As most of you know I am not a fan of the international breaks that interrupt the season fill the sports news outlets with meaningless scores and stats as our players get whisked to all parts of the globe to participate in friendlies (or in this case, Euro qualifiers). As a gooner this is more frustrating because our players like to end up on the wrong side of the physicians table after these matches and we are down several good players for extended periods of time. Fortunately, this did not occur and we got to see a wonderful spring match against Liverpool on Saturday.
A fine 4-1 win over Liverpool is always a joy to watch but this match had a lot riding on it. As the years have passed we have been constantly ridiculed for being unable to take points off of teams in the top four. I know Liverpool isn't in the top four but they finished in the top four last season and are a team that we got demolished by at Anfield. 4-1 is as close to replicating the reverse score last season without matching it and man for man, we played like the better team. We were dominant almost all match and with the exception of a fifteen minute stretch in the first half, we controlled every moment. Liverpool did that to us last season and it was nice to return the favor.
We know how important those top four positions are and a win over Liverpool essentially solidified our place in the Champions League. With City crashing to Palace on Monday, we have a damn good chance to finish as high as second, but no lower than third. Not only did we book our place but we may have ended any others chances of getting in. Liverpool do have a chance still but it is a long shot at this point and it requires United to drop a lot of points in the final weeks. Frankly, I don't really care what happens to them as long as we stay in the Champions League.
The match itself was fantastic and we are seeing the makings of a strong team that can truly challenge for the title next year. After a season of trying to get many new players to fit in and gel, we are hitting our stride and showing the league what the Arsenal are all about. Wenger has gotten us back to playing the style of football we all want and expect at Arsenal. From front to back we are playing with the grace and confidence of a winning side. Beating City away earlier in such dominant fashion was a massive catalyst for our winning run. With the exception of the Southampton and Sp*rs losses, we have been positive to great in our matches. Sure we have had a few nervy games here and there but overall we should be pleased with how our progress is coming.
Progress describes our season as a whole from a results standpoint and from a personnel standpoint. As I stated earlier we have had our problems with the top teams. United, City, Liverpool and Chelsea always seem to have our number and it has become a forgone conclusion that we will choke against them. Not this season. We have taken points away from Liverpool, and beaten both City and United away from home. Chelsea still remain at large but as the match approaches I am feeling confident that we will win. I said the same leading up the FA Cup match at Old Trafford and I will say it again. We have the confidence and the momentum to finally wipe that smug smile off of Jose Mourinho's face. It would be better to steal the title from them but even a Chelsea team that is off the pace at the moment won't give up the title so close to the end. If we had a few more matches left in the season then I would suggest that it is possible, not this time though.
It is hard not to look back and suggest that our progress isn't as great as we may think. The early part of the season was littered with draws to lesser opposition and to make matters worse, most of those matches we were leading and then conceded stupid goals. My response to that is as the season went on we began to seal the leaks in the top four while Alexis was busy scoring goals and keeping us in the fight for the top four. Our back line didn't look solid because it was hard for them to stay healthy. Thus we had a rotating door of players filling in. Debuchy, our starting right back who was to replace Sagna, was injured long turn immediately forcing our hand to play a young Chambers. Then an injury to Koscielny forced Chambers center and a young Bellerin at right back. Two young players in our starting defensive lineup? Not a great proposition but the two ended up working out to varying degrees. I wont fill this space with superlatives for Bellerin but as you know I am a big fan of his, especially his speed and cover on the right. Playing with Alexis is paying off as he is replicating Alexis' never say die attitude and now seeing the young Spaniard at right back isn't a worrying sight. Also, that goal against Liverpool, a real beauty from a defensive player and the run leading up to it was excellent as well.
Our squad as usual, gets hit hard by injuries in more than just defense and the loss of Arteta was a big one forcing Flamini, Ox, Ramsey and more to fill that defensive midfield role. At the January transfer window we were all clamoring for a DM acquisition but a new shiny player didn't signed. Instead we pulled a player who looked like he was on his way out, Coquelin, into the first team. A gamble by Wenger that has paid off. Coquelin looks like a man possessed and at this point, is one of the first names on the team sheet. Like Bellerin, I will not fill this post with superlatives but needless to say his impact has been instrumental in our run to the finish. Giroud, also suffered a long term injury but luckily we had Alexis to fill the goal scoring gap but upon his return, Giroud is one of the most clinical finishers in the second half of the season. This burden being lifted from Alexis is good for the Chilean as he was clearly carrying the weight of the team. Giroud has taken a large chunk of that load off of him and after that goal against Liverpool, Alexis is looking back to the player we had at the start.
With seven matches remaining in the season we look to close out strong. Chelsea and United are the last big tests we have and as the old cliché goes, just take it one match at a time. Our progress is clear, we have made up in strides as the season went on after hitting an injury stumbling block early on. Lets close out with wins finish second (or first if Mourinho finally snaps and holds Stamford Bridge hostage and threatens to blow up the moon with a giant laser).
Until next week,
Come on you Gunners!