4th place achieved but cycle has to stop

Highlights

Wenger Reaction

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Going into the last day of the premier league season almost all the important positions in the table had been decided. Manchester United had won the title on a canter and all three relegation spots had also been decided. That meant that all eyes were focused on the two North London teams, Arsenal and Tottenham on who could get that final Champions League spot.

Before the game Arsene Wenger had said that his team would have to battle the nerves along the way and that showed during the first half vs Newcastle. Arsenal looked very sluggish and struggled to create any chances of note. Arsenal finally got the goal they required through some brilliant athleticism from Koscielny. After the goal you felt that Arsenal would want to protect that lead and that is exactly what they did. They stopped pressing the Newcastle back line and started dropping further and further back. Koscielny and Mertesacker handled whatever Newcastle were able to throw at them with minimum fuss.

As the game approached the 90 minute mark, news filtered in that Bale FC had scored vs Sunderland and that set the nerves jangling among the Arsenal faithful. In the second minute of stoppage time Theo Walcott found himself one on one with the goalkeeper and had the chance to make the game safe, after rounding the goalkeeper, he poked the ball towards the far corner of the net only to be denied by the post. You felt that could be a defining moment in the game as there was still about 90 seconds left to play. But Arsenal saw the game out and secured another season in the Champions League.

Credit where credit is due to Arsene Wenger. With 10 games to go he trailed 4th place Tottenham by 7 points and in those last 10 games his side has dropped only 4 points. Its a remarkable statistic and the reason for that run of form was emphasis and focus on the defensive side of the game. After the Tottenham game Arsenal were suddenly defending as a team. Whenever they lost the ball every player was tracking back and getting goal side of the opposition and the comical schoolboy defending we saw at White Hart Lane was suddenly eradicated. This restricted opposition teams to very few chances in open play. Wenger had said that his team had been very consistent post Christmas and he is correct, because no team had accumulated more points than Arsenal in 2013,  it just goes to show that with a little more consistency and top quality additions in the summer the team are not far off challenging for the title.

Contrary to what Gary Neville and other people think, Arsenal have had money to spend in the last couple of seasons. In the AST meeting last night it was discussed that Arsenal had a huge surplus of cash at the end of the last summer. This summer Arsenal have £100m to spend on player transfer fees alone excluding wages. This summer maybe one of Arsene Wenger ‘s most important as a manager. Given he has not been offered a new contract yet by Arsenal, if he gets things right this summer he will be able to cement his legacy as Gary Neville said “Greatest managerial performances of all time”. On the contrary if he dithers on signing the players he wants and we end up with the same old cycle next season ie out of the cups by March and fighting for fourth place AGAIN you can be sure that he will not be forgiven by the fans.

I would like to leave you with a bit of positivity. After the game Mikel Arteta who has been a great leader for Arsenal, especially during the run in echoed the feelings of the fans on his twitter account.

“We kept great TOGETHERNESS between Players,Staff,Directors & Supporters and we got rewarded! Proud 2 play 4 Arsenal!Let’s win a tittle now!”

Finally I would like to thank everyone who has visited my blog during the season. I know I do not post as regularly as I should but I will make the effort to get more articles in during the next season.

PS: Follow Me on Twitter: @arse_dna

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wigan remind us why we love the game

Wigan

I was speaking to one of my mates after we finshed our 5 a side football game, that I had a feeling that Wigan could pull off something special in the cup final at Wembley. My mate, like most people of course felt that City would over power Wigan and cruise to victory.

Eventhough I am an Arsenal fan, over the years I have grown a strong affection/soft spot towards Wigan Atheletic. Everyone loves an underdog in sports and Wigan are a testament to all underdogs in sports. Time an time again they are written off, and against the odds they come up and defy everyone who did not believe in them.

Before going to Wembley, the town of Wigan gave a fine send off to Roberto Martinez and his men, and there was a banner which caught my eye, which in someways defined Wigan Athletic ‘s journey, not only to the FA Cup Final but also their 8 year stay in the Premier League.

