Interesting Days To Be A Gooner

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The opening 13 days of the 2010-11 season has been dominated by a few motifs. The first is the emergence of Theo Walcott. The second is the “re-emergence” of Tomas Rosicky. Third, we have the neverending Mark Schwarzer saga. And now, it’s been capped off with the “arrest” of Jack Wilshere. Ah, interesting days to be a Gooner, to say the least.

Well, we were all treated to a rare, but always satisfying, sight on Saturday evening… that of Alan Hansen eating crow. It was nice to see Shearer put Hansen’s comments from the previous week to the test. I mean, who the fuck is Alan Hansen to talk about a football brain? But, anyway…  Four goals in the first three matches for Theo has seen his stock rise and everyone take notice. There is no doubt that he will benefit long-term from being left out of the debacle that was England at South Africa this summer. Ironically, going to the World Cup in 2006 proved to be detrimental to his career, while missing it in 2010 will likely prove to be beneficial.

What else is there to say about Rosicky’s start to the season? I covered it in a post last week. The only thing to do when it comes to Rosicky is pray. I have no doubt that he can sustain this kind of form long-term throughout the season. The key, however, is will he even have the chance. With an injury record that almost makes Robin van Persie look like Superman, Rosicky needs a full season at this point in his career. He is 29 now and has watched what should have been his prime years as a footballer pass him by. He is not too old yet, but he certainly is not too young either.

I think we all knew that the Schwarzer saga would go down to the final day of the window. Hughes was never really prepared to sell him until he could be assured of a deal to bring Given to Fulham on loan. That end appears to have been worked out and I imagine Hughes will now take Arsene down to the wire in an effort to increase Arsene’s desperation and, therefore, the fee. Meanwhile, rumors are that Arsene has upped his original bid of £2.5m to £3m.

Should Schwarzer come in, and Almunia leave, it still will not resolve our long-term keeper situation. I think it is a rare Gooner these days that has any confidence left in Fabianski. He just never seems to have gotten over that night at Porto. That leaves Szczesny and Mannone, neither of which will truly be ready to be a top 4 club’s number one in a year or two, which is the most we can expect from the 38-year old Schwarzer. Having said that, if you were to ask me who will be the Arsenal goalkeeper 3-4 years from now, I would have to say it would most likely be Szczesny.

Finally, as I’m sure most of you have read by now on Young Guns and all over Twitter, Wilshere was indeed “arrested” and released on bail following a fight in which a woman suffered a broken elbow and a man was injured. It has subsequently come out that he is an “important witness” to the events and “played the role of peacemaker.” One cannot help but be reminded of the trouble Robin van Persie got into in Holland during his more impetuous, early spell with the club. Obviously, the media jumped all over this and, while, I’m sure we’d all like this story to go away or resolve itself sooner rather than later, I doubt that will be the case.

As we move into the international break, I think we can feel about as confident as we could have to hoped to be following our first three fixtures. It’s hard not to think back on the opportunity lost at Anfield, but it’s hard to break down a team like Liverpool, especially with 10 men all behind the ball and the lead. The result at Blackburn was encouraging but not quite as significant as some may think. Lazy pundits still expect us to lose when we go up north. The loss at Ewood Park at the end of last season nothwithstanding, our record away to clubs like Blackburn and Bolton in the last 3 years has been very good. I did the numbers last year on our trips to the north over that period, but just don’t have time to dig them up this morning. But trust me, they’re good. Nevertheless, it was a stern test for the club and will have clued in players like Koscielny and Chamakh more into what to expect in England than either of the two previous matches.

The “Real” Tomas Rosicky

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Un5nLLul-s4]

Yes, the main story of Saturday’s 6-nil win over Blackpool was Theo’s hat-trick. But, what seems to be lost in the hoopla, is the absolutely sterling performance of Tomas Rosicky. I had been hoping for one of those “<player> vs. <opposition>” videos to pop up on You Tube and now it finally has done.

Rosicky was either at the start or at the heart of nearly everything Arsenal did well on Saturday. Right from the kick-off, he propelled the team forward whether it was dropping ball after ball into space or picking it up in his own half and, basically, doing one of the best Fabregas impersonations I’ve seen in a long while.

He made the perfectly-placed pass to Arshavin, who set up the opening goal. He set Walcott free nearly half-a-dozen times including the move that led to a great save on Arshavin’s half-volley. He also threaded the ball perfectly between two defenders for Chamakh, who subsequently drew the penalty that saw Arsenal go up 2-nil and Blackpool down to ten men. He played the ball to Sagna down the right that led to Diaby’s goal. He played the ball into space for Arshavin, who delivered a sitter missed by Chamakh. He also made a fantastic pass after turning to Vela making a run into the box.

Every one of these balls were just glorious to watch. Rosicky put on the central midfield “masterclass” that David Pleat, and only David Pleat, thought Nasri had done at Anfield. Now, I am of course mindful that he was playing much of the match against a 10-man relegation favorite and therefore had more space than usual. But, nevertheless… Rosicky’s vision, creativity, and deftness of touch appears to have fully returned following his losing 18 months due to injury in what should be his prime.

His injury problems have been so consistent that even though he’s beginning his fifth year at the club, we’ve never seen him really hit top gear for any period of time. It remains to be seen whether or not he is really over the recurring muscle injuries, but he has said he feels better than ever after having his first full preseason in years. A good sign is that Rosicky not only stood around dropping ball after ball for his teammates to run onto, but he also went in hard, and won, a number of 50-50s in the center of midfield. Furthermore, his distribution from central midfield was fantastic as he worked every inch of the middle and attacking thirds on Saturday.

Of course, Rosicky is likely to play the majority of his time on the pitch this season out wide, but Saturday was a reminder of just how devastating a player he can be in the middle when fully healthy and match-fit. The confidence the Boss has in him was fully evident when he was offered a contract extension this past January despite having been injured for most of the previous 24 months.

I remember being really excited about the club signing Rosicky. But we have only seen glimpses of the “real” Rosicky-the one who scored that unbelievable Champions League goal, the one who scored the goal at Anfield, etc…. So, while we look forward to the emergence of Theo, Jack, and some of the other young players, I am also looking forward this season to the emergence of the “real” Tomas Rosicky.

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