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Monday, 24 September 2012

Arsenal have the foundations of a title winning side

It is a telling indication of how far this team has progressed when the general consensus from our fans was one of disappointment after coming home from Manchester with just a point from the league champions.

There are numerous positives to be taken, particularly regarding individual performances. Per Mertesacker was supreme in defence, intercepting almost everything that came his way. He really has stamped his authority in the team this season, and the fact he has forced Wenger to keep Koscielny on the bench tells a story on its own. 

In terms of the defence overall, I think a bit of objectiveness is needed to really appreciate their achievements this season. 

BUNDLE!.jpgSo, we were essentially without the three most important members of our back five yesterday; no Szczesny, no Sagna and no Vermaelen, who was ruled out on the day of the match with a bout of flu. In previous years, we would most probably have been doomed. But such is our strength in depth that we kept the £120 million Manchester City strike force at bay for most of the game. Who would have thought that? 

Let's look back at the 0-0 draw at Stoke earlier this season too. We kept a clean sheet against a side even the strongest of defences struggle to keep out, without our first choice 'keeper or our right back! 

Credit must be given to Steve Bould, but at the end of the day it is the players who perform on the pitch, and it is they who deserve the lion share of the plaudits. 

Carl Jenkinson - while still naturally showing signs of inexperience, particularly in his sometimes sloppy passing - has excelled at right back, producing displays that Bacary Sagna would struggle to outdo. 

The Frenchman should not take his return to the first team for granted - the way Jenkinson is going he'll have to earn his place in the starting line up! What most fans love about Jenko is that he really is a Gooner. The fact we sing 'Carl Jenkinson, he's got Arsenal PJs!' shows how much the fans appreciate his commitment and desire. I loved Gary Neville's comment after the City game too:

"I don't know him, but the kid looks like he would run through a brick wall for you."  

His galloping run in the first half, where he seemed destined to lose out to Joleon Lescott, certainly supports this statement. He ran almost the length of the pitch and tenaciously bundled his way past the defender, then intelligently cut the ball back for Lukas Podolski who fired his shot wildly over the bar. 

When Gary Neville compliments you, especially a right back, you know you've done well.

Another positive in terms of our defensive strength this season is Kieran Gibbs. Once tipped as Arsenal's natural replacement for A$hley Cole, the left back has been blighted by injury and has struggled to sustain any concerted period of form. However, this season Gibbs seems to have burgeoned into a proper full back; defensively astute, showing new signs of maturity, and offensively dangerous, acting as an auxiliary attacker to great effect. 

This offers a new dimension tactically to our left hand side. With Podolski/Cazorla deployed here, they will naturally drift inward creating space out wide - which is where Gibbs comes in. We saw glimpses of this against Liverpool - if I remember correctly it was a Cazorla pass which set up the onrushing Gibbs in the box, only to have his shot saved by Pepe Reina. This could be a significant attacking outlet for Arsenal this season, especially with Olivier Giroud’s aerial threat in the box.

Moreover, Podolski’s commendable work rate down the left flank is very important to the side, and something certainly instilled by Steve Bould. His defensive work in the 2-0 win at Anfield was vital, ensuring Gibbs was never left exposed. While his performance against Manchester City was hardly exhilarating, he continued to work hard, protecting his full back.

The foundation of every winning side is a solid defence, and this season Arsenal seem to have exactly that. 


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