A home match versus Blackburn is like chicken soup – it’s good for what ails you.
After blasting the club during the Premier Punditry podcast this past week, I had to happily eat my words as Arsenal dismantled the Rovers and added 6 to their goal difference. As I write this post, Chelsea has a 3-0 lead over Man Utd and Newcastle defeated Aston Villa this morning, so Arsenal might not gain any ground in the race to fourth place. But there were a lot of positives to draw from our match.
I’m usually very upbeat about the Gunners, even in down times. But the mid-week 0-0 draw versus 17th place Bolton was the straw that broke the back of the camel I was riding. We had a strong starting XI, missing only a proper left back. We had Arshavin and Henry on the bench, who could provide some offensive spark if needed. But we didn’t take advantage of our scoring chances. Not to take anything away from Bolton, but Arsenal had to win this one.
Fast-forward to Saturday. Not a cold day by Canadian standards, but definitely chilly when you’re running around in soccer shorts. Arsène Wenger made two important changes to the lineup: Tomas Rosicky and Francis Coquelin in, Ramsey and Sagna out. I felt Coquelin was a brilliant choice for replacing Sagna. I’m no tactician, but it seemed that Walcott really benefitted from Coquelin’s passing. In turn, Walcott made some great crosses, instead of the usual turnovers. Walcott assisted on 2 of RVP’s goals and 1 of AOC’s goals. Coquelin assisted on RVP’s third goal.
Another positive was the play of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. He’s almost as quick as Theo Walcott, has great footwork, and makes good decisions with the ball. He’s only 18 years old (he turns 19 in August), and you can see why Wenger spent big bucks to get him. He’s gunning for a spot on the Euro 2012 squad, so he’s doing everything he can to remain in our starting XI.
The third positive was our “balanced scoring.” In quotation marks, of course, because we all know that Robin Van Persie carried the whole club this season on his soon-to-be-a-bronze-statue shoulders. 3 goals from RVP, 2 goals from AOC (the first-ever Premier League goals), 1 from Mikel Arteta, and even 1 from Thierry Henry (unselfish pass from Robin). It looks like Gervinho will join Chamakh on the bench, competing against TH12 for playing time.
The final stat for possession was 58% – 42% in favour of Arsenal, but in the first half it was more like 80-20. With the crowd’s encouragement, Arsenal returned to their tiki-taka style of play. When Blackburn went down to ten men (Gaël Givet raised both feet against RVP), they had to park the bus, but to no avail. The wide margin of victory erased the damage done by the 8-2 loss of Aug 28, and I think the team was also making a statement against the growing naysayers.
The Gunners have one week of rest, before they meet Sunderland on Feb 11, and AC Milan Feb 15 (at San Siro), then a FA Cup match on Feb 18. Hopefully the chicken soup has provided some long-term benefits as well.