“We Believe in Wigan”

Roberto Martinez uses the word “believe” a dozen or more times during his press conferences before and after games emphasizing the fact that even thought they are written off in practically every game they play, he, the fans and the players themselves would never stop believing and eventually they would come through the battle

This was exactly what happened in the Cup final tonight at Wembley. Manchester City ‘s squad maybe worth millions and they may have world class players, but 1 thing they did not seem to possess during the 90 minutes on the pitch, which Wigan had in plenty was “belief”.

This belief it would seem stems right from their chairman and owner Dave Whelan, who on taking over the club in 1995 was asked what were his ambitions for Wigan Athletic, his answer was that he wanted them to play in the premier league. At the time most journalists had smirks on their faces thinking that Dave Whelan was off his head. No doubt a lot of hard work has been put in by Whelan since 1995, but if he did not believe in the statement he made at the time there would be no way Wigan would be climbing the stairs at Wembley to collect their FA Cup winners medals in 2013.

Just to know how far Wigan have come since 1995, in the 1999-2000 season Wigan took on Gillingham in the League Two playoff final at the old Wembley. Gillingham brought around 30,000 fans for the occasion and Wigan on the other hand, a meagerly small pocket of 5000 fans.

It is estimated that around 81,000 people live in the town of Wigan. For the FA cup final against Manchester City, they brought along 40,000 fans. A remarkable achievement and and a testament to how far Wigan have come since their last appearance in Wembley.

1995-Division 3
2013-FA Cup Winners

Wigan Athletic have proven that along with all the cynicism of modern day football, we can still have the fairytale and romantic moments which remind us time and time again why we love the game.

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Arsenal make it difficult but get over the line in the end

A few weeks ago, after the victory over Swansea in Wales Arsene Wenger said these exact words

“These players know they are in a battle and they are ready for a fight”

If ever there was a game which epitomized those exact words, then the 2-1 victory at the Hawthorns was exactly that. 2-0 up after 50 minutes in the second half when Rosicky scored one of his best goals in an Arsenal shirt in my opinion, the platform was set, and all Arsenal had to do was play sensibly and they would be taking another 3 points back to North London. But when have you seen Arsenal doing things the easy way?. Even before the red card the warning sides were there from West Brom that they were not going to lie down and allow Arsenal to steam roll them.

The goal in itself was a poor one for Arsenal to concede in the first place. Shane Long was so easily allowed to get in behind Mertesacker, and then by the time the German reacted Long had chested the ball and about the shoot on goal. On taking a second look at the incident, it was a clumsy challenge by Mertesacker because Koscielny had come already come across to close the West Brom striker down.

It was also a big moment for Thomas Vermaelen and his season because had Arsenal allowed the equalizer to be scored after he came on, the fingers would have somehow inevitably been pointed at him, so it was good he came back and along with Koscielny held the defense firm amid wave after wave of West Brom attacks in the final 20 minutes.

Given that both Chelsea and Tottenham have their matches on Sunday it was very important for the Gunners to pick up maximum points and put the pressure right back on their London rivals.

Follow Me on Twitter @arse_dna

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And its the left back!!!

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Highlights/Wenger Reaction

That was the reaction of fans and pundits everywhere as Nacho Monreal strike, almost in slow motion nestled in the bottom corner of Michel Vorm’s net. In a game which Arsenal crucially had to win to keep in touch with Chelsea and Tottenham, it was an unlikely hero who stood up and got the crucial breakthrough for Arsene Wenger.

You can always come to a conclusion on how united a team is by observing the manner in which they celebrate a goal. After Monreal’s strike everybody from the Arsenal team barring goalkeeper Fabianski came over to celebrate with the former Malaga player. Arsene Wenger perfectly summed up the team ‘s performance after the game saying.

“This team know they are in a battle and they are up for the fight”

Arsenal have always had supremely talented players even during their current trophy drought. Players like Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie,who were capable of that moment of brilliance to turn a tight game. What Arsenal was missing from those players were lack of form during run in to the end of the season. Even last season when Van Persie was scoring virtually at will, he had a slightly dry patch during Arsenal’s last 5-6 games.

This season arguably Arsenal’s best player has been Santi Cazorla. The creative influence he has had on this Arsenal team this season has been nothing short of remarkable. The ambidextrous Spaniard was at it yesterday as well. Playing in a central role, Cazorla was at the heart of everything Arsenal did. He was all over the pitch trying to breakdown a resolute Swansea team.

