Arsenal Debate: Fourth place never looked so good

17 03 2009

Gunner fans really can’t believe that this has all happened so quickly. It was only a few weeks back that they were right on the brink of falling behind Aston Villa a whopping eight points. You could have declared Arsenal’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League as likely as Britney Spears decided to run for president of the U.S. It wasn’t going to happen. Then, Stoke struck with those two goals, and after stringing together a few nice performances in a row, Arsenal is right back in the running, sitting in fourth place after a comprehensive 4-0 over a sorry looking Blackburn side.

The first goal was certainly a rarity for Arsenal this season — an early goal, within the first two minutes of the match. Bendtner came back to retrieve a pass from Kolo Toure and played Walcott through into the penalty box. The defending was so poor that both Song and Theo made it through unmarked and onside. Walcott hit a low cross into the center that was bundled in by Andrey Arshavin off a defender or two. 1-0 early on, and an optimistic sign of things to come. Arshavin was in no hurry to claim the goal as his own, made noticeable by a series of gestures made shortly after the opener. He’d get his chance to open his Arsenal account in style once again.

The rest of the half would have been much more comfortable had Arsenal found that second goal. But alas, Bendtner was his typical wasteful self — I tell you if the Dane can find some consistency one day he could turn into a half-decent striker, but for now, he leaves a number of chances begging. Fortunately, the lack of goals was the only thing to be concerned about, aside from the fact that Blackburn’s El Hadj-Diouf went in late on Almunia, managing to stay on the pitch while only receiving a yellow card. If you’ve seen the tackle, it’s reminiscent of the one that took out Eduardo. I’m not even kidding. A 1-0 lead at the half was comfortable enough for the moment, despite a couple of near misses from Nasri.

A word on Arshavin’s first half gloves — the pint sized Russian was sporting a short-sleeved kit with black gloves. What gives Andrey? Is it colder in London than St. Petersburg, cold enough to wear gloves and not long sleeves? Makes no sense to me. But what I can understand and appreciate is Arshavin’s skill. It was 20 minutes into the second half with Denilson and Alex Song playing a nice one-two in the midfield. Denilson found Arshavin with a lovely ball on the left, and instead of crossing it to Nicklas Bendtner (who had a hat trick of sen, the owlish one decided he’d rather have the goal himself — deking out a Blackburn defender and scoring over Paul Robinson from a seemingly-impossible angle. 2-0, and game over.

A word before going back to Eboue’s brace — if Bendtner could finish he’d easily have netted a hat trick. Since the departure of Henry, Arsenal forwards are very wasteful; specifically Adebayor and the Dane. Van Persie is a bit more consistent, but to see how inconsistent these players who are supposedly prolific scorers are is a cause for mild concern.

That being said, Eboue closed out the day’s scoring — Vela, on for Bendtner, found Arshavin unmarked on the left side, and the cagey Russian forced a save out of Robinson right onto the bar. Eboue crashed the net and it was a simple tap in. His second came a few minutes later, stepping up to take a penalty that Vela drew. 4-0 was a good result and it’s back into fourth after Vela’s loss to Tottenham today.

What is even more impressive is how threatening this team is starting to look. With the pace of Walcott back in the side and Arshavin’s passing skills on display, it’s fun to watch the Arsenal again. Even Alex Song put in another solid performance, something that may bode well for the rest of the season. There’s no reason to get cocky now, but there’s a twinge of confidence in the air. Hope that they can hang onto fourth place this time around.

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