Archive for October 24th, 2011

Poacher RVP benefits from Gervinho wizardry

582 comments October 24th, 2011

Arsenal 3 – 1 Stoke

Match Report | Highlights | Arsene’s reaction

Imagine, if you will, that Arsene Wenger had been dismissed following Arsenal’s defeat at Blackburn on September 17th.  It’s not beyond the realms of possibility – certainly, a large proportion of the fanbase were calling for just that to happen.  Now imagine that the new manager – some idealistic lovechild of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola, conceived in a bout of passionate hate-sex, had achieved exactly the same results Arsene has in the last seven games.

It’s six wins from seven games, with 15 goals scored and just six conceded.  It’s a run that’s taken us to the top of our Champions League group, and within three points of both Liverpool and Tottenham in the Premier League.

Had these results been picked up by a new manager, divorced from the stigma that Arsene has collected in his 15 years at charge, he’d be being praised for the impressive and pragmatic turnaround.  Arsene, too, deserves that credit.  I want to stear clear of cliche and avoid claiming that we’ve turned round any corners or over any leaves, but there is an increasing confidence in this Arsenal squad – a confidence underlined by the fact that Arsene felt he would be able to start Robin van Persie on the bench yesterday.

As we know, the Dutchman eventually stepped on to the field to resume his customary role as match-winner.  He is now just one off double-figures for the season, and has a staggering 25 goals in 26 league games in the calendar year of 2011 (thanks Orbinho).  His evolution in to a central striker has been fascinating to watch.  He arrived at Arsenal as a lanky teenager who had, like another great Arsenal striker, Thierry Henry, spent most of footballing career on the left-wing.  Unlike Henry, Van Persie was not blessed with blistering pace, and so was ear-marked by many (including Arsene) as a potential successor to Dennis Bergkamp in the support-striker role.  When we made the necessary switch to 4-3-3, however, Arsene needed a centre-forward who could receive the ball with his back to goal and bring the midfield in to play.  He needed someone with an immaculate first-touch, and Van Persie was that man.

What he and others could never predicted was that the Dutchman would unearth in himself such a goalscoring instinct.  Both finishes yesterday were instant near-post strikes – real poacher’s goals.  If he somehow manages to avoid injury, he promises to have his highest scoring season to date.

For both goals yesterday he owed a huge debt of gratitude to Gervinho.  The Ivorian winger had his best game in an Arsenal shirt, scoring the opener after a lovely clipped pass from Aaron Ramsey, and then setting up the second and third with darts to the right and left byline respectively before cutting the ball back in to Robin’s path.  Whilst his first touch and finishing can be erratic, he does seem to possess that burst of pace over five yards than allows him to get past a man in the tightest of situations.  And, unlike Theo Walcott, he seems to be able to take the ball with him when he does it too, and find a pass at the end of it.  Hopefully his goal yesterday marks the start of a scoring run – we need the likes of Gervinho and Walcott to take the pressure off Van Persie.

Finally, I wanted to speak in praise once more of our centre-back pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, who (for the most part) coped admirably with Stoke’s aerial bombardment.  Stoke’s goal was the unfortunate product of a lapse on concentration – I think fans and players alike thought they’d hoofed their free-kick out of play, only to see it catch in the wind and turn out to be a perfectly clipped pass to the near post.

Koscielny has been getting a lot of praise of late, but it doesn’t take a genius to see that having the giant German alongside him is helping him enormously.   It means that Thomas Vermaelen will have a genuine battle to get back in to the side when he returns from injury, which is a luxury we couldn’t have dreamt of a few months ago.  While we’re on the defence, I also though Andre Santos and Johan Djourou performed very ably in the full-back positions.

Right, Carling Cup tomorrow, and another chance to look at Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, among others.

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