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Sunday, 29 September 2013

Gibbs and Szczesny shine in Wales

Outstanding again at Swansea

Two points clear at the top of the Premier League. Who’d have thought it after we were Anthony Taylor’d in the first game against Villa? It is a huge credit to the players (and the Manager and coaches) that Arsenal are in this position. Of course there are 32 games to go before we judge anything but credit is due to all concerned. Something feels right about Arsenal at the moment and I hope it continues for a long time. Arsene Wenger and Aaron Ramsey are a stick on for the monthly Premier League awards for September so let’s hope the curse isn’t about to strike us.
The game at Swansea was a little odd. In the first-half we just weren’t in the game. I felt that it was our back-four against the whole Swansea side. The passing wasn’t in our game and the midfield looked seriously off the pace, leaving Olivier Giroud very isolated up front. It was like that right up until the 46th minute when Serge Gnabry (who seems to grow in to games) decided it was time for something a bit different. His run past two or three defenders, and a perfectly weighted pass for Giroud, provided a spark of inspiration. Giroud should have scored (finishing is still his weak point) but the players seemed to pick up where they left off when the game re-started.
After half-time we looked a yard quicker. Suddenly our passes were finding their targets and the movement was so much better. The pressure that Swansea had been able to build on Arsenal’s defence was not so in evidence in the second-half and Kieran Gibbs completely dominated the left of the pitch (I fear for us if we come up against a side with the quality to expose Wilshere’s lack of positional sense, however). Again Gnabry ran at his man and got a shot away for our first on target in the match.
It’s becoming a little familiar for sustained possession from Arsenal to result in a goal. The players seem able, at times, to build up a period of pressure that sees the opposition dragged out of position slightly. To then be able to expose those gaps is a mark of the quality we currently seem to be producing. Passing and moving at pace when we go forward is something these players seem to have realised is important. When they do it, as they did for Gnabry’s goal, it is pretty close to unstoppable. Gnabry’s finish was first rate, but so was the build-up, even before Ramsey’s exquisite reverse pass to the young German.
For five minutes after that we tore Swansea to shreds on the break. Ozil should have got a goal for himself but he delayed too long and allowed the goalkeeper to get close to him. When the second goal did come it was another pacy move forward, featuring a magnificent challenge by Jack Wilshere to set up the play. I was just screaming at Giroud for not shooting in to an open goal when Ramsey found the top corner. I never want to see my centre-forward passing in such a situation, but Ramsey is confident at the moment that he made beating his man and shooting in to the top corner look easy.
We sat back a little after that when we might have gone on and scored a goal or two more. With our propensity to concede a goal this is always a dangerous ploy from Arsenal. Wilshere played a ridiculous back-pass that saw Szczesny have to make a good save, and I felt it was a bit of a feature from Jack on the day. He seemed to be trying to do something spectacular, or too clever, far too often which would lead to us losing the ball. The comparisons to Aaron Ramsey’s play this time last year were stark, for me. Maybe when a young player is struggling for form, fitness and confidence, they try to “superstar” their way out of it by attempting to pull off the clever trick instead of just keeping it simple. It will come back for Jack, of course, but with other players getting fit it would do no harm for him to be taken out of the firing line – playing out of position is doing him no good either, just as it didn’t Ramsey.
Swansea’s goal came from the only poor piece of defending form us in the game. Bacary Sagna went to sleep for the first time this season and it cost us a goal. It was a shame because the defence and Szczesny deserved a clean sheet for their display.
Szczesny played his best game for Arsenal yesterday as far as I’m concerned. When he first came on the scene I felt it was a feature of his game that he would come for crosses and catch them. That has been absent for a long time now. Today it very much returned, and it makes such a difference to the side. In injury-time when we were hanging on a bit he came and caught three different balls in to the box. It took all the pressure off. I have no doubt that this time last year we’d have drawn 2-2, but Szczesny took command of his penalty area in a way that we haven’t seen from an Arsenal goalkeeper since Jens Lehmann. Long may it continue.
Next up it’s Napoli in the Champions League. Hopefully the players will have had a little rest before that one. Napoli are top of the Serie A so we’re in for a tough night on Tuesday. One or two changes might be in order, but it was reported on Twitter last night that Serge Gnabry has now been added to our Champions League squad having met the qualification criteria for U21 players. I hope that’s right as he is a far better option than Ryo Miyaichi. I hope to do a proper preview of the match on Monday evening.

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