One Of Us Speaks: Are We Any The Wiser?
Big Al’s here for pre-Christmas drinks and his thoughts on 2011-12 so far.
Since there’s no game this weekend, I thought I’d have a look back over the start of the season. What do we know now that we didn’t in August?
Let’s start with a look at the players who have really caught the eye:
I don’t know about you, but Robin van Persie has really disappointed – wait, that’s not right; he’s been stupendous. We always knew he was great, but now we’re seeing what he can achieve with a spell of good health. He’s like a footballing polymath; too talented to restrict himself to one role. Take Wednesday’s showing. It was a little muted, but he still got a goal, an assist and posted players through for chances. The most eye-catching move summed up his game perfectly – he got the ball on the halfway line, dragging his marker 20 yards out of position, turned and clipped a sumptuous pass with his right boot for Walcott.
What’s so satisfying is the way he’s improved. Bear in mind that he isn’t a monster physique-wise, nor was he ever blessed with excessive pace. It’s intelligence that has made him world-class. The technique that was ever-present has been allied with a heightened appreciation of space and eye for opportunity. He’s a discriminating footballer, knowing where to be and when to be there as well as any player in the world.
But it’s not just his game that has matured. I don’t think anyone believed the problem child who arrived under a storm in 2004 would be a future captain. And what a captain he’s been! Helping drag the team from that frightening early slump and often managing to score or assist goals just when we’re looking short of ideas. It’s a feat of careful guidance, patience and mutual respect.
Another who has risen to near the top of his profession is Alex Song. And just like his teammate he has taken on more responsibility and begun to master his position. Before this season we knew he could break up play and move it on. He’s not the most explosive player, but he has that facility for nuisance, combined with enough brawn and a work ethic to frustrate any attack. But what we didn’t know, or had forgotten, is that he can create chances consistently. He has seven assists this season, already more than doubling his tally from any other campaign.
Most memorable was that pinpoint pass for Robin van Persie’s volley against Everton. Through all the petty tit-for-tat between fans, the radio phone-ins, and hype that envelops the game, that one moment summed up why we bother with football; two athletes at the peak of their powers combining to do something we’ll remember as long as we live. Alex Song knew exactly where RvP wanted the pass and dropped it with backspin onto a spot just inside the area.
And then there’s Laurent Koscielny. I don’t believe he’s suddenly stepped up his game this season. He was always this good, or at least nearly this good. What’s changed is his luck – when he makes mistakes, as all defenders do, the ball seems to fall in safer areas. But he does look beefier, and he does seem to win much more than his fair share of aerial duels. He’s at his most impressive when pouncing on loose balls or anticipating when an opponent is most vulnerable in possession. It’s the cold instinct of a predator.
Honourable mentions have to go to our wingers. I think I underestimated Theo Walcott a couple of months ago. A week after I claimed that, for all his ability, he’s not a player who can make something happen by himself, he changed the way we think of dribbling by incorporating the fake slip as we saw at Chelsea away into his arsenal of tricks. Since then he’s displayed more orthodox skills that I don’t know by name, but will try to describe – there’s that one where he rolls the ball with his studs, the thingy when he kicks it one way past a defender and runs the other, not to forget the turn that won us a penalty the other night.
Gervinho I like. I’ve gone on about him a lot, but it’s a funky adventure whenever he gets on the ball. His finishing could probably improve, but it’s no coincidence that he keeps getting into these dangerous positions – he reads his teammates well and must be the fastest player out of the blocks at the club.
And then there’s Arteta. What a player. The stats don’t really do him justice. What he brings is assurance, continuity and polish to our play. I wondered when he arrived if he’d be expected to play killer passes at the tip of our midfield three, but he’s far deeper, building a fine marble plinth for our attacks. The other late signings have also settled well. André Santos brought samba flair to every part of the pitch apart from the left-back position and Mertesacker, one notable error aside, has looked every bit as composed and competitive as you’d expect from a player with such international experience. It says a lot that despite his lack of pace off the mark he so rarely looks flustered.
Where can they go from here?
If the manager has identified an attacker who could ably fill a couple of positions then the signing would be very welcome – he has never been slow to revitalise our attack when necessary.
Either way, I think Arsène and the team really deserve praise for getting us into this position under such difficult circumstances. I’m not sure he could have wished for more when he surveyed the wreckage of that day at Man U, even knowing that reinforcements were on the way. What’s so thrilling is that it can improve from here – the dazzling contributions of the individuals listed above have only been possible because of the efforts of the team, and they’ll continue to mesh. We’ve also some international-class players to return quite soon – Sagna, Wilshere and Diaby. We’ve got to this point without them for the most part and we should be even stronger when they return.
Finally, a charity single has been put together for he UK cancer society Myeloma UK. Called “4 Ever Arsenal ( Gooners For Life )” by Blacklava, you can download here for £1. I will stress that this is strictly unofficial and is nothing to do with the club. Download here.