Sunday, February 23, 2014

Arsenal cruise back into form after a fast start

Since the hammering by Liverpool, Arsenal have slowly been building themselves back up to the level they were at before that atrocious day at Anfield. The draw with Manchester United laid the foundations, revenge was gained in the FA Cup before a stirring start against Bayern Munich was halted by Szczesny’s red card. The signs were there though that Arsenal were getting back to their best.
Whilst Sunderland hardly put up much of a fight at the Emirates on Saturday, Arsenal swept the Black Cats aside with a stylish and clinical performance to get the confidence flowing back in the team at the end of a hectic run of difficult games. After such an energy sapping few weeks, Arsenal could have looked laboured, however the rotation during these games meant that the team looked fresh and determined to get three points.
Starting slowly has been a common theme for Arsenal in the Premier League this season, but the last week showed signs that the Gunners are ready to go out and make things happen early in games. They scored early on against Liverpool, would have done against Bayern but for Ozil’s missed penalty, and were ahead within six minutes of the kick off against Sunderland. Arsenal continued applying the pressure on Sunderland, and effectively killed the game by half-time with the 3-0 lead. That meant that the tiring few weeks didn’t become a factor as Arsenal didn’t have to chase the game and over-exert themselves.
One of the players that looked fresh coming into the team was Olivier Giroud. After Yaya Sanogo was preferred against Liverpool and Bayern, Giroud was back in the starting line-up with a point to prove. His head clearly hasn’t been in the right place in the last week after some newspaper revelations, so his two goals against Sunderland will go a long way to improving his confidence and regaining the faith of his manager. Regardless of any off-the-field activities, Giroud did need a rest, but it was still surprising that it came in big games in the FA Cup and Champions League. He did look the better for it on Saturday though.
As well as scoring two goals, Giroud’s link-up play was excellent again, and he claimed the assist for the sumptuous third goal. Arsenal fans at the Emirates were treated to the goal of the season from Jack Wilshere against Norwich earlier in the campaign, but Tomas Rosicky’s dinked finish following a flowing passing move more than rivals it. Wilshere, Cazorla and Giroud were all involved with Rosicky at the heart of the move that carved a hole in the Sunderland defence, before the Frenchman’s flick was finished by Rosicky over the advancing Mannone. When that sort of move comes off, you know Arsenal have got their mojo back.
For all the talk this season about being more solid defensively and there being a better shape to the team, Arsenal’s attacking hasn’t suffered as the Gunners still produce superb team goals, such as the third against Sunderland.
If Arsenal’s excellent attacking had created two of the goals, they were also aided by some lacklustre Sunderland defending for a couple of the strikes. The fourth Arsenal goal came from a good cross by Cazorla, with Laurent Koscielny given the freedom of the penalty area to thump a header into the bottom corner.
There was a slight disappointment to lose the clean sheet near the end of the game to only win 4-1, and Arsenal finished with a makeshift defence, but otherwise it was a comfortable day full of positives. The injuries to Laurent Koscielny and Nacho Monreal shouldn’t be too serious, and with a week off until Stoke, Arsene Wenger can actually work with his team and give them the necessary rest.
After riding out a crazy period of games, Arsenal have seemingly entered the calm before the next storm of tough fixtures. As they did against Sunderland, Arsenal need to use the game with Stoke to build confidence and be ready to make more fast starts in the remainder of the season.