The goal scored by Monreal summed up his performance. He picked up the ball in central midfield and drove right into the heart of the Swansea defense. Cazorla faked to shoot on a couple of occasions and in the process left a few Swansea players on their backsides. Giroud may claim the assist to the goal but it was the positivity and desire shown by Cazorla which resulted in the goal. If Arsenal are to continue their 16 year continous participation in the Champions League, they will need their little Spaniard to produce more world class performances similar to this one.

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Remembering the 2007-08 season

In the season 2007-08 Arsenal were left with more questions than answers, their talisman and record goalscorer had just departed to Barcelona. Pundits and media speculated wheather Arsenal could even finish in the top half of the premier league such was their dependence on their now departed captain.

Arsene Wenger, as in those days was always one step ahead of everyone. Wenger showed a rare glimpse of how ruthless he can be if he really wanted to. With Gilberto away with Brazil at the Copa America he experimented with partnering then fringe player Mathieu Flamini alongside Cesc Fabregas in centre midfield. As it turned out it was a genius move. With teams improving their fitness and technique, he realized that Flamini was doing the work of two players in midfield and his high tempo play would enable Arsenal to win back possession early which would give them the platform to dominate teams with their possession oriented football.

It was cruel on the former “invincible” who was lead the team on numerous occassions the previous seasons and was one of their standout performers. Gilberto and Fabregas never worked was a midfield partnership for Wenger due to Fabregas often ignoring defensive responsibilities and leaving Gilberto outnumbered when the opposition attacked.

Wenger had now found the perfect partner for his midfield man and along with Hleb,Rosicky and Adebayor, Arsenal blew teams away that season. Gael Clichy and new signing Bacary Sagna were exceptional that season as well with both players being voted into the PFA team of the year. That Arsenal team, even when put under pressure, showed their strength of character and guts, twice they came back vs Manchester United at the Emirates in a 2-2 draw with the equalizer coming in stoppage time; if any Arsenal fans saw what Fabregas was mouthing off to Rio Ferdinand after that, the message was loud and clear that they were going to be title challengers and not pretenders.

It looked like Arsene Wenger once again was on the verge of something special, his young team built on a shoe string budget with a little bit ruthlesness was surging towards the title. I remember one incident during the game vs West Ham at the Emirates. In the second minute, Fabregas swung in a deadly accurate cross towards Eduardo who chested it and volleyed home with minimum fuss. The way the goal was taken in a way showed the arrogance which is needed to win titles and had the whole premier league running scared on the thought of facing them.

Then Eduardo had his leg snapped against Birmingham. The Arsenal players on witnessing such a horrific incident happening to one of their teammates could never recover and threw away a 5 point lead in the last 3 months of the season. Arsene Wenger said that he would make “one or two” signings to sustain a challenge the next season as well. But what followed had Arsenal fans concerned. He promoted the likes of Denilson,Abou Diaby and Alex Song who in the previous term were relegated to Carling Cup action and rare substitute appearances.

Arsenal finished that season with 83 points with only 3 losses, and for fans making excuses now, that was achieved without any petrodollars but through astute purchases and disciplined hard working football on the pitch.

On the basis on what happened the previous season Wenger wanted to prove people wrong and win more or less the same team. That philosophy is well and good but the problem was that his midfield engine Falmini and his dribbler Hleb had departed for pastures new.

Most Arsenal fans would agree that Arsene Wenger still has not found a replacement for Flamini after 6 years, after his departure Arsenal were conceding goals for fun and resulted in referees running faster than his replacements. After coming under pressure Arsene Wenger went on to justify this philosophy.

“We try to go a different way that, for me, is respectable. Briefly, these are the basics. I thought: We are building a stadium, so I will get young players in early so I do not find myself exposed on the transfer market without the money to compete with the others. I build a team, and we compensate by creating a style of play, by creating a culture at the club because the boy comes in at 16 or 17 and when they go out they have a supplement of soul, of love for the club, because they have been educated together. The people you meet at college from 16 to 20, often those are the relationships in life that keep going. That, I think, will give us strength that other clubs will not have.”

