Norwich 1-2 Arsenal
Another game, another win. Iâ€™ve not dusted that little phrase down for a while now but it looks nice in print (and in pixels). Since losing at our lovely neighbours on October 2nd, we have registered seven wins and one draw in eight games – fine form indeed.
In fact, if you look at our form since our last rock-bottom performance – at Blackburn – it reads P12, W10, D1, L1. By any measure and with the clarity of thought offered by hindsight, that is pretty impressive. On an individual basis, some of those 12 have been close, frustrating, stuttery or just plain dull, but we were emerging from our worst start to the season in something like 40 years, so hardly a surprise.
From being so far off the pace for the Champions League places (I grind my teeth at the thought that 4th is a measure of success – but it is), we are now well and truly in the mix. Sure, weâ€™re a long distance off the top, but we did not spend Â£194m more than we earned last year, so itâ€™s not exactly been a level playing field.
Those additions to our reeling late-August squad, all purchased in a very un-Arsenal like manner, are now showing their worth. Three of them are regulars, two on the periphery, but without them we can surmise that things wouldnâ€™t be as improved as they are. I am well aware that Mertesacker has been caught out a few times, but thereâ€™s something about him I find reassuring. Heâ€™s like a pair of cords. Itâ€™s only fair to give him time to properly find his feet.
The luxury of choice – and strength in depth – at the back is most welcome indeed. Even with both our right-backs injured, we have Koscielny to cover. We have five centre-halfs (whither the Squill?) And we have two decent options at left-back. Sir Chesney is the real deal. I know we have let in a lot of goals (22 in the league) but this defence has had absentees and new joiners and is still bedding down. (And since Vermaelen returned – one goal conceded in three matches).
As an interesting aside, I do wonder just how long a professional footballer should need to find his feet in a new country. 10, 15 games – absolutely. But a whole season? Sometimes I think itâ€™s used as a bit of an excuse, but then you look at someone like Koscielny, who has leapt and bounded to prominence this season in particular, and it makes you wonder whether it really can take that long. Wenger claims itâ€™s extra hard to buy defenders from abroad. Doesnâ€™t stop him doing just that, though, not that Iâ€™m being critical. Vermaelen, Koscielny and Mertesacker are three great options.
Arteta has done well and Santos has added and detracted in equal measures. His attacking oomph has added a interesting new dimension to us that simply wasnâ€™t there with Clichy, but he does leave gaping holes at the back as a result. Overall though, it’s hard not to like him.
The other two – well jury out. Benayoun seems set to remain a creative sub, which is no bad thing, and Park, if weâ€™re being kind, remains a work in progress.
What I do like is that we remain, to a degree, under the radar and I think it serves us best to be there. Our early season calamities meant many people – myself included, at times – wrote us off. Our improvement has been slow and quiet, our highlights have been nestling at the back end of Match of the Day, while everyone swoons over the Manchester duo slogging it out at the top. I can’t say I mind.
Thoughts over to Europe now, with qualification for the knockouts in our grasp. I know Marseille were much improved when they came to town, but that 0-0 remains a missed opportunity. Thereâ€™s no further elbow room for qualificational dithering anymore, I suspect.
Crikey, I seem to have gone on a bit.