Arsenal’s 3-1 win over Burnley was far more work for our boys than I thought it would be.
Yet in some ways a struggle rather than a breezy victory was just the right preparation for the crucial European with Porto on Tuesday. It was also a poignant reminder that if the team with the worst away record in the Premier League can still cause us some trouble, so will every one of the remaining nine clubs that stand between us and the title.
The reasons for our Saturday afternoon struggles were essentially twofold: Nicklas Bendtner’s wastefulness and Cesc Fabregas’ hamstring tweak.
Bendtner’s misses seemed to get worse as they afternoon wore on, tallying not one, not two, but five. He missed in every possible manner: dwelling too long on an early through-pass by Fabregas and failing to get enough purchase on a Theo Walcott dragback in the first half, heading wide from six yards, skying a volley high over the bar and dragging another Walcott cross wide in the second.
It was genuinely hilarious stuff, even with the game so tight.
Before any of Bendtner’s misses the captain had put us in front, capitalising on a jaw-droppingly good pass by Samir Nasri to slide home the opener.
His troublesome hamstring forced him to leave the pitch shortly after though and the team took some time to adjust to his absence. In the end Nasri and Tomas Rosicky stepped in admirably to fill the captain’s void with the Frenchman in particular producing an energetic and responsible performance to keep the creative flow ticking in around the 18-yard box.
When David Nugent punished some really poor defending to grab Burnley an undeserved equaliser the game’s outstanding player made his mark. Cutting in from the right where he had terrorised Burnley all game, Theo Walcott used his pace to find the space to slot home a delicious curler.
Spurred on by the ridiculous criticism of his midweek performance for England, Walcott responded in the best possible way, with a performance full of pace and purpose and perhaps most importantly, end product. His goal is the easiest part of his performance to praise but a number of his final balls, usually wasted by Bendtner, that will also encourage Arsenal fans.
Decision-making and the final ball are usually Walcott’s biggest weaknesses but there simply were no such problems today.
At 2-1 we always looked winners and eventually managed to find the killer third goal through substitute Andrey Arshavin, who found the bottom corner of the net and celebrated in style.
While the margin of victory was somewhat disappointing I feel this was a decent performance by the team and a number of individual players in particular.
As I touched on earlier, Nasri is starting to play the really good football that we all know he is capable of while Rosicky’s continued impact on the team has been extremely encouraging. With Fabregas’ hamstring likely to require some nursing between now and the end of the season to ensure he is able to play in the biggest games, Nasri and Rosicky will have big parts to play in the games where we are expected to win.
On the left, Gael Clichy seems to have overcome his little blip while Manuel Almunia, although relatively untested, appears to have regained his confidence in the knowledge that there will be no more Manchester Uniteds or Chelseas this season. Meanwhile Walcott has something to build on while Emmanuel Eboue’s continued excellence from defence means our right side has some real verve and quality about it at the moment.
It may only have been Burnley but a number of the areas that appeared to be potential weak points are sorting themselves out and it bodes extremely well for the run-in.
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