I think its fair to say that after 5 years the decisions taken to gain this so called strength have been flawed. The philosophy which Arsenal were identified with of playing beautiful football now can hardly be recognized. Their football is now outdated and slowly falling into irrelevence. Tactics employed by league 2 teams are enough to beat them.

WHAT IS WENGER “S PHILSOPHY??

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Jack can establish legendary status just like his mentor

Arsenal enter the lion ‘s den tomorrow in what is sure to be an explosive North London Derby at the ground where we have secured two previous league crowns. The media, as expected as drooling over the scoring exploits of Gareth Bale and proclaiming him as the third best player in the world. I will admit that he is one of the form players in the league right now and his winner against West Ham was quite simply brilliant, but proclaiming him in the same class as Messi and Cristiano is quite simply ridiculous.

One player every Arsenal fan will be looking up to in games like this to make a difference will be the only player they have some sort of identification as one of their own, his name is Jack Wilshere. As we saw in the corresponding fixture, it was Jack who was the first one to stand up to the Tottenham players after Adebayor had committed that shocking challenge on Cazorla. In the absence of a true leader bar Arteta, Jack has to take the lead and let the rest of the team know what it means to him and especially the fans to beat the bunch up at N17. Tottenham may have closed the gap on Arsenal in the last few years, but if we look at the last twenty years in terms of league positions of both the teams,there is no doubt who the better team is there.

This game reminds me if a similar scenario of the match at the Lane five years ago. Arsenal had lost their talisman Thierry Henry (similar scenario) in the summer and Tottenham headed into the game as clear favourites. They even had the audacity to take the lead through (you guessed it) Gareth Bale. Arsenal came back in the second half and won 3-1 with a brace from Adebayor, but it was the goal in between by Fabregas which forever would endear him to the Arsenal fans.

With game poised at 1-1 with 10 minutes to go, Fabregas let loose a shot from 30 yards out which flew into the back of the net. If the goal was special, the celebration which followed was even better. In what became a constant theme that season after scoring a goal, Fabregas immediately ran towards the Arsenal bench to celebrate with Arsene Wenger. If that wasn’t enough, he then ran towards the Arsenal fans frivolously kissing the Arsenal badge. Before that game Fabregas always had the potential to be a match winner for Arsenal, but in that game his overall performance was brilliant and to score such a goal in a derby was the icing on the cake. As we saw later that season against Milan, it helped establish Fabregas as their future talisman and captain.

Cesc Fabregas celebrates scoring the 2nd Arsenal goal with Emmanuel Adebayor

Jack Wilshere currently is in the same situation Fabregas found himslef in five years ago. Loads of potential, no lack of effort and determination but no end product yet to his game. There is no doubt that Wilshere will start scoring goals and giving assists for Arsenal very soon but what better way to follow in the footsteps of his former captain and mentor and do it in the North London Derby.

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Cazorla Brilliance avoids another Embarrassment

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Santi Cazorla came up with a superb brace as Arsenal got back to winning ways against a gutsy Aston Villa team. After cup defeats to Blackburn and Bayern Munich respectively it was hugely important win as they closed the gap on fourth placed Tottenham to just one point. The summer signing from Malaga scored in the 6th and 85th minute to give some respite to Arsene Wenger, who has faced one of his most difficult weeks in his 16 year reign as Arsenal boss .The Spaniard glided all around the pitch and probably had one his best games in an Arsenal shirt when they needed him the most.

In recent matches Arsene Wenger seems to be preferring having Jack Wilshere playing in behind the main striker, as he was on this occassion and having Santi Cazorla occupy the left wing position, the same position he used to play when he was with Villarreal.

Having Jack Wilshere back is a huge bonus for Arsene Wenger, as his presence in the team makes Arsenal a bit less predictable as they previously were at the start of the season. At the start of the season when Jack Wilshere was still injured, Wenger used Cazorla as the second striker and at the start it had a devastating effect on the opposition. Man of the match performances against Liverpool,Manchester City and West Ham; it looked like Cazorla was the signing of the season and fans wondered the partnership he could have formed with former skipper Robin Van Persie.

