We have won for the fourth time in a row and that is all that matters at the end of the day. It wasn’t a performance that could be described as ‘jaw-dropping’, ‘brilliant’ or ‘imperious’ but champions win even when they don’t play well.
It would be too harsh on our boys to say that our performance at Villa Park was poor. No, it wasn’t. We had been in control of the match for 75 minutes before we conceded a goal that made things complicated. We had a dream 59 seconds and took a two-goal-lead thanks to an inspired Jack Wilshere. It would have been a routine victory and third consecutive clean sheet for Szczesny if Benteke hadn’t scored a goal after Cazorla’s poor pass in our own half.
Instead of a peaceful and anti-climactic finish to the game, we got 20 minutes of nail-biting as Paul Lambert’s players tried to claw back. However, our players managed to keep the lead and returned to the top. Here are some of the key pointers from this game.
1.We have won four matches in a row.
One might say that beating West Ham, Newcastle, Cardiff City and Aston Villa respectively isn’t the most difficult thing in the world. It’s not – three out of the four aforementioned teams are going to participate in the battle against relegation and it seems unlikely that Newcastle will play in European competitions next season. However, you’ll remember that our meltdowns have usually started against so-called small teams and/or in the matches in which we had two-goal-leads, so this victory has bigger worth than you’d guess.
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Just think about it: Arsenal would have won the league in 2010-11 had they won matches against Newcastle (4:4 after 4:0 lead), Spuds (2:3 defeat after 2:0 lead at the Emirates and 3:3 draw at White Hart Lame after we had had 3:1 lead), Wigan (2:2 draw that Wigan snatched despite being reduced to ten men), Sunderland (1:1 draw with Bent’s equalizer in the 95th minute and 0:0 draw at home with Arshavin’s goal wrongly ruled out for offside). Now, we haven’t been brilliant lately but we have won 12 out of 12 points after we had drew with Chelsea. Which leads us to…
2.We have restored authority against so-called small teams.
This Arsenal have been criticized for under-performing in big matches but it can be seen from a different angle – we are top of the league despite the lack of points against other top teams which means we have been very efficient against small teams. And, indeed, we have lost just five points against teams that currently sit between 8th and 20th place comparing to Manchester City’s thirteen, Chelsea’s and Liverpool’s eight and Manchester United’s ten. I’ve written it already but I’ll repeat it again – Manchester United won the league last season thanks to the fact they won 75 out 84 points against teams that ended the season between 7th and 20th place.
3.Perhaps Wenger should rotate Cazorla and Özil.
We haven’t got the best out of the relationship of our two most creative players but it’s not too surprising. Given that, we might try a different approach and avoid putting both of them in the same time on the pitch. That might do wonders for their freshness as well – we will have very interesting February with clashes against Liverpool, Manchester United and Bayern in the space of eleven days and our own March Madness with Bayern, Spuds, Chelsea and City scheduled between the 11th and 29th.
If you add the FA Cup matches into the equation, you might conclude that Wenger should keep all his soldiers fresh, especially the most talented. Our next opponents are Fulham who have been appalling this season and one of the candidates for relegation. Speaking of Fulham…
4.We should start with Podolski against Fulham.
The German striker hasn’t played against Spuds and Aston Villa so he should be fresh and motivated to keep up his brilliant goal-per-minute-ratio. He has scored three goals against the Cottagers during his Arsenal career including a brace in the reverse fixture. He might get a chance instead of Cazorla who was average against Villa.
5.Fingers crossed for Nacho Monreal and Tomas Rosicky’s quick return.
Nacho got injured during one of his excellent attacks and Rosicky was elbowed by Agbonlahor. It remains to be seen how serious their injuries are but hopefully they’ll be at Arsene Wenger’s disposal ASAP.
6.Olivier Giroud can score goals outside of London too.
Our big French striker scored his ninth goal in the Premiership but it has special weight because it was his third goal outside of London this term. Giroud has either scored or created a goal in his last three appearances and that is something that might stop Arsene Wenger’s search for a new striker. He scored once more but it was correctly ruled out as Wilshere was offside.
7.The Ox is back!
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain returned to the pitch and that’s wonderful. His versatility will give Arsene Wenger more options in the middle and in attack.