Hello Gooners, you find my column after another great week for Arsenal; a convincing 3-0 win away to Cardiff City was followed up by a straightforward 2-0 victory at home to Hull City. Six points, two more clean sheets and continued proof that Arsenal’s midfield will find goals even if the nominated striker is having an off-day.
Regular ‘Greg Cross Column’ readers will recall my on-going war against teething. Well, like the war against drugs and the war against terror, I have concluded that it is a futile exercise. Until all of those sodding teeth are through, I am resigned to not sleeping for massive periods of time. I can easily identify why sleep-deprivation is a form of torture, I am ready to spill my secrets just for a glimpse of sleep, heck, at 02:00am this morning I almost spilt to Mrs C that I had spent most nights of our first year in our new house creeping downstairs after lights-out and pulling all-nighters on ‘Football Manager’ whilst she slept unknowing upstairs…’so what?’ You sigh, ‘big deal, talk about whipped!’ Well, yes, but Mrs C doesn’t whip in that nice €30 an hour in Amsterdam way, oh no. Keeping that quiet is definitely beneficial for parts of my anatomy. But sleep deprivation almost had me singing like a canary…
Oh, and you know when you and your other half draw up ‘The List’ – the one which gives you an ‘out’ should you be fortunate enough to meet someone on said agreed list who’d be willing to sleep with you…yeah, you know the one? “Your sister” is not the greatest reply when she asks who is on your own list…
Here are five things I have learnt about Arsenal this week:
The consistent clean-sheets that the team are clocking-up are crucial, six clean sheets in the last nine games have been superbly fought for, the defence, as I mentioned last week, have been absolutely magnificent, and I can’t think of a team who have given them any major headaches since Borussia Dortmund came to The Emirates and taught Arsenal a harsh lesson; a lesson Arsenal recited back to them when they next met in Germany. Yes, teams will have periods when they will threaten, and there were moments against Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Southampton when Arsenal ceded possession but soaked up the pressure. When that failed and shots have been blathered through against the Arsenal goal, Arsenal’s brilliant ‘keeper, Wojciech Szczesny, has come up with impressive save after impressive save. His acrobatic and reactionary skills, let alone his concentration, enabled him to produce wonder saves against Crystal Palace and Cardiff City. Gooners have been waiting for Jens Lehmann to be properly replaced, and it finally looks like Arsene Wenger’s faith in the big Pole is being repaid in full.
Nicklas Bendtner has (briefly) come in from the cold, after Wenger said his performances and attitude in training should be rewarded, Bendtner took all of two minutes to net against Hull City (how Steve Bruce must hate seeing Bendtner score…didn’t he date his daughter too?!) and really should have netted a hattrick. Whilst I don’t retract my wish to see him leave in the next window (why should I, Arsenal are paying him handsomely and the least he could do is his job!), he has done well to earn that starting berth and score the opener on Wednesday with a well taken header. Are there better options out there in January to replace him? You bet there are. Are there better options in the squad at the moment should Olivier Giroud get rested? Arguably…but a motivated, committed Bendtner can be a fairly decent player.
Manchester City away looks like the clearest acid-test this team have had since Dortmund at home; I think against Manchester United, illness and injuries didn’t allow Arsenal to really acquit themselves as well as they could’ve, and whilst it was a close game, Arsenal didn’t really look like opening up David Moyes’ bang-average side and appeared to be living off of the memories of past failures against the Red Devils. Against Dortmund at home, Arsenal were carved open on the break, a la Aston Villa and a lesson seemed to have been learnt that night. Against high-flying Manchester City, who look scarily competent at home, Arsenal face a real test of their credentials. A loss would still leave them top – just – but a draw or better would just increase that gab just that little bit bigger. I can’t call this game, it will be very tough and Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas are really hitting form, let alone Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure. I would, in all honestly, snatch a draw right now if offered. However, should Laurent Koscielny contain Aguero, and Mertesacker likewise with Negredo, maybe Arsenal’s backline can perform more heroics. We have seen that Arsenal; especially the 2013 vintage, can go anywhere and score (except, well, Old Trafford…) and that gives hope. And then of course, we meet Chelsea, another team we now traditionally struggle against. Watching Wenger finally get one over the odious Jose Mourinho would be an absolute delight.
Aaron Ramsey is now worth 10 times his transfer fee. £5m looks an absolute bargain. I cannot think of a better midfielder in Europe at the moment; including Bayern Munich and Dortmund’s star performers, than Ramsey. He is well on his way towards twenty goals this season, and that has to put him in the category of stratospheric transfer value (unless Barcelona come in and then divide that figure by three). He can tackle like a beast, pass like a quarterback, shoot like an archer and is more skilful than should really be allowed. Watching his interplay with Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla against Hull City was just beautiful. Arsenal look like the team is nicely balanced, and were it not for the slight question marks hanging over the forward line’s strength in depth, I doubt there would be many undecided pundits out there questioning Arsenal’s potential as trophy contenders. Thank goodness Wenger signed Ramsey instead of Sir Alex Ferguson; he is the personification of exactly what Manchester United’s midfield is lacking. And my, isn’t watching them struggle into December wonderfully cathartic?!
Santi Cazorla isn’t quite there yet this season. Yes, he is recovering after an injury, but Cazorla hasn’t quite hit the heights of last season. He is passing the ball well, running his socks off and all that you’d expect, but his finishing seems too wayward to be brushed aside. A stunning goal against Liverpool is still his only goal so far this campaign. I am sure that Cazorla will come into his own as he keeps playing, and lining up alongside players hitting the heights that Wilshere, Ramsey and Ozil are reaching will only improve things. This is a nit-picking statement by the way, but after his cracking debut season, he has shown us all the standards he can achieve.
Thanks for reading, take care.