Two Sublime Finishes Steal the Show in a Convincing Arsenal Victory
Before uttering another word, congratulations to Carlos Vela and Eduardo for two sensational goals. There’s a lot to dissect from today’s match, but it all comes second to the two master class goals that opened the scoring today. Take your pick from the two; sensational combination of skills by Vela with a cheeky finish, or a simply audacious moment of creativity and class from Eduardo. You can’t go wrong either way.
The one thing we could predict before the game was that the team selection would be unpredictable. Wenger played Vela in his preferred striker role along side Eduardo in a traditional 4-4-2. Arshavin played on the left side of midfield together with Song, Diaby and Eboue. Gibbs partnered Gallas, Djourou and the ubiquitous Sagna at the back. Fabianski continues to be Wenger’s keeper of choice for the Cup run. Somewhat surprisingly, Eduardo was given the captain’s armband, although I couldn’t venture a guess as to an alternative.
I won’t bore you with the blow by blow recount of the match as I presume that you probably saw every glorious minute, or at least the highlights. But there were several talking points to take away from today’s victory. First and foremost, Arsenal could easily have scored six or seven today and were erroneously denied a fourth by the offside flag.
One of the real bright spots from this game was the solid play from two much-maligned players. Song and Eboue deserve their criticism, but today was a chance for them to answer their critics, if only for 90 minutes. Song did a nice job protecting the back four, but an unexpectedly inspired job creating goal scoring chances. He picked the perfect pass to Eduardo for the sublime volley, and served up a clever back heel to create Eboue’s goal. In between those goals he managed to get forward and create a few more opportunities that went begging. It was a creditable game for Song. While he still looks like he’s jogging around the pitch most of the time, he was more productive in this one game than the sum of his previous performances.
Eboue really does make you want to pull your hair out. There is simply no denying his physical attributes. I don’t think you will ever find a more physically talented professional footballer who’s mental competency is as completely flawed as Eboue. He never gives one hundred per cent effort. Every time he goes to ground he looks for a card. Every time he’s touched he goes to ground. He gets himself into wonderful positions and then completely loses composure. It’s maddening. Not because he’s worthless, but because he makes such valuable contributions that are undermined by his behavior and lack of composure. Arsene Wenger protects his players as much as any manager, but when asked about Eboue’s goal today even Wenger conceded:
“Usually when he gets in front of goal he loses his composure. I believe he needed that. Some people convince themselves that they cannot score but then when they do they realise it is not as difficult as they imagined.”
Eboue finds himself in goal-scoring range more than many of our midfielders. Today he was only denied a brace by a strong hand from Burnley’s massive ‘keeper, Jensen. If he does discover that scoring a goal is not as difficult as he imagined, it would be a wonderful improvement for the individual and for the team. Eboue’s play today was incisive, committed, and most importantly, composed. Since his red card debacle against Sp*rs he seems to have made strides in his approach to the game. Let’s hope it continues. Theo Walcott’s return to challenge his playing time may also be a contributing factor to his improvement. It just goes to show how important it is for players to be challenged for their starting role.
The level of Eduardo’s contribution today is debatable. The best strikers in the world are judged by their finishing. Many great strikers can be completely anonymous for long stretches of the match but find the finishing touch with that one key chance. For the most part, Eduardo didn’t play a major role in the match. He was presented with two goal scoring opportunities and converted one of them with a spectacular example of skill and improvisation. The other chance went begging when he headed wide from a perfect cross. We have plenty of strikers that show up all over the pitch. Robin Van Persie is an obvious example. But lately we’ve been missing players who can finish that one clear chance. If that is the only contribution Eduardo makes to a match then he’s surely an immediate option at striker. He is a much-needed, clinical finisher on a team becoming known for it’s goal scoring profligacy.
Somewhat worryingly, RVP has picked up the Bendtner-esque habit of making the easy finishes look very hard. With the ball falling to Van Persie’s left foot, unmarked, from eight yards out and the goal gaping, you’d put your mortgage on him scoring. (Especially if it’s a mortgage of the adjustable rate variety.) But his effort from that position today was appalling. He really needs to get his shooting boots back. Granted, he was improperly denied a goal today by the offside flag, but even that effort was overly contrived and took far too many touches from such an inviting position.
One of the highlights of the match was Theo’s return to action after his long absence. Typically, he gave the defense problems and created a couple of wonderful chances. He was given the opportunity to play up front with Van Persie which he has rarely had the chance to do. While he has every right to be a little rusty, it does seem clear that he is not completely self-assured with his finishing. His first clear sight of goal resulted in a modest shot too close to the keeper. With his second clear chance he opted to give the ball to Van Persie. No one would have faulted him for taking the chance himself and it certainly would have prevented the offside call that ultimately denied Van Persie’s goal. But despite his lack of sharpness in front of goal, he looked as pacey and threatening as ever.
I believe that Walcott’s absence has been as influential in our struggles as the loss of any player. But he is back now. Eduardo is back now. Adebayor is on the doorstep and April brings Cesc and Rosicky. It was a glorious sight watching the Arsenal start to take familiar shape again today. It should only get better from here. Unlike last year’s collapse, perhaps karma is bringing us a late season run at silverware.
The FA Cup semifinal draw was announced today. If we can overcome Hull at the Emirates in the quarterfinals, then we will face Chelsea at Wembley. Manchester United with face Everton in the other semifinal. Nothing would give me more pleasure than having the opportunity to see Arsenal undermine United’s chase for a quintuple in the FA Cup final. But let’s just take things one step at a time.
Up next is Roma in the Champions League. They drew at home to Udinese this weekend and suffered some injuries. We’ll take a closer look at that match in the coming few days. But until then, bask in the glow of back-to-back three goal performances. We turned the clocks forward this weekend in the U.S. Maybe that’s symbolic of the change in Arsenal’s season. Or maybe, I need to get out more. (I like my interpretation better.)