WTTGT Writer: Ben Walsh
In a sometimes shaky but generally very pleasing 2-1 victory over Sunderland on the weekend there were many good points we can bask in the glory of, the performances of keeper Wocjiech Szczesny and talismanic Robin van Persie in particular. However, one thing I was extremely pleased about was the performances of experienced players. This is the type of match where it is crucial to remain calm and composed, to have confidence a winner can be found. Even more so though it was important to see experienced heads perform well after our poor start to the season and the speculation regarding Arsenal’s top four status. This is why I was so thrilled with the performances of Tomas Rosicky and Andrei Arshavin, as well as new boys Per Mertesacker and, to a lesser extent, Israeli schemer Yossi Benayoun.
Rosicky’s career at Arsenal hasn’t been great, and I’m sure he will be the first to admit that. He is one of many Gunners to be hit by the injury curse, and was behind the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri in the pecking order. On Sunday he was given a start ahead of the injured Aaron Ramsey. I mean absolutely no disrespect to Aaron, and I think he is a big talent, but so far this season he has not shown enough to warrant inclusion in the first-team.
Against Spurs in particular, Ramsey had a very poor performance, and his exclusion from the squad gave Rosicky a chance to stake his claim for a starting berth as a creative midfielder. From the very beginning he had an impact on the game, sending the delightful through ball to Gervinho which eventually led to the opening goal. But, unlike Gervinho, who had an excellent first 20 minutes or so, Tomas did not fade. He worked hard the whole time he was on the pitch, and added so much energy, guile and creativity to our midfield. They call him Little Mozart for a reason and he showed that with a classy, intelligent performance.
I love the way he turns on the ball to create that half a yard of space to keep the ball moving forward, and he displayed a good, direct approach. I was pleasantly surprised to see him show a bit of pace to surge past players in the Sunderland midfield, and he positioned himself well to win free-kicks (something Arteta is pretty good at too incidentally).
We saw him play excellently earlier in the season against Udinese, and if he can stay fit then there is absolutely no reason he can’t shoulder some of the creative burden that has been rather unfairly heaped on Ramsey’s shoulders. Rosicky really showed his experience, his work ethic and his class, and in my opinion was nearly the best player on the pitch, second to only Robin van Persie.
Andrei is perhaps the most frustrating player in this Arsenal squad. The memory of his four goal haul against Liverpool is fading, and he is often accused of laziness. For some time his performances have been sub-par, and he acknowledged that.
Despite this, Andrei is one of the most experienced players in our squad, and he still possesses that game breaking ability, that potential for a moment of magic which made Arsene splash out fifteen million on him in the first place, and his performances off the bench against the Black Cats was very encouraging, and suggests that form is just around the corner for the diminutive Russian.
Many Gooners claim that Arshavin had a terrible campaign last season. Admittedly, he was not as influential as he had been when first purchased, however, when one examines the stats, we see that he was still a very effective playmaker, scoring ten goals and notching up 17 assists in all competitions (including 11 in the Premier League). I do not believe he has declined. I do not believe he is past it.
Given Theo Walcott’s abysmal form in the last few fixtures, Arshavin made a very good push for a starting berth with his cameo off the bench. I was thrilled to see him drifting in from the left-wing at times, taking up central positions where he can dictate the attack. He was the game changer, and when he came on for the fairly anonymous Gervinho he added much needed impetus to the attack, and his play made us look a lot more likely to snatch the winner. Andrei offered glimpses of his immense ability. I believe he is one of the best dribblers in the Premier League, and his close control is unrivaled. We saw that with his amazing run at the Sunderland defence, where he eased past four players before toe poking his shot narrowly wide. It is moments like this which makes me keep faith in Arshavin. He is the only in the Arsenal squad that could achieve something like that, and had his shot gone in it would have been a goal of the season contender. Andrei also linked up well with his namesake Santos. He brings something different to the team. Yes, he is getting on a bit, so cannot be expected to regularly play twice a week. However, if he gets a bit of confidence back and builds on what I think was a fabulous cameo he can be hugely important. He adds, flair, directness and is capable of absolute brilliance. I was very pleased to see him inject a bit of life into the Gunners, and he could play a very important role as an impact sub.
Ah, the big friendly German. The gigantic centre-back Arsenal fans have been screaming for for God knows how long. It still amuses me to this day that some fans think Gary Cahill is a better option than Per. In my opinion, Cahill is unbelievably overrated, and for the price Bolton wanted, simply not worth it. Mertesacker on the other hand was a signing I was absolutely over the moon about. The man is only 26, yet he has amassed 75 caps for Germany. He played 209 games for highly respected Bundesliga side Werder Bremen and his pedigree is unquestionable.
Upon his arrival at Arsenal, many of the… less intelligent fans figured that a massive centre-back would solve our defensive woes, particularly from set-pieces. The set-piece defending has stayed typically average, and as a result some are saying Per is a failure already. Along with this, the unbelievable British media have taken the fact that he is not the fastest guy on the planet and exaggerated it to a ridiculous extent.
Those with a reasonable knowledge of the game who have also watched his Arsenal performances will have observed a few things. He makes up for his lack of speed with a valuable ability to read the game. The amount of times I see him making vital interceptions and tackles is crazy. They will also know that he is indeed a very calm and composed figure, and that is what was so pleasing about his performance against the Black Cats.
Per simply does the job, with minimal fuss. Because of his height he is hyped up to be set-piece defensive specialist, but his true talent is defending in open play, particularly alongside a quicker player such as Laurent Koscielny. Per’s performance was very good on Sunday. He led the back four well, and the likes of Elmohamady and Sessegnon were no match for him really. He did his work efficiently, and it was a performance where he did the simple things very, very well, something that has been a problem with the Gunners in recent years. He also surprised me with how good he is on the ball. He has more technical ability than you’d think, and he excels at winning the ball and effectively moving it out to a wide player or into midfield. It was not a stunning performance from Mertesacker. It was merely a good one, the type of performance he has produced regularly in his short Arsenal career thus far. He is the calming influence I hoped Sebastien Squillaci would be when he signed. Wow, how wrong was I about that?
Anyway, Per has played football at the top level for a long time, but still has many years ahead of him. To see him as solid as ever against Sunderland was great. I rarely feel nervous with Mertesacker in the backline, and upon Vermaelen’s return, those two should form an incredibly strong partnership as they complement each other well, with Koscielny being used as a very competent back up.
Along with the likes of Yossi Benayoun and Mikel Arteta, these players can help ease the pressure on star player Robin van Persie. Many will remember our captain’s performance against Sunderland, but he was not the only hero. The experience of these players is really invaluable, and I think they can push Arsenal to a top four finish. This team plays more like a team this season (despite accusations of RVP being our only player) and that’ll add to team morale. The experience of these players will help us to victory in tricky games when we are not playing as well as we should be. They will show leadership and do the job that is required of them, and as a result the team will fare better and put the poor start behind them. I hope so anyway. Their performances against Sunderland were very promising, and as Gooners we can be confident of the experienced players continuing to make a big impact on the team.
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