the Wigan win and performance at the weekend was just the tonic after a week in which we’d stumbled a little bit, and confidence will be high as we prepare for a trip to Greece to face Olympiacos. Not all the players who played on Saturday will be making the trip, obviously, as the manager has a chance to rest some legs and keep players fresh for the Premier League.
While the end of the month throws up a couple of home fixtures from which you’d expect to take three points, we’ve got a home game with Everton next, followed by away trips to Man City and Aston Villa. It’s not quite season defining stuff but these are, generally speaking, tough tests and games in which we’re going to have to play very well to take all the points.
For that reason I’m quite happy for Arsene to leave behind the majority of the ‘first’ team for the game tomorrow night. It allows the rest and recuperation, obviously, but again provides a chance for some of the squad players to show that they’re ready to step up, which is hugely important when you’ve got an upcoming schedule like ours. If some people feel that’s disrespecting the Champions League well, tough. We’ve done our work, finished top of our group, and the benefit of that is to be able to rest players when we need to rest them.
You can be quite sure every other team in a position to do this certainly would but it won’t lessen the team’s competitive edge at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. If Arsenal played their first team in a game which means nothing due to our qualification then the chances are we might be more likely to go through the motions than with a team of youngsters and players who don’t play so often looking to force themselves into the reckoning.
There’ll be the usual pre-game press conference this evening when the team arrive in Greece. Arsene and a player will face the media and we’ll get plenty more thoughts on the game itself in tomorrow’s blog.
Meanwhile, Mikel Arteta – who I suspect is one of those who will be left behind before he faces his former club on Saturday – has spoken about Robin van Persie, calling him a ‘superstar’, but also touched on how important it was that other players helped out with the goal scoring:
He is on a terrific run and we hope he can keep it up. But to take pressure off him, you cannot rely on Robin to score the goals all the time. It is not fair. It was good for us to share goals around. We have to share the responsibility.
There’s a lot of talk about us being over-reliant on van Persie’s goals and it’s easy to see why. However, since the Sp*rs game we’ve scored 20 league goals, Robin has 11 of them, so while that’s certainly a healthy percentage it’s not as high as you might think and probably as high as you’d expect from a world class striker.
5 – Number of Arsenal players with four or more Premier League assists
5 – Number of Man City players with four or more Premier League assists
2 – Number of players from each of Man U, Tottenham, and Chelsea with four or more Premier League assists
So as much as not being reliant on one player to take chances is important, so it is with creating them. Of course Robin is a big part of that too but overall we’ve got a front three that really seems to be gelling in the same way our midfield trio has. While Gervinho has still to convince some – and there’s no doubt he can improve on certain parts of his game – thus far he has 3 goals and 6 assists to his name. When you look at who might be playing in his place, and what they’ve contributed in recent times, then despite his frustrating moments he’s been a good signing (remembering as well he’s only a few months into his career in English football).
Without wishing to go overboard in any way, I think we’ve managed to solidify in units. The front three, the midfield three and the back four. If you look at the By the numbers piece again you’ll notice Koscielny and Santos come out well from a defensive point of view and although we still have our moments it looks as if we can bring players in and out of the defensive unit without it causing the huge problems it did before. Mertesacker’s arrival, Koscielny’s improvement, Vermaelen’s return and Szczesny’s development have added a lot to the base of our spine and for me that’s been the foundation which has allowed the other parts of the team to really flourish.
Of course this is all built on a much greater work ethic in the team, which comes from adding experienced, mature players, but also players who don’t feel simply being at Arsenal is an achievement in itself. They know that the most important thing is winning trophies and we’re seeing that reflected in the way we play at the moment.
In other news the draw for the third round of the FA Cup was made yesterday. For the second year running we’ve drawn Leeds United at home. Let’s hope this time we can avoid a replay and an extra fixture we just don’t need. There’s been plenty of history with Leeds in the cup down the years, and although they might be out of sight and out of mind a bit, long-standing readers will know I really, really, really, really don’t like them so I want them to go out with their tails well and truly between their legs.
Other than that it’s all a bit quiet. More on the Champions League tomorrow, as well as more info about the book launch on Wednesday.
Also, keep your eye on the site today for a pretty cool competition in which you can win a signed Robin van Persie shirt. Details to follow this afternoon.