Club Focus – Arsenal – Standard performance

“What is important is that if you want to be petty in life you look at what others do. If you want to be big in life you look at your own performance.” The midweek result was exactly what the professor ordered as Arsenal cruised to victory, putting the weekend defeat firmly behind them. The Gunners sealed their place in the last 16 of the Champions League for the 10th successive season after a 2-0 victory over Standard Liege – a result indicative of the consummate ease with which they won the group.

The urgency, vibrancy and pressure displayed in the first 25 minutes demonstrated their desire to put the Sunderland result behind them. Arsenal were always unlikely to underestimate their opponents after Liege had taken a shock 2-0 lead in the away fixture, and the professionalism shown was duly rewarded. Tuesday night wasn’t all plain sailing however, as Liege threatened on occasions and were unlucky not to be awarded a penalty after William Gallas tripped Reginal Goreux. Gallas was groggy after clashing heads with Andrei Arshavin, which left Arsenal with nine men temporarily. Both returned to play and should not miss Sunday’s clash with Chelsea. Kieran Gibbs however, will not feature after he broke the first metatarsal in his left foot – an injury that will keep him out for three months. This could deal a blow to his World Cup hopes as he is likely to be out until late February, by which time Gael Clichy is likely to have returned.

“For goodness sake, the World Cup is in June. Is he on holiday until June 9? You cannot be serious?” was the response as Wenger lost his cool when the assembled media pressed him on the likelihood of Theo Walcott making the trip to South Africa. Therefore Gibbs’ World Cup aspirations are unlikely to be of any concern to Wenger who now has a selection dilemma at left-back ahead of Sunday’s match. Having somewhat regained his composure he went on to rightly identify that Walcott’s Arsenal performances will make or break any chance he has of making the trip: “Listen, a guy who has a poor season has a poor World Cup. It is as mathematical as that… I don’t have to tell him that, he knows that…” Walcott made a cameo appearance on Tuesday and his pace down the right provided a constant threat to Liege. Arsenal will hope that Theo can carry this threat into Sunday’s match as he may be key to pegging back Ashley Cole’s attacking instincts.

At 5ft 10in Carlos Vela doesn’t have the presence of Robin van Persie, but his pace and mobility offer something different as the central striker. The manager stated the Mexican was the reason no replacement was signed after Emmanuel Adebayor’s departure this summer. His displays in the Carling Cup over the previous 18 months have shown he has an eye for goal and he has gone some way towards justifying the manager’s faith. Although he has seen his opportunities limited so far this season due to a combination of knee and ankle injuries, Vela offers a welcome option in the continued absence of van Persie.

Worth a mention as one of the most consistent performers this term is Alex Song as the Cameroonian has made the defensive midfield berth his own with his combative play and work-rate. Aside from these facets of his game, he brings an added security as he is comfortable in possession and regularly brings the ball out of defence. Although comparisons to Patrick Vieira have inevitably been made, Song is less direct and physically imposing, but is a better dribbler than the Frenchman. Post-Flamini Arsenal looked weak in central midfield, seemingly fettering Cesc Fabregas’ creative side and allowing sides adopting a physical approach to overpower the Gunners. During this difficult period Song kept the manager’s faith and he has been rewarded with a new contract as Wenger reiterates his faith in the youngster.

Song will be severely tested by Chelsea’s diamond formation on Sunday as the Blues often sacrifice width for central midfield dominance and similarly, his job will be to free up Fabregas to orchestrate the Arsenal attack. Past meetings between the sides show no real pattern with two wins, two draws and two losses in the last six, so it will be down to one mistake or one piece of brilliance to decide the encounter.

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