So, ITV finally got their grubby mits on the FA Cup tie between us and them and low and behold, it’s a 5.15pm Saturday kick off for us in January. Crazy when you think that there will be 9,000 of them making their way to the right side of North London and a whole afternoon of boozing to be had in the process.
But as far as ITV are concerned it’s a small price to pay for ratings. Nothing more we can do but accept and move on I guess.
So let’s move on to the clubs unofficial announcement that had us all in a flutter last night when Ivan admitted the Dennis Bergkamp statue is done and dusted and the club are just waiting for the appropriate moment to unveil. Superb stuff and I’m sure you’ll all join me in saying ‘about time’! But it’s good work by the club and I have to praise those involved in the decision making when it comes to the ‘Arsenalisation’ project that has happened over the last couple of years. I don’t know about you, but it finally feels like the stadium has some personality with it, which started with ditching the horrible coloured ‘quadrants’, then included the erecting of the clock in the ground, but has continued with the murals, famous quotes and statues peppering the inner and outer walls as well as the pavement outside. It’s an example of a club that is slick with its PR, of that there is no doubt, but it also shows that they listen to fans. You only have to look at the Hicks/Gilette era at Liverpool, or the Glazer’s current tenure at United, to see how some fans are pretty much ignored. I have been critical of the clubs PR machine and spin at times, so when they do things right, it’s only fair that they get a good dosage of positive goodwill thrown their way. Good ol’ Arsenal! I’m proud to say that name…
On field news has been plentiful since the draw on Sunday and we’ve had Tricky Mickey praising his former club, Flamini talking about the five point cushion but stressing concentration and focus, then yesterday we got a little bit of Jenko telling us how hard the back five have worked together defensively and how together and close they are as a unit. It is all pretty positive stuff coming out from the camp, which you’d expect when your five points clear, but what has been self-evident this season is how the team doesn’t seem to have let themselves crumble under adversity. Villa at home, Dortmund at home and United away; each time we’ve lost we’ve dusted ourselves off and looked to ‘go again’ in the next game. This is something new for Arsene’s team but perhaps says more about the individuals than the manager. A year ago we were all questioning whether or not this side were actually any good – quality wise – and many like myself lamented the possible decline in quality of players as we became less competitive challenging for the league. Not so any more as those naysayers (I hold my hands up too on this) are now happy to admit our concerns were nought but a slight breeze and what now feels like a calm ocean cruise. It’s delightful to be on deck I have to say. Those players have forged a strong bond as a collective and through a unified sense of having their backs against the wall, they have risen to the challenges laid before them with great aplomb.
Sometimes you get a machine with all the best parts and it doesn’t quite work. Then sometimes you get a machine that hasn’t got the best parts individually, but when joined with a host of other parts it just clicks. Maybe that’s what has happened at Arsenal.
As for our defence, well, they probably deserve more credit than any other part of the team. This time last year we were haemorrhaging goals left, right and centre and the only thing that saved us was our attackers by banging in more than (some) of our opponents. When you look at the change in our play now you see that a title tilt is built on defensive stability, which is just what we’ve got. There’s also something that I heard from Ben when we were in the pub before the Everton game that kind of made sense. He said that for about a year now the club has placed more emphasis on looking at the opponents strengths and weaknesses rather than the old-skool Arsene tactic of believing that as long as he has eleven better players on the pitch he doesn’t need to focus too much on tactics. It’s refreshing to hear the club have adopted this approach – although that lovely stubborn old manager of ours would probably never admit it – and it shows a maturity and focus on taking each opponent on their merits and looking at says to unpick their style in order to secure three points.
I think we probably saw an example of this focus on the opposition at the weekend. Yes, it didn’t quite come off and yes we weren’t at our best, but it’s very unusual for Arsenal to sit off as much as they did with Everton in the middle of the park, so I wonder if the team knew that they could sit off and neutralise Everton when they have the ball in defence or the middle of the park. I’ve seen articles about how Everton had more passing and possession, but when I think back to the chances they created during their ‘dominant’ first half, I can’t think of many saves Szczesny had to make. Was this because we had a game plan, but just failed to execute at the sharp pointy edge of our formation? Or is this just a coincidence? I’m not so sure.
I think we’re seeing an intelligent Arsenal. An Arsenal that knows what is needed on a game-by-game basis and is fulfilling the criteria it sets out and has done so successfully to date. There’s a long way to go, a lot more hurdles to overcome, but the signs are positive.
Catch you tomorrow.