7 days. One week. It made all the difference in the mood of Gooners around the world.
Last week, the club, the team and the manager were under heavy pressure from all corners of the football fraternity after being bundled out of the Capital One Cup by lowly Bradford. The atmosphere was deadly and knives were sharpened to find the cure to an ailing team. Fortunately, it all turned for the positive in the next two games.
Reading were hammered last Monday but it was not without a worrisome period.
Having established a 4-0 lead, fears were creeping in when Reading pulled 2 goals back. Memories of the Newcastle game in the 2010/11 season came flooding back in. All hell would have been broken loose, had we gone on and lost the lead.
This time, we were spared. Theo Walcott capped his first start in the central striking role with Arsenal’s fifth goal of the night and we could all breath normally once again.
The fixture list meant that we were the last team to play in the set of games in Game 17 but the first team to play in Game 18. Although the 5 days of rest period, somewhat compensated the absurdity of the fixture.
The team though, was undeterred. Winning away at the DW Stadium can be the easiest of games or the toughest of games, you just never know which Wigan side will appear. As it turned out, it was the latter as we scraped through with a 1-0 win.
The two games provided the difference in which games can be won. The champagne football at the Madjeski Stadium was a stark contrast to the hard fought win on Saturday.
We were vibrant and expansive against Reading but failed to produce the same fluency against Wigan. Whenever the team clicked like they did against Reading, it was a joy to watch. The movement was constant and the passing was crisp. Santi Cazorla stood out, timing his runs into the opposition penalty box accurately.
When the team doesn’t click, the football is not as free-flowing as we are accustomed to. The old adage is that a good side always finds the means to win a game, despite not being on their best form.
Too many times this season and the seasons before, have Arsenal succumbed to dropping points because the entire team failed to turn up for the game. Turning up, in the sense of performance. Against Wigan, the likes of Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Bacary Sagna, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Thomas Vermaelen stood up to be counted, when some of their team mates were struggling to get into the game.
That is the type of resilience that has been missing from this Arsenal side. The type where players take up responsibilities and lead the team. A return to the days when we had Patrick Vieira or Thierry Henry taking that game by the scruff of the neck and exhibit almost super-human like characteristics to rise against the tide.
Performances like that inspire team mates to do better. No player can ever be expected to produce his best performance in every single game. Therefore, it is good to see some form of leadership qualities being displayed.
A word on Walcott and his cameo up front.
Over the 2 games, he has stuck mostly on the shoulders of the centre backs and that has given us more space to operate in midfield. With his pace, defenders are too afraid to play a high line and that meant a wider gap between their midfield and defence. Walcott does open himself up for a pass by making runs on either side of the centre backs and his goal at Reading was a good example of that.
We’ve only seen just once that he was allowed to use his searing pace when a raking pass was played out from defence by Vermaelen. If/when Walcott learns how to drop slightly deeper before pulling away to sprint onto a pass between the opponent’s defence and keeper, then we can see his real prowess.
This week, all’s good in Arsenal-land.