The Midas Touch
What a difference a year makes, eh? This time last year, we couldn't buy a goal for love nor money from beyond the ranks of our strikers. And with our then-captain and star striker spending more time on the physio table than the pitch, we were up shit street, with only a scraggy bit of bogroll, the last bit off the roll, for comfort.
Fast forward a year, and how altered is the situation. We still face the prospect of playing without our most lethal striker (in terms of finishing) with RvP out injured for another 5 weeks (Rising depending on circumstances. The value of your striker may go down as well as up. Remember, your striker is at risk if you do not keep up repayments on their upkeep and treatment, and allow them to go away on international duty. Wingston is regulated by The Vital Arsenal Authority), but now us Gooners can look forward to games not so much wondering where 'a' goal will come from, but where 'the' goals will come from, and, more to the point, trying to guess which members of the team will be finding the net this week.
For we've really found our shooting boots this time out.
Of the strikers, Ade is slowly but surely improving on his shooting capabilities (an interesting piece to be read about him today, where he looks to himself to be one of the top players in the world one day, and reckons that he will), couple that with his phenomenal work rate and strength, allied to a searing pace, and folk have likened him to a new Drogba (something yours truly first raised in the first half of last season, as the signs were all there, all it took were the pieces to slot slightly more into place, the component parts were all there). I've already said this before, but it warrants repeating - Didier Drogba is a powerhouse striker - formidable! (just ask Senderos...) He's also 29. Ade is but 23, and rapidly reeling Drogba in, in terms of his proximity to the Chelski man's abilities (and he doesn't tumble over either...). Give him, say, another two seasons to reach Drogba's level (I reckon you might see him reach it early on next season, personally...), that leaves him at 25, another 4 years to come of a rampaging, marauding, man-monster - before he reaches the Drog's current age.
Theo - we may be starting to see the fruits of a player now playing without a really troublesome shoulder injury. An article on today's Sun sees Theo describe the full extent of how the injury was affecting him, saying that even drying himself with a towel or rolling over in bed, his shoulder would pop out, and how it had to be kept secret, otherwise the first thing an opponent would do on the field would be to shoulder-barge him. Poor guy. And of course, after surgery, you still need to regain confidence and trust in your body again, to know that it will not let you down again. This can take a while. It seems that Theo is now back to believing in his body again, there was a difference about his play and his body positioning on wednesday night, more assuredness in himself, he seemed to be looking for the ball more and more willing to receive it. The finishes were assured, the pace searing. Goals to be had there.
RvP - I don't need to say anything about the guy - love him to bits, I know you all do - we all of us, not one man excepted, all know what a dude this man is on the pitch, and everytime he speaks he speaks with a real 'club' mentality, selfless and without ego of 'the main man'. His technique is magnificent, he gets you goals no-one else can, and REAL belters too.
Bendtner, in the limited capacity that we have seen him so far this season, looks some way off regular first team football, but you cannot argue with your guy's showing so far. Two goals, not bad I have to say. He looks a little rusty in terms of asserting himself in a game, he sure did against Slavia, but what impressed me most was he kept going, even when it seemed he was a little off the pace, and got a goal that his perseverance deserved. And it's a handy knack, having a guy who will get goals even when he's not quite on the boil.
Now to the area I really wanted to speak about. The midfield. What's gone on here then, eh? EH???? What the devil are they thinking. Cheeky beggars.
Herein lies one of the real changes in our fortunes this season. These guys, having been lambasted last season, for being shot-shy and oft-reminded by posters how they should be contributing more, have really got off to a bang. Cesc is the main protagonist of the goal surge from midfield, but so far, Tommy has got three this season, and the same total for Alex Hleb. Diaby have broken his duck already this season, so has Denilson. There's goals in them thar boots, and who'd bet against more coming from these boys? I wouldn't.
And that's without Flamini or Gilberto having scored yet. Gibber, of course, hasn't played hardly, yet - he weighed in with a fair old few last time out, and the Flamster has showed he's got a knack for popping up and pinging a goal in (though his role is probably the slightly more defensive foil allowing Cesc to get forward more, attacking and scoring goals himself.
Talk at the start of the season was of Cesc, Rosicky and Hleb all having a bet about who'd score the most goals. Well it seems to have served as some encouragement to them all. There was also an interesting point in a very good interview with Kolo Toure that I read yesterday (from soccernet), where Toure recounted a story about Cesc:
I remember a story, when we were at the 'Player of the Year' awards ceremony. During the introduction of the players they were showing the goals of Ronaldo, Drogba and Rooney. Cesc ended up third or fourth, I can't exactly remember. But I said to him: 'It's because you didn't score goals'. Now he is proving he can do it. That's what has changed in his game. He is more mature and takes more initiative, he tries harder and is even lucky, like against Tottenham, but it's because he provoked it.
And of course, it's not just about goals (though that's what I was writing this article about). The team seems to have rediscovered that rapier-like counter-attacking quality (a subject i wrote about recently), and it is nice to see Hleb at the heart of this, and finally getting the credit he merits. It's a shame that some people cannot always see the full offering a player makes to a team, even be it without goals or looking like a C Ronaldo clone. Each team is built differently, and requires different things from it's players.
Of course, the defence contribute goals too, and of the whole team, there is one player who is more popular than any at the club, who the fans identify with in terms of the sheer effort and bloody-mindedness he gives, the brick wall running, the jumping, saving unsaveable situations. And when he scores a goal, it gets greeted with a roar of approval given to no other. Kolo Toure. And his goal last weekend, well, who can say they weren't pleased to see the Ivorian grab it? I love it when Kolo bags one, there's such an infectiousness about his play. He's always in with a shout. Billy too (when he's fit) can bag the odd goal or three, as can Senderos (again, when fit). Personally, i can't wait to see Clichy net one, that will prove a popular goal, as will Sagna.
All these options, we've always known they were there, but now they are being realised as opposed to theorised. And given all these extra options of goals, and not just in scorers, but in the type of goals - ugly, long range, the-hot-knife-though-butter goals we know and love of Arsenal, an RvP thunderbolt. Headers from set pieces. We're getting them all.
And this spreads fear and uncertainty in the minds of opposing defenders. I championed this a while back - us needing three different routes to goal, as the fact that if a team doesn't know what way you are going to come at them, then they cannot legislate for one style of play to attempt to stop. And that was our problem the last couple of seasons. Perceived as a bit soft, we continually tried for the beautiful goals all the time, we'd get elbowed out of the way and it wouldn't come off. Now, we've got more muscle, and bit of spite to our game - the kick-us-we-will-kick-you-back side (witness Cesc on Repka, Sagna on Huddlestone, Flamini on Mark Noble). As i said in that article in the past, scoring the ugly goals, the more direct goals, conversely allows you to get more of the goals you really enjoy getting, as previously mentioned, teams cannot just set up against you with one style in mind. And this is how it seems to be panning out.
I've talked about a lot of the goalscorers in this article, but there's one who ii haven't mentioned yet, and I feel he could be the most potent of the lot. Eduardo Da Silva. He's not figured much, as Arsene slowly integrates him to English football. But i feel that, when he finds his feet, he could be the most potent and the most lethal of the lot.
Have a good weekend, one and all, and COME ON YOU GOOOOOOOONERS tomorrow at Anfield...