Sunday 6 October 2013

Keep it up, boys

What a week it has been. Two excellent wins against Swansea and Napoli, the latter a result of one of the best performances from the Arsenal for quite a few years.

It is all worth far more analysis than I can give it here but there is time to make a few points before today’s game against West Brom.

Starting with the Swansea match last weekend and another impressive Serge Gnabry performance. His defensive contribution was noticeable as well as his goal, his first for the senior team. His maturity and composure has struck me most in his short spell as a starter and that was summed up in his finish. As I said after the Stoke game, there is always the fear that someone making his first few appearances plays above himself through all the excitement but the longer it goes on, the more I think that’s just how good he is. Theo must be growing more and more concerned for his place as he watches from the sidelines.

While Gnabry’s debut goal was good, Özil’s on Tuesday blew it away. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like it before – a searing, first time, side foot, finish of a bouncing pass from 18 yards. Simply wonderful and like Arsene said, if you don’t enjoy that, you don’t enjoy football.

It was typical of an excellent opening 20 minutes which Napoli simply couldn’t match.

What caught them out most was the movement of the front four – Giroud, Özil, Rosicky and Ramsey. The latter pair didn’t play as wingers, they just took up positions wherever they felt they could offer most threat, with Ramsey reminding me of Iniesta. You can’t call the Spaniard a mere central midfielder or a wide player – he is just a great attacking midfielder who goes where he thinks he needs to go. Giroud pulled into wider areas and drew his defenders with him, while Özil floated wherever he pleased.

The challenge now is to repeat that performance, potentially with neither Rosicky and Ramsey in those positions. I’ve no fear Cazorla could take the Rosicky role (and do it better) but could one of Theo, Podolski, the Ox or Gnabry do the same?

Perhaps the most impressive thing from both the Swansea and Napoli wins is just how much more controlled we appear. The days of losing a four goal lead seem very long ago now. That has built up through the end of last season, I admit, but as the Villa defeat showed there was still a feeling of ‘playing on the edge’ at times.

The presence and influence of both Arteta and Flamini, who both started against Napoli, should not be overlooked in helping to give that stability. That attacking four – as well as the overlapping Gibbs and Sagna – could roam around safe in the knowledge that there were teammates filling the gaps they were leaving.

The best way of retaining that level of control is to keep the winning momentum and consistency. It will be interesting to see how Wenger sets up his starting XI today. Will he stick with the two defensive midfielders? Will he be tempted to rest one of the star performers?

And it will be just interesting to see how the players handle the match. Will they be able to keep their mind on the league with the final World Cup qualifiers round the corner? Will they be able to maintain the buzz generated by an outstanding Champions League win during a trip to the Black Country?

If they want to make the most of this great start to the season, the answer to both those question has to be 'yes'.