Theo Gets Lucky… Three Times!!!

After a two-week break for Arsenal Station due to illness, I return to my blogging duties at the best of times. After our satisfactory result/disappointing performance at Liverpool last weekend, Arsenal needed to put in a quality performance. Of course, there are huge issues still surrounding the squad, but a 6-nil victory, no matter the opposition, can only give the team confidence going forward. (Highlights, as usual, are in the sidebar to the right).

The first word out of anyone’s mouth when discussing yesterday’s match has to be “Theo.” Obviously, the headline is a jibe at those “pundits” who seem to find joy in criticizing Walcott. He was fantastic yesterday, doing all the things in one performance that we have only too often seen sporadically. Of course, he used his pace to its full effect effectively torturing, if not demoralizing, Stephen Crainey. But, as we have all become painfully aware, pace alone does not a footballer make. Yesterday, Theo used his speed to get in behind the defense on occasions too numerous to recall. Even more importantly, he made good decisions and played good balls when he found himself in advanced positions.

His performance wasn’t perfect, as Alan Hansen will gladly remind us. However, all three goals were extremely well-taken, especially the last two goals. The first came from a classic Arsenal-style combination from Rosicky to Arshavin and finally to Walcott who slotted home at the far post. The second saw Walcott take the ball with his back to goal in the box and use his turn to get the extra half-yard of space he needed to once again slot home at the far post. The third goal, however, was truly fantastic. Taking a pass from Rosicky on the run while sandwiched between two Blackpool defenders, Walcott darted between them into the box drawing another defender on the way before a perfectly-placed shot with his left foot. Walcott’s passing was, on the whole, excellent as well. Did he play every ball perfectly? Of course not. Does anyone? No. So Alan Hansen go fuck off.

In order to keep developing, Theo simply needs minutes. He has to play. Arsene’s overly-protective handling of Walcott, or more precisely the expectations surrounding Walcott, surely must be at an end. At 21 years old, his development must now come on the pitch. The moment of truth will come when van Persie and Bendtner are fully healthy. Will Theo, by then, have earned his place in the starting XI?

On his home debut, Chamakh’s performance was somewhat of a mixed bag. He could easily have had a hat-trick yesterday had his finishing been less profligate. I mean, the miss on the ball from Arshavin with an open net was probably harder to miss than to score. Still, his run drew the penalty and sending-off which condemned Blackpool and he got his first goal for the club with the kind of goal Arsene hoped to get out of him regularly when he signed the Moroccan. A quality header off a van Persie corner sealed the scoreline.

However, one cannot help but wonder what will happen when van Persie is ready to come back into the starting XI. Will he be moved wide left? Surely Arsene did not buy a tall centre-forward to play him out wide. Yet, van Persie’s best form last year, at the start of the season, came with him in a central role spearheading the 4-3-3. What use is a 4-3-3 if you have three centre-forwards as your top three, i.e. RvP-Chamakh-Bendtner? Will personnel force Arsene to abandon the 4-3-3? That would seem unlikely as he, and the side, have become relatively comfortable with the formation. It will be interesting to see how Wenger manipulates both his formation and his players to accomodate an overload of central strikers very similar to the overabundance of central midfielders the club has had in recent years.

Just going around the lineup, almost everyone had a better performance than last week at Anfield. Arshavin seemed much more lively, involved, and interested. Diaby and Wilshere were more solid. The return of Song, though wasted as a CB, was also a welcome development, as was the return of van Persie and Cesc as late substitutes. The one man who really built on his performance last week was Tomas Rosicky.

Rosicky had given Arsenal a boost when he was brought on last week and earned himself a place in the starting XI for the match against Blackpool. He was involved in almost every one of Arsenal’s most threatening moves. Rosicky is beginning to look like the player we thought we were getting four years ago. His injury situation of the last three years has become damn near comical, but he looks ready for his first long run of matches in years. If only his body will hold up…

Of course, not much of the big picture can be judged on a match at home against the top relegation candidate, especially when they are reduced to ten men for much of the match. Still, you can only beat the team in front of you and Arsenal did that mightily yesterday. Questions remain about whether Arsene will be able to secure another CB and a new keeper before the window closes in 9 days, but, for now, we can at least enjoy yesterday’s result and, perhaps finally, the emergence of Theo Walcott as a real first-XI regular.

ARSENE WENGER POST-MATCH INTERVIEW

Reflections on Milan and Wenger Addresses “Cesc-gate”

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So, just a few thoughts on the Milan match…

Nasri continues to shine in the middle of the park. So far this summer we’ve seen him create and score goals, play high and deep, and generally show consistent creativity. He looks a much different, much better player than when he arrived two summers ago. At the moment, if there need be such a thing, he looks every bit the heir-apparent to Cesc.

