Missed opportunities should not outweigh the solid performance.
In yesterday’s blog I wrote that Arsenal would struggle because we lacked quality in midfield. I felt that our pace could cause Roma problems and that Nasri would be key, but I was concerned that the personnel was not in our favor. Once again, Arsene Wenger proved why he is a genius. He took a group of average midfielders and organized the team with a formation and strategy that gave Roma fits. Nasri played behind Van Persie in a 4-4-1-1 with Denilson paring Diaby in the center of midfield and Bendtner and Eboue playing on the wings. Much to our delight, Clichy was fit to play the entire match.
Nasri was popping up everywhere in his new role and always looked a threat. Bendtner wasn’t completely comfortable on the wing but found the room to get into dangerous positions. Eboue was magnificent. We’ll get to his failings in a moment, but he really did challenge the Roma defense by driving right at them with pace. Van Persie wasn’t dominant but he held the ball well and helped build the attack with good distribution. Obviously he had the most important contribution by slotting his penalty expertly into the lower right corner of Doni’s goal. Denilson was somewhat anonymous but put in a shift. He gave the ball away a few times and was guilty of a silly challenge that gave Roma a free kick in a dangerous position, but mostly he was solid defending the middle of the field. Our back four played with poise and commitment and I thought that some of the high pressure on the ball helped us keep possession and prevented Roma from building their attack through midfield. Roma gave the ball away in their own half numerous times because of Arsenal’s pressure on the ball.
Special praise belongs to Diaby. Once again we can see what a special talent he could be, if only he were able to stay healthy. He has exceptional control for a tall player, good awareness and the threat of scoring from range. He was fantastic today. Diaby almost never gave the ball away, but more importantly did the one thing that has eluded Arsenal midfield players this season; he put pressure on the defense. When he got the ball he turned and looked to pass forward to the strikers. When the pass wasn’t there, he ran at the defense. Too often this season our central midfielders have been satisfied to pass the ball laterally. Today we were incisive. When Diaby had to leave…wait for it…wait for it…injured, the difference was obvious. Alex Song has a “unique…” style about him, and his passing can best be described as horizontal. Hopefully Diaby will not be our for long. On the evidence of his contribution today, he could make a big difference in league games against lesser competition that put ten men behind the ball.
It was a wonderful match to watch because we played the way Arsenal teams have always played under Wenger. In his post match interview Spaletti conceeded that our quick passing and our pace created “difficult situations” for his side. That’s what Wenger’s teams are supposed to do.
Before we end the blog for today, it’s worth noting that some things didn’t go perfectly. Bendtner’s control and finishing cost us at least two goal opportunities. Eboue missed an opportunty to distribute on the break (instead taking a soft foul), and missed the chance of the match when he was gifted possession in Roma’s 18-yard box. Nasri pushed a header wide. Diaby had a wonderful shot barely saved. It really could have been a savage beating. At the very least it should have been two or three for the Arsenal. All that said, it was a return to familiar form and gives us every reason to believe we can see them off in two weeks time in Rome.
Watching this game reminded me why I love Arsenal Football Club so dearly under Arsene Wenger. You just get the sense that he knows his football a little better than the competition. He might be stubborn as hell, but when his vision comes together it is more than worth the wait. Ask yourself this: could any other manager have gotten this performance out of the players on the Emirates stadium pitch today? I doubt it. And reinforcements are on the way.