It was not an easy victory for the Gunners. They went behind in the 37th minute to an Antonio Di Natale header, and even having equalised through Robin van Persie needed Wojciech Szczesny to make a critical penalty save, which Arsene Wenger later highlighted as the turning point. Theo Walcott was able score a winner 20 minutes from time ensuring Arsenal’s qualification.
Despite the result some of Arsenal’s traditional flaws were also on display at the back. There was often too large a gap between the two centre-backs, and Di Natale was able to exploit this with clever movement that left Johan Djourou in particular looking lost, while Thomas Vermaelen, who overall looked strong, gave away a penalty with a careless handball.
That said, there were positives, the young goalkeeper being a big one, as was the nature of their fight back in the second-half, especially considering Arsenal teams of late have often criticised for not having much in the way the grit and fortitude. Additionally Arsenal’s passing had improved greatly from to their first two Premier League fixtures, and was a lot more penetrative.
The victory and qualification are a big boost for a club that has struggled through the off season and the first two weeks of the campaign. The losses of star players Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri have destabilised the squad, and made the recent injuries and suspensions all the more damaging as the squad is small and currently in flux. Many writers have been critical that the transfers of both players have been so protracted, as the loss of the duo has seemed inevitable for some time.
Something of note in the wake of the Nasri deal being finalised is Wenger’s usual stubbornness to not overspend on players in the transfer market seems to have abated – there has allegedly been a bid of £22m for the Rennes midfielder Yann M’Vila. In addition sources are reporting that Arsenal are ready to reignite their interest in Everton’s Phil Jagielka and Bolton Wanderers’ Gary Cahill to reinforce their back four, although a derisory opening offer for Cahill has antagonised the decision makers at the Reebok Stadium. A bid for Eden Hazard is possible, however, to provide additional creativity in the wake of losing Fabregas and Nasri.
Further moves are also expected to strength the frontline as van Persie cannot be counted on to play a full season, and the likes are Nicklas Bendtner and Marouane Chamakh are yet to prove their quality.
Wenger and Arsenal will hope that Wednesday evening’s result will be a turning point for the side. Wenger fully expects a busy finish to the transfer window and his squad may be reinforced with a couple of big signings, which will at least get the media and some fans off his back in the short term. Nonetheless, the Gunners face a big test this weekend as they are set to play Manchester United at Old Trafford – a poor result coupled with a poor performance may yet see the gloom return.