Koscielny put in the most reassuring performance of the day. He showed intelligence with good positioning and timing, something necessary to overcome his sleight frame. I still don’t know if he’s first XI material right now, but he seems able to do at least do a job for us.

Also, I just don’t understand how some people have said Vela should be sold. Ever since his introduction in the Carling Cup, it’s been obvious, to me at least, that Vela has as much potential as any other young player at the club. In fact, with a full La Liga season wide left, he’s probably more developed than our other young players. He’s always a threat when he’s on the ball and he is a player who can create goals and make something out of nothing as we saw in his move today.

I also have to single out Wilshere and Frimpong. I could say the same thing about Wilshere’s performances this summer as Nasri’s. Arsene said in the press conference afterward that Wilshere stands to play some games this season. Frimpong was maybe the victim of overzealous officiating but showed he has the motor and tried to show he has the aggressiveness to be a suitable backup for Song.

Finaly, in what has been our most extended look at Chamakh, I have to say I was impressed. He seems more a fit with the side than I had previously thought. His drag-back, back heel  to Arshavin was brilliant and his goal was extremely well-taken.

All in all, I think we put on a good display for the first 75 minutes. After that, subs changed around the formation, finding Djourou at defensive midfield, and Milan finally put together some real pressure. The defending on the free-kick is less upsetting than familiar, which makes it downright disturbing.  Still, for me, there was more to be positive about on the pitch than negative.

In the press conference following the match, Arsene once again was forced to address questions about “Cesc-gate.” In what were his most forceful statements yet, Arsene said that only Cesc could clear the air and stop the inquest upon his return on Thursday. He then said that Barca had “given up for some time.”

That statement makes me wonder whether he means that they had given up some time ago or for some time. The latter doesn’t seem too unlikely considering Wenger keeps speaking about the five years Cesc has remaining on his contract. When asked if he believed Barcelona “had a case to answer for” due to their conduct this summer, the Boss said, “Yes.” It is obvious that Wenger is resolute in keeping Cesc even beyond this season and that he is disgusted with the behavior of Barca’s players in the media especially Carlos Puyol, whom he singled out during the press conference.

You Just Cannot Count This Team Out

So, let me begin by saying that I was probably thinking what alot of you were after reading guest contributor, Greg Schwartz’s article yesterday regarding starting Eboue and Walcott on the left. In fact, I told him to expect to be flamed, but, to his great credit, he stuck to his guns. Now Walcott and Eboue may not have played on the left, but they both came on as subs and had a major impact on the match.

With a day to reflect back on the match, let me share some of my thoughts. I believe I can say with NO exaggeration that yesterday was the worst 60 minutes of football I have ever seen from the Arsenal. In my over ten years as an Arsenal supporter, I have never seen us so completely dominated for so long a period of time.

Yet, having said that, I believe we once again showed immense character, of the kind that has kept us in the title race this season. In fact, I am more proud of the side after that display than I was after the 6-1 win over Everton on the opening weekend. This team just does not know when to quit, when to lay down and die.

Regarding possession, I felt we enabled them to dominate  possession by giving the ball away so cheaply and so often. It was like we had a team of 2007 Diabys out there. But, in the end, what did Barca do with their possession? Nothing, really. Their two goals both came from disappointing, fundamental errors on the part of Almunia and the defense letting Ibrahimovic get in between Song and Clichy when Vermaelen had pushed up too high. Their goals were our own fault. For all that great football, none of it got them a goal.

I don’t know what I can say really about Cesc’s yellow card except that, to me, it wasn’t a foul and an English referee would never have given it. That he will now miss the return leg has to be crushing for him. On the night, I thought Nasri was our most consistent player in attack and I don’t rate our chances much less knowing that he will be in Cesc’s central role.

The substitutions of Theo and Eboue made the difference for us last night as Barca, especially Maxwell, could not deal with Theo’s pace nor Eboue’s directness. If we are to get the result we need at the Nou Camp, I believe those two will have to be on the pitch. Let’s also not forget Bendtner who set up both goals.

Consider that, to injuries, we lost our captain, our former captain, and our most explosive player in Arshavin (for three weeks now with a calf strain) and a 2-2 result even at home to the best team in the world doesn’t seem too shabby at all. I have watched Barca a fair amount this season and that first sixty minutes was some of the best football I’ve seen them play all season. It has not been par for the course this season, like it was last season. They will need to replicate that performance and more if they want to go through.

The pressure is on them, the holders playing the second leg at home, not us.  And we seem to play better when that is the case. In that case, the away goals mean less than usual because we must go to the Nou Camp to win anyway. Arsene wouldn’t have it any other way.

This match, despite being dominated for such long stretches of the match, will only breed more confidence in the side that no matter what happens, we always have a chance. I believe we can go to Barcelona and get the result we need to go through, especially considering Barca will now be missing Pique and Puyol for the return. As I said last week regarding the title race, the same applies here… it’s not over yet!