Opponents, though worked out a tactic to counter this. In the following games Cazorla was marked heavily by the opposition midfielders knowing that all the good Arsenal moves go through him. This clever tactic employed resulted in Arsenal not having a shot on target in two consecutive games against Norwich and Schalke.

With Cazorla ‘s ambidexterity, it means even if he plays on the wing, he is equally comfortable coming inside into midfield or going down the outside of his full back. By coming inside Cazorla gives Arsenal an extra midfielder in the centre and enables him to be more involved once Arsenal get into the final third.

Eventhough Cazorla starts the match on the left wing, he does not spend the whole game there. He keeps swapping positions with Jack Wilshere with the latter sometimes drifting into the left wing position. This makes both Wilshere and Cazorla very difficult to pick up. As we saw for the second goal vs Villa, Wilshere played a lovely ball over the top to Monreal, and it was Cazorla, who had taken up the second striker position, applying a classy finish after making a late run into the box.

For all his attacking creativity, as we saw against Bayern Munich, Cazorla does not have defensive discipline.He rarely tracks the opposition full backs, and against better opposition Arsenal will get punished for such laziness. In tight encounters small details like this could make a huge difference to the outcome and if he wants to be considered at the same level as Xavi or Iniesta, he has to give more priority to the defensive side of the game.

Wilshere and Cazorla have played with each other for less than six months, but it already looks like they could both form a formidable partnership in the Arsenal midfield for years to come. If both can stay fit they could have a real impact in the league next season.

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Deja Vu-Part 8

Look Familiar?

Look Familiar?

Before last nights clash with Bayern Munich there were lots of optimistic Arsenal fans on twitter, and while im all for optimism it just leaves you flattened when the inevitable happens. Pre game the ground was buzzing and reminded me of the Man United game in 2009. In that game within 10 minutes a defense cock up resulted in Park scoring the opening goal and the crowd ‘s pre-game enthusiasm and flag waving was flattened.

In those four years it shows we have not learnt a single thing, as another defensive screw up let Tony Kroos pick his spot and fire into the bottom corner. Vermaelen was caught in possession up field which meant Arteta had to come across to cover the area left vacated by Vermaelen, this resulted with Tony Kroos not being tracked by either Cazorla or Wilshere. There is a clear lack of defensive awareness by any player wearing red and white.

Individually Arsenal ‘s defensive players are very good and as Wenger said, “Internationals”. As a team though they are a car crash waiting to happen. Arsenal fans including me were crying out in seasons past for a tall defender who could dominate high balls played into the box, we all got our wish when Mertesacker was signed last summer. Yesterday was a chance for Mertesacker to stand up and show some leadership against a team most of his compatriats play for, instead he looked scared, nervous and a lack of willingness to take responsibility. This is a player who has a more than 80 caps for Germany.

It was the same defensive awareness for Bayern ‘s third goal. After getting it to 1-2, Arsenal should have shut the back door, as a third away would virtually kill the tie. Instead once again there was a 2 on 1 situation on the left. Robben cut inside from the left and predictably reversed it to the galloping and brilliant Lahm, whose cross was bundled in by Mandzukic. Who was supposed to be tracking Lahm?, if it was Cazorla, I do not even think even he knew he was supposed to track Lahm.

That overlap by Lahm clearly demonstrated the attitude and desire of both teams. Eventhough his team had scored two away goals and were leading in a stadium where no foreign team had won for 10 years before Schalke this season, Lahm still showed hunger,desire and willingness to bust a gut to make the overlap run. When other players see their captain making runs like that it gives everyone that extra belief and the sense to defend the shirt.

It will take Arsenal at least another 5-6 years to reach the level Bayern Munich played last night. Who could have imagined such a day coming to fruitition when we first moved to the Emirates. Its a long road back and how many more De Ja Vu ‘s do we need to experience before we see the change we all know deep inside is required.

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Arsenal Vs Blackburn Preview

Hat-trick!

Hat-trick!

After grafting out a crucial win against Sunderland the previous week, Arsenal host Blackburn in the FA Cup 5th round. After the win against Sunderland, it was the first time in a long time that the team got the whole week off without having a midweek game. Previously the team was playing every three days for more than a month, so the break coming especially after the International fixtures was timely.

