Saturday, September 28, 2013

Taking advantage of form and failure

At the start of Saturday, Arsenal fans knew that the game away at Swansea was an important match. At 2.45pm, after Chelsea and Tottenham drew 1-1, that importance was cranked up a notch knowing that Arsenal could go to the top of the league on points, not just goal difference. At 5pm, suddenly there was the chance to capitalise on Manchester United and Manchester City both losing, making the match look vital.
The first half of the 2-1 win in South Wales was cagey, with Arsenal playing as if they knew they had to make use of the results of others. Everything was tentative with both Swansea and Arsenal happy to have the ball but do very little with it. The only real chance came when Serge Gnabry ran at the heart of the Swansea defence, fed Olivier Giroud, but the Frenchman dragged his shot wide.
However the game opened up in the second half. Rather than worrying about making the most of the failure of other clubs to win earlier in the day, Arsenal refocused and made use of the excellent run of form they’ve been on to change the tempo of the match. There were less sideways passes and more intent in the Gunners’ moves forward, and when they committed players forward towards the box, the breakthrough came.
18 year old Serge Gnabry, looking remarkably fresh considering the knackering shift he put in during the 120 minutes at West Brom on Wednesday, was calm in front of goal when played in by Aaron Ramsey to fire into the bottom corner. The build-up to the goal hadn’t been the most fluid piece of play, but because there were players forward, Arsenal were able to capitalise on the gaps in the home defence.
I was chuffed to see Gnabry score considering how gutted he looked after missing in Wednesday’s penalty shoot-out. Whilst he doesn’t play on the shoulder of the last defender like Theo Walcott, and doesn’t yet stretch defences in the same way the Englishman does, Gnabry’s defensive work was impressive. He also looked more willing to run at defenders and express himself after growing in he team in the last week. He’s fed off the good vibe around the club and hasn’t looked out of place in the first team.
Arsenal’s run of wins is a great example of a team making the most of good form. They aren’t just staying unbeaten, they’re winning matches. However one man could never have expected to be making the use of his good form in the way he is at the moment. Aaron Ramsey scored again, making it eight goals in his last eight appearances for the club. His latest strike came at end of a great counter attack that included some neat passes and some determination. Jack Wilshere was strong to keep the move going before combining with Giroud. When the ball came to Ramsey, he was calm and smashed the ball in.
The form Ramsey is in is a testament to his immense hard work. To see him transform into such a powerful midfield player is superb. With midfielders to return from injury, at the moment they’ll be competing for a place alongside the Welshman, rather than playing instead of him.
It was disappointing to concede a goal, but Arsenal were able to stay focused and see the game out. Despite throwing the ball out a bit too hastily when 2-1 up, Wojciech Szczesny had another good game. It was also one of the most subdued matches Michu has had for Swansea, and that was down to being well watched by the centre backs and Mathieu Flamini.
Even though I’m very excited by the run of form Arsenal are on, it’s realistically too early to know for sure if Arsenal can sustain a title challenge. That doesn’t stop a title challenge being the team’s aim though. Every win gives more confidence to team, and only serves to increase the belief in the squad. Even though it’s early, every win just makes you think this team could achieve something good this season. With a long list of players still to return and other clubs stumbling, there is rightly an ever improving atmosphere around the club.
We can’t know where Arsenal will be by the season run-in in April and May, but a win is worth three points if it’s at the start or the end of the season. The best way to stay in the hunt is to keep their winning run going by making use of the good form. Made better by other clubs dropping points, Arsenal and Aaron Ramsey did that at Swansea.