Not for the first time this season, the Arsenal manager stressed the importance of scoring the first goal in terms of dictating the pattern of the match, and his side could hardly have wished for a better start. Samir Nasri’s first FA Cup goal stunned the Elland Road faithful, helping to nullify the early influence of the raucous partisan crowd, and only when Bradley Johnson’s searing strike pulled it back to 2-1 did the home support again generate the intimidating atmosphere expected of a trip to Leeds. As it was, Nasri’s strike set the tone as the Gunners progressed to a 3-1 victory.
After a scintillating start to the campaign, the Frenchman’s fine form had tailed off prior to Wednesday’s match; although this is admittedly only by comparison to the lofty targets he set himself. It may simply be that form is momentary, but there is compelling evidence that he produces his best when deployed as a central playmaker, a theory only reinforced by the midweek showing. When displaying his best form of the campaign, Nasri has generally been deployed centrally, but has particularly shone when Cesc Fabregas has been absent through injury. His most notable performance of the campaign so far came against Fulham as he bagged a brace in a 2-1 victory, with both goals perfectly encapsulating his poise, touch and vision. He also netted twice in a home defeat to West Bromwich Albion, with Fabregas’ absence the common denominator.
In that sense, Wenger faces a dilemma in getting the best from his two most creative players, with both appearing to prefer dictating from the middle. Fabregas’ overall creativity and proficiency in providing opportunities for others outweighs Nasri’s virtuoso contributions as a traditional playmaker and the Frenchman appears set to return to the left flank, displacing a player posing an entirely different conundrum for the manager.
Andrey Arshavin continues to struggle through a lack of form, with his once infamous finger to the lips celebration rapidly evolving into a ready-made riposte to silence his critics when he eventually does return to form. The diminutive Russian was widely hailed for his ability to produce something from nothing, but has consistently produced exactly the opposite so far this term. Wednesday signalled another disappointing showing from the No. 23, but did offer some signs of encouragement as an increased work rate brought him closer to breaking the barren spell. This appears the only solution for a confidence player so desperately lacking his key commodity, and continued effort in a similar vein to that shown against Leeds will surely see the enigmatic winger turn his fortunes around, and firmly re-establish himself as a fans’ favourite.