In this year ‘s FA Cup this is the first time Arsenal have been drawn at home, so it is a very good opportunity to progress to the quarter finals. Given that their mouthwatering tie against Bayern Munich is in midweek, Per Mertesacker feels that Arsenal are only thinking about getting through to the next round.

“First, we still have an important cup game on Saturday — we absolutely want to advance in the FA Cup.

“That is why the preparations for Bayern are not that intense yet. But, beginning on Sunday, the preparations for Tuesday’s match will be extreme”

Regarding team news, Arsenal again look short defensively. Laurent Koscielny is a doubt with a calf injury and Carl Jenkinson is suspended, but captain Thomas Vermaelen trained for the whole week and should be back in the squad. Jack Wilshere, who got a kick to the thigh against Sunderalnd is a doubt as well and mostly will not be risked against Balckburn, with Arsene Wenger wanting to keep him fit for the Bayern Munich clash.

This is a game where Theo Walcott will fancy himself if played up front. The Blackburn centre halves are not the quickest and most mobile defenders, this should enable Walcott to terrorize them with his pace and would fancy himself to run in behind them.

Arsenal should not take this game lightly because a win would mean they will be only one game away from making it to Wembley and at the same time this should be a game they should easily win with minimum hassles. A comfortable win with no injuries will be a good tonic as the Bayern game looms over the horizon.

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Talking Tactics: Craft and Graft see Arsenal over the line

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In previous seasons Arsene Wenger had stressed in almost every post match interview about his side ‘s so called “mental strength”, only to be left looking embarrassed after another capitulation by his side. When Szczesny clutched onto the last of Sunderland ‘s 715 crosses, the Arsenal players let out a scream of delight and in some ways it was a scream of pure relief because this was not just 3 points on the road, it was a victory signalling the end to their soft underbelly and once and for all laid to rest the ghosts of the 4-4 draws in previous seasons.

With Laurent Koscielny limping off during the Arsenal warm up, it meant that there was a reshuffle in the back four. Carl Jenkinson was drafted into right back which meant Bacary Sagna moved into central defense to partner Per Mertesacker. In midfield Arsenal started with Arteta,Ramsey and Wilshere who were flanked by Santi Cazorla on the left and Theo Walcott on the right. Olivier Giroud continued up front for the Gunners. Arsene Wenger was very clever in putting Santi Cazorla out on the left, because in previous away games we have seen Aaron Ramsey play on the left side of midfield mostly to do a defensive job than an offensive one. With Sunderland offering more of a defensive problem rather than an offensive one to Arsenal playing Santi Cazorla on the left was a master stroke by Wenger and probably what won Arsenal the game.

Cazorla, being so two footed was very comfortable coming inside into midfield and hence did not hug the touchline. This made it very difficult for the Sunderland backline to pick him up. With Lee Cattermole being booked in the second minute of the game, Cazorla and Wilshere were given the freedom to play the football they are capable off. At the start of the game Arsenal were getting into the final third but not able to to find that final killer ball but when Cazorla came inside he and Wilshere exchanged numerous one twos and you always felt they were capable of opening Sunderland up.

Given the amount of possession,territory and chances Arsenal created in the first half they probably should have been 2 or 3 goals up and if they were up against a better attack they mostly would have conceded. Even after the sending off of Carl Jenkinson, Cazorla continued to pull the strings for Arsenal. His close control especially enabled Arsenal to play the ball out of their defense and retain possession. He also played an exquisite through ball to Theo Walcott, whose goal bound effort hit the post.

The tip of the hat must also go to Mikel Arteta. Previously Arsenal were crticized for having weak captains when they were required to come up with the goods, but on this occasion Arteta, playing in defensive midfield oozed class. Arteta may not be the club captain but in the eyes of most players and the fans it seems he is their number one choice. With Sunderland bombarding the Arsenal box with crosses, Arteta never once panicked, he instead kept his head and tried to retain possession and cleverly winning a couple of free kicks along the way.

Arsenal showed both sides to their game, and proved at least last week they are capable of producing their craft,movement and passing they are renowned for, and at the same time producing character, fight and graft some things they did not seem to possess a few years ago.

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