At the end of 45 minutes I knew the way I should feel. Arsenal have just battered their opponents, created chance after chance, seen the keeper pull off a string of saves, yet go in just one goal up.
The way I’m supposed to think is ‘Oh shit. Now what’s going to happen is they’re going to get a scabby goal from a corner or free kick, we’ll dominate again but won’t be able to score, we’ll bring on Bendtner and Arshavin who will clash heads causing each other a massive subdural hematoma, then we’ll miss a penalty, hit the post a few times and drop two points”.
For that is the way of the Arsenal in recent years but I have to admit, despite all the previous, I had no worries at all about the result. On the live blog I expressed some concern that we might get caught out but also said if we kept playing the way we were the goals would come. And so they did, all via Robin van Persie who got his first hat-trick in English football.
What a game he had. Three goals, a missed penalty, he hit the post, had one effort brilliantly saved by Al Habsi, created a brilliant scoring chance for Theo Walcott and his all-round game was as good as it has ever been for Arsenal. Six goals in three games is a player bang in form and you could see how much the hat-trick meant to him. After atypically skying his penalty he knelt on the ground, head in hands, mourning the potential loss of the match-ball.
There wasn’t any time for sulking though. He kept at it and when yet another brilliant Cesc pass found Theo Walcott, who held the ball up very well, he arrived at just the right time to take it off Theo’s toes and slam it home with his right foot. It was no less than he and the team deserved for what was an oustanding performance.
How we didn’t score more in the first is not beyond me. Wigan’s keeper, Ali Al Habsi, had the game of his life. Often we talk about opposition keepers coming and playing out of their skin but he was sensational. He made saves from RVP, Nasri x 3, Cesc x 2 and more as Arsenal pressed time and time again. The only chance I feel we squandered was the one when Theo went clear. Normally he’s so good in those one on one situations but this time he chose to roll it sideways to Cesc. The ball wasn’t quite far enough ahead of the captain and the Wigan defender got back in time.
Other than that Al Habsi saved them all. A couple of them point blank too after good work from Theo down the right. When he was beaten in the first half it was more patient build-up from Arsenal, a clever turn in midfield from Alex Song and his ball allowed van Persie to beat the offside trap and slam it home at the near post for 1-0.
Although Wigan made two changes at the start of the second half and looked a little more lively for 10 minutes or so we asserted our dominance again. Our second goal was a thing of beauty. Song was fouled in midfield and as we like to do we got it moving again very quickly. It was tapped to Cesc who had the vision to see van Persie’s run and the ability to play an inch perfect pass over the top of the defence. Robin’s first time finish was outstanding to make it 2-0. You’d be hard pressed to find a goal technically better than that this season.
Apparently there’s some controversy about the penalty, Roberto Martinez accusing Cesc of gamesmanship. To me it looked like a penalty at the time and having watched it again I haven’t changed my mind. Is the red card harsh? Maybe but them’s the rules If Koscielny gets a red for a foul 40 yards from goal and out near the touchline Caldwell has to get one for that. I’d have put money on van Persie scoring from the spot, he’s usually so deadly, so it’s a good job I don’t have any considering the outcome. It was to be a mere blip, thankfully, and the third goal was just reward for his performance.
We feel stronger and stronger in every single game. It is interesting the chance we have in front of us because we have an interesting game, the way we play is for me fantastic to watch. Let’s just keep going.
Yesterday was our fourth consecutive clean sheet in the league. The last time we did that was the 2008-9 season when we had a run of 0-0s in Jan/Feb. This time the clean sheets have netted 10 points out of 12. We didn’t have a lot to to defensively yesterday but what we did, we did well. Djourscielny continue to build a good partnership at the back while both Clichy and Sagna were excellent yesterday.
For me, the increased defensive stability and the platform it gives us for more efficient attacking play comes from finding a midfield combination that has really forged a good understanding and developed very well over the course of the season. Cesc – Song – Wilshere just works. Whatever you think of Arsene Wenger you have to give him huge credit for, once again, putting his trust in a youngster. Wilshere has just turned 19 and the learning curve in stepping up to a team fighting for the Premier League title is immense.
He’s really flourishing now. Not that he ever looked out of his depth but there’s more confidence to his game, he understands his role better, there’s a trust between him and his two fellow midfielders, and together they’re solid and effective. It’s taken a bit of time and has had some teething troubles along the way but they seem to have found a way to play that makes us better. Maintaining that combination as much as possible is going to be important.
Wilshere and Song allow Cesc the platform to get forward and do what he does best. It also allows him to drop deep and pick up the ball from a kind-of ‘quarterback’ position if he feels like it too. Yet none of them seem to stifle the other. I thought Song was brilliant yesterday, not just in terms of doing the job he does as part of the holding side of midfield, but his passing was first class. His assist for van Persie showed real awareness and vision in the final third.
It’s hugely encouraging to see the way they’ve developed over the season. It was always going to take some time for them to bed in properly and reach the kind of understanding you need but it looks as if the patience has paid off. When you think that Jack is just turned 19 and is only going to get better and better with experience it’s kind of mouthwatering. Let’s hope they can continue to improve as the season progresses but they’re now spinal and hugely important to the way this Arsenal team plays.
And I know it should be no surprise to us but Cesc was just world class yesterday. He might have scored a couple and his passing was just brilliant. He took a bit of a kicking from Wigan as well and I liked that he gave a bit back in the second half, as well as punishing them with the ball.
Overall a very, very good day at the office for Arsenal.
Looking around very quickly at some of the other Sunday stories – The Mail is reporting we’ve done a deal with Southampton for 17 year old Alex Chamberlain. There’s the suggestion we’ll loan him back to Southampton which really makes more sense than bringing him straight in to play reserve team football for us. Let him play first team football to develop him. You can have a read of a Saints fan’s view of the young man here.
Arsenal can win the title – so says Thierry Henry in the People.
And that’s about that. Don’t forget highlights, interviews, goals and more including an Arsene interview with Football Focus, can be found on the Arsenal Video page. Click ‘load more videos’ to find what you want.
Have yourselves a good Sunday. More tomorrow.