Arsenal were in electrifying form against Blackpool as the sun illuminated the Emirates turf for the first home game of the season. Impressive as the victory was, Arsenal’s ability to make hay in the sunshine is well documented. It will be their ability to grind out results in adverse conditions that determines the height of their aspirations.
The draw with Liverpool proved a rather divisive issue amongst Arsenal fans, with fierce debate as to whether a point represented a good return given their domination and numerical advantage. By contrast, the comprehensive 6-0 mauling of Blackpool represented a far more efficient use of the extra man, with the result gaining widespread approval and firing the Gunners to top spot on Saturday afternoon. Whilst the result was important, the margin of victory should not be taken as a portent to a glorious campaign, just as the inability to break down Liverpool last week should not be viewed as a damning indictment of their capabilities. In a remarkable weekend, Arsenal were only one of three teams to hit six, with Newcastle and Chelsea also winning by the same scoreline; and it is the latter’s early season form that made the victory all the more important.
Generating a result in the first home game of the season was always going to be important, but already there is a feeling that the Gunners need to keep pace with the leaders. In that respect, they gained a vital three points, taking them to within two of the summit by close of play on Saturday. Arsenal have been hit harder than most by the fallout from the World Cup, with their two most influential players involved all the way to the final. It has widely been acknowledged that a strong indication of a team’s capability will only be possible once the World Cup participants have returned to action and, crucially, fitness. Whilst other Dutch and Spanish players have already returned to Premiership duty, the injuries affecting Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas prior to the tournament justifies the manager’s continuing caution regarding their re-introduction. Wenger stayed true to his word that he would introduce van Persie and Fabregas to the fold gradually, with the pair featuring for just under half an hour and although the manager would dearly love to have his creative sparks firing on all cylinders, keeping them injury free and keeping pace with the leaders is sufficient for now.
Arsenal were able to keep pace with the leaders thanks to Theo Walcott increasing the voltage with his blistering turn of speed. Whilst Wenger’s hand has been forced in relation to his World Cup finalists, the inclusion of Theo Walcott was an inspired selection. The manager picked the more defensively solid Eboue for the trip to Anfield, but Walcott’s inclusion signalled the intent to attack at home. Le Professuer was delighted with his performance, identifying: “He is more electric than he has been… He was sharp. I like the way he mixed the final ball and his finishing. He plays at a very high pace and it isn’t easy to make the right decison. But he got many decisions in the final third right.”
The final issue has been a facet of the player’s game that has drawn criticism in certain areas, with Chris Waddle, and most recently Alan Hansen, castigating his decision making. Wenger attributed the player’s form to his omission from Fabio Capello’s England squad: “He looks better for the break… He’s had good preparation for the first time in a long, long time.” Theo’s selection in the 2006 World Cup squad often skews the perception of his development and it is easy to forget that he is still only 21, a sentiment echoed by his manager: “We forget that, because he has been on the circuit for three or four years, he is only a young boy.” The summer break has given the winger a chance to recuperate from an injury-plagued campaign and the sting of missing the World Cup may prove to be the catalyst that turns potential into performances.
William Gallas, on the other hand, is likely to cause sparks of an entirely different nature having made the journey along the Seven Sisters Road to don the white of Tottenham Hotspur. The signing will inevitably stir up emotions in the red half of north London, but is unlikely to have the same impact as Sol Campbell’s acrimonious departure. Gallas does not have the strong ties to Arsenal that Campbell had to Spurs, and the Frenchman was deemed surplus to requirements at the Emirates. Yet, despite these mitigating factors, Gallas is likely to receive a torrent of ill feeling upon his return, with fans underlining 21 November in their diaries.