibbs, Podolski, Gervinho and Cazorla. Best of all was the fact that, more often than not, somebody actually tried to score or create a goal at the end of most of the moves. For too long we've endured endless passing, usually across the front of the opposition defence, with absolutely no prospect of a dangerous pass or shot at goal. Yesterday was, during that short spell, the most exciting football I've seen from Arsenal for a good couple of years.
Arsene certainly sprung a surprise with his line-up. I don't think anybody would have seen Gervinho replacing Olivier Giroud at centre-forward. I have to say I was disappointed that Giroud was left out. Given the way the game panned out I'm sure he'll feel he was robbed of the chance to get on the score sheet for the first time. As the game drifted through most of the second-half I became frustrated that Wenger failed to make his customary substitutions after 60 minutes. You would have to think Giroud was desperate to get out on the pitch and get involved. As it was he got little more than ten minutes playing time, and the ball wouldn't fall his way in the box.
Having said all of that, I can't deny that Wenger got it right with his selection of Gervinho. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who was scoffing about Gervinho's finishing ability when we saw him in the middle. Let's be honest here, there has been nothing from Gervinho over the last year to suggest he could play as the lone striker. Yesterday, against the defence he found himself up against, the Ivorian was outstanding. Rather predictably the television pundits chose to pick on bad defending for Gervinho's first goal, but how about the spin in behind? It was a great run, matched by the perfect chip in to his path by Arteta, and then a rocket of a shot. I was also really pleased with the nature of his second goal where he followed in a shot from Ramsey to tap in from close range - a proper centre-forward goal. For me it was far and away the best display we've seen from the man with the massive forehead. He thoroughly deserved his ovation when he was taken off, and I could absolutely understand his disappointment when he saw his number come up - a hat-trick might well have been his for the taking.
Lukas Podolski was also brilliant yesterday. The way he held on to the ball to set up the opening goal was great to watch. The physical strength of the German is a huge feature of his game. He managed to hold off two or three defenders in battling for the ball before striding forward with it. He then had the vision to spot the marauding Kieran Gibbs (who also had another fine game) and play a beautiful weighted pass in to his path. The new number nine also got himself a goal again with a well flighted free-kick, though the goalkeeping for that was utterly abysmal - the ball virtually hit the middle of the net, such was the bad positioning of Kelvin Davis. Podolski is really beginning to look the part, and his burgeoning combination with Gibbs and Cazorla promises much. I have his name and number now printed on my home shirt.
The other star yesterday was, again, Mikel Arteta. I can not overstate the professionalism of Arteta. His discipline in that deep midfield position is outstanding. Since Gilberto was sold (one of Wenger's biggest ever mistakes) we have not had a player who is able to provide the balance required in our midfield. With a fit Diaby or Wilshere (maybe it might happen one day) alongside Arteta we could dominate a lot of big matches. Next week, at Man City, he will be given the first genuine test in his new position. If he comes through that in similar form we could be looking at a good season ahead of us.
Of course, it wasn't all positive yesterday. I reserve the right to be disappointed about something, and the Southmapton goal was that thing yesterday. First of all I want to "out" Santi Cazorla for bottling a tackle on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area which allowed Saints to regain possession of the ball - I don't ever want to see that again and I hope Wenger/Bould/Banfield will take the little Spaniard in hand over that incident. From there of course there was a bread and butter cross for Szczesny to deal with. I wasn't really surprised when the Pole dropped the ball. Frankly, since February, Szczesny has been making at least one mistake per game leading to opposition chances, and often goals. The guy is nowhere near as good as he clearly thinks he is. My brother compared him to Nicklas Bendtner in terms of his over-inflated sense of his ability and I can't argue with that. His kicking was also a disgrace yesterday. The fact that Vito Mannone spent half-time and most of the second-half doing a proper warm-up would indicate that Szczesny is not fit. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Italian back in action on Tuesday through a combination of Szczesny's fitness and bad form.
Overall it was a great win yesterday and I think there are plenty of us today reflecting on a job well done. Any time you get six goals it is something to be happy about. Going in to the first European Cup game of the season it is a real bonus to see the players finding their form. If we can get a result in France on Tuesday it will be a big boost ahead of the Man City match next Sunday. I'll be previewing the trip to Montpellier tomorrow.