- We out-worked Everton. We were the more determined team on Saturday and showed that determination by working harder than our opponents. That’s something that was lacking last season, and it was a joy to watch this team really play for each other. In a recent post I wrote that we needed a change in attitude more than a change in personnel. We saw the right attitude at Goodison Park and if we can hold on to that, it will be an important part of a winning season.
- We looked organized and confident defensively. Despite Everton’s obvious height advantage and numerous opportunities to test our defense with corners and free kicks, we never really looked rattled. Other than Denilson’s clearance off the line from a Fellaini header, our defending looked very self-assured. Watching Citeh play on Saturday, their defense, and Kolo in particular, looked very shaky. It reminded me of our defending last season. But against Everton, even on the rare occasions when we came under pressure, we handled it with a calmness that was reassuring. Our clearances were decisive and Vermaelen brought an energy and enthusiasm to his challenges that we haven’t seen for some time. The Belgian looks like a great player, but more importantly he seems to have a mettle about him that has recently been considered lacking at Arsenal. That’s something that seemed to permeate the entire team, and will be a huge help on wintery trips to Stoke or Burnley or Blackburn where they’ll try to kick us off our game.
- We scored six goals without getting one from our starting front three. On a day when goals were flying into the Everton net, RVP, Arshavin and Bendtner all failed to tally. I think this is actually a great sign. Arshavin, Van Persie and Bendtner will get their goals, but on a day when they don’t score, it’s important for someone else to contribute. Seeing Cesc get back among the goals, and Denilson scoring with a belter gives reason to believe that we will not have to rely entirely on two or three players for all of our scoring. The invincibles got goals from Viera and Pires and Ljundberg and even Gilberto Silva. If this team gets goals from midfield it makes our beautiful passing game even more potent.
- Alex Song and Denilson looked like they are really ready to make the leap. A little more on this in a moment, but the big concern this summer was that we needed to make a defensive midfield signing. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t, but based on Saturday’s performances, it looks like Song and Denilson are close to playing at the level befitting Wenger’s confidence in them.
- The 4-3-3 worked brilliantly. What more can I say? Arsene Wenger wanted to change the approach and the new system worked exactly as designed. We pressed high up the field, put Everton under constant pressure, and always looked threatening on the counter attack. While personnel might have been all the talk this summer, the effectiveness of the new formation might have been the biggest uncertainty. I think we can safely say that the new system works.
You just couldn’t ask for a better way to start the season or a better precursor to a crucial European tie. For me, the fact that the media wrote us out of the top four was the best motivation for the team. A team that plays with a chip on its shoulder can be very dangerous indeed.
It’s hard to say who deserved man of the match on Saturday. I know it’s a cliche, but it really was a team effort. Let me put it this way, there are no less than six players that could have been given man of the match without argument. But the most encouraging element of the team’s performance was the quality play from Denilson and Song. These are the players that have been most maligned (frequently by me) and who have been shown great patience by the boss. But on Saturday you saw all the reasons why Arsene Wenger has stood firm in his beliefs. Denilson was solid and scored a beautiful goal. Alex Song was really transcendent. He played defensive midfield with energy, intelligence, toughness, and even some attacking flair. Song’s tackling and marking were solid, but his distribution was tremendous. He showed real poise and great decision making.
Here are some past quotes from various blogs about Song and Denilson:
“The Song – Denilson axis is about as effective as chucking pebbles at Godzilla but this isn’t really any surprise.”
“Alex Song makes me sad. It’s not his fault, I know, but that a player so average is now a first team regular for Arsenal symbolises all that’s wrong with us.”
“I look at Alex Song and remain baffled as to how he’s even near the first team at Arsenal.”
Reading these quotes makes you realize just how far these players have come. But more importantly, if they can play at this level all season, just think of how much that improves our squad. If a Denilson-Song midfield becomes a strength rather than a weakness, then we will be a formidable team indeed. With Nasri, Rosicky and Diaby eventually returning, midfield will seem an embarassment of riches where it once seemed a deficiency.
And there’s more reason for encouragement looking at results from around the league. Liverpool lost in unimpressive fashion. United struggled to get a result at home against newly promoted Birmingham City. Chelsea should consider themselves lucky to have gotten a single point at home to Hull, let alone the three points they garnered. Additionally, the blues looked out of sorts in Ancelotti’s diamond midfield formation. Aston Villa were embarrassed at home by Wigan. And while Citeh beat Blackburn, they were far from convincing. I watched that game and their defending was shameful. Greedybayor may have had a nice goal, but he ambled around the pitch aimlessly, while Kolo brought little stability to a defense that always looked like conceding. All in all, the results suggest that we can compete for top honors. Of course, it’s important to heed Arsene’s words that this was just one game. No need to get carried away.
So now the burden is on the players to refocus. They can’t get carried away by this result because an even bigger fixture is now just days away. It’s almost unfathomable that we play a massive Champions League match on Tuesday, but there it is. We’ll be heading to Celtic Park full of confidence, but hopefully not full of arrogance. Celtic Park can be an intimidating place to play, but if we approach the game with the same attitude on display at Goodison, we certainly have the quality to get the necessary result. Any win will do really, but if the players feel like scoring another six that would be fine with me.
I believe more strongly than ever that any signings Wenger might make are dependant upon our qualification for the Champions League group stage. But if we are convincing on Tuesday, and bring home a few away goals from our trip to Scotland, then it’s possible that the funds will be available to spend before the tie is resolved. Either way, it’s a match I’m really looking forward to seeing. As enthusiastic as we all were for the return of proper football, Saturday’s result served to increase my excitement to near unhealthy levels. (My wife would argue that they were far beyond healthy levels already.)
So that’s all there is for now. We sit atop the Premier League table and hopefully that’s where we’ll be in May. If nothing else, I hope the bastards at Sky Sports and every other pathetic media outlet that wrote us off before a ball was kicked in anger, choked on something when they saw the scoreline from Goodison Park on Saturday. We owe them a thank you for giving us that little extra motivation.
Celtic preview tomorrow…