After last weekend’s win over Everton I was exceptionally critical of Arsene Wenger’s managerial performance. I thought his decision to play Alex Song at right-back and Denilson in the middle from the start was a huge error and the major reason why Arsenal went into the break a goal behind. In the end the manager’s blushes were spared when an injury to Kolo Toure forced him into making the necessary changes and the team improved almost immediately, scoring three second-half goals before eventually running out comfortable winners.
Despite this I was frustrated with Wenger and the decisions he had made and hoped to high heaven that he would make the defensive changes that I and most other Arsenal supporters believed were necessary to improve the side. It gives me great pleasure to say that Wenger did just that in the 2-0 win over West Ham last night and completely and utterly redeemed himself in the process.
I posed three questions prior to the match against West Ham which I thought would shape the nature of Arsenal’s result at Upton Park. The first centred around Denilson being taken out of the side and replaced by either Abou Diaby or Alex Song. He was, with Song coming into the side to partner Cesc Fabregas in a 4-4-2 formation and putting in a composed and controlled performance.
The second looked at whether Wenger would play the ineffective William Gallas-Kolo Toure partnership or whether he would continue to play Mikael Silvestre. He did, and Silvestre and Gallas ensured Arsenal kept their first Premiership clean sheet since the 4-0 win over Blackburn on September 13. Unsurprisingly their combination had great balance and both had excellent games.
The final focus point was whether Emmanuel Adebayor needed a rest and Nicklas Bendtner should have been brought into the side as a result. He was, Bendtner having a decent match and Adebayor eventually making the telling impact from the bench, having the opener deflected in by Julian Faubert before sealing the game in stoppage time after a wonderful long pass from the big Dane.
The manager had some big decisions to make and I thought he got them absolutely right. As a result he was rewarded with arguably the most complete Premiership performance the boys have put in this season. They might have smashed Newcastle 3-0 and Blackburn 4-0 but the satisfaction of this win came through solid defence and a relentless belief that we would get the right result. Despite Robert Green having a superb match and Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie both being denied by the woodwork our boys continue to knock on the door until it crashed down.
As a fan I found this performance and result particularly satisfying. Virtually every player on the pitch contributed and perhaps most importantly, so did the manager. His decision to pull off Walcott and Nasri for Adebayor and Diaby seemed a little strange at the time given the Englishman’s apparent danger, in particular, but the switch to 4-3-3 confused the West Ham defence and broke the game apart. Adebayor was afforded more space than van Persie and Bendtner had been given all day and the team was rewarded as a result.
To put the icing on the cake of a lovely team performance was a nice moment between Bendtner and Adebayor. After a lovely interchange of passing which saw Adebayor fire agonisingly wide the Danish man ran over to pick him up off the ground and pat him on the back. There’s no secret that the pair are hardly the best of friend but this moment as well as their combination for the final goal showed that they have not let previous troubles interfere with their willingness to work for the team.
Apart from the West Ham game there were favourable results for Arsenal everywhere you looked over the weekend. Liverpool ended Chelsea’s 86-game unbeaten streak at home to go top while Everton held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park. It leaves Arsenal fourth, four points shy of Liverpool, one off Chelsea and four ahead of United. Not a bad place to be in such a close title race, in my opinion. What’s more, Tottenham got their first win of the season which means the pressure to beat us this week will be nowhere near as high as if they had failed to win again.
Moving on now and it’s time to announce the winner of the SoccerPro Arsenal Shirt competition which had been running on the blog all last week. There were 65 people who entered the competition – I’ve randomised the lot and I’m about to use a random number generator to see who the winner is. The number is… 23. Which is… Abdul Jebar Nesredin. Congratulations – I’ll be in touch with you via email very shortly to get your address and a size. As an aside, thanks to everyone who entered and stay tuned for more competitions in the future. Cheers as well to SoccerPro for donating the shirt!
If you haven’t already gathered today I’m pretty bloody happy today. A very satisfying three points against a tough opponent and an excellent performance to boot. Let’s hope we can back it up with a thumping win over the old enemy midweek.
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