Saturday 17 February 2018

Artful Arteta taking centre stage for Gunners

Arsenal 3 West Brom 0

Jonathan Liew

The crisis that engulfed Arsenal in the wake of their poor start and seismic defeat at Old Trafford was not the product of imagination or hyperbole, but a real and serious test of the club's virility.

"One month ago we played here against Swansea and had absolutely to win, or you would have had a complete disaster," Arsene Wenger admitted.

"One month ago, the questions we had to answer were: 'Do you face a relegation battle or not?' That makes the game more difficult. It's more enjoyable now."

Stutteringly at first, and then more assuredly, the lights are coming back on at the Emirates. At the front, Robin van Persie has seemed at times to be winning games for Arsenal on his own.

At the back, Thomas Vermaelen is finding his way back to fitness, Carl Jenkinson is showing considerable promise and Laurent Koscielny is in the best form of his life.

But it is in the middle where Arsenal are finally beginning to assert themselves in a way they have struggled to do since the departure of Cesc Fabregas and the injury to Jack Wilshere. Saturday's win was Mikel Arteta's best performance in an Arsenal shirt. Since moving from Everton at the end of August he had turned in several decent performances without ever really grabbing a game by the lapels. This was that game.

"He's really important," Wenger said. "When we need to keep the ball, he can do that. Jack can do that as well, but with Jack missing he is really a player who allows you to keep the ball when it is needed."

More than that, Arteta is finally beginning to express himself in the final third. His goal on Saturday was a classic Arsenal strike -- Van Persie laying the ball off for Arteta to curl home from the edge of the area after a sharp, attractive passing move.

"It's important I help the team in an attacking way a bit more," he said. "We've been working on being more solid but I like to get forward and score goals. I want to participate more on the attacking side so I'm pleased."

"He's adapting to our game," Wenger added. "If you look at the stats, Arsenal are the team who play the fewest balls backwards."

All three goals were the result of irresistible forward pressure, the kind Arsenal used to produce at will. First Van Persie tucked in Theo Walcott's rebounded shot after Walcott had latched on to Aaron Ramsey's perfect through ball. "It's very difficult to play (Van Persie) at the moment," said Albion defender Jonas Olsson. "That's how it is when you are in great shape, you tend to be in the right place at the right time." Next Van Persie turned creator for Vermaelen with a cut-back.

As Arsenal struggled to kill off the game, though, Wenger worried. "I'm always a little concerned that the ghosts we had to fight one month ago will come back," he said. "We are not yet on a completely different planet.

"In the past, when we had a very young side and it was going well, sometimes we continued to play like the result was not important, and suddenly it was 2-1. Now we have more experience, more maturity. When we needed to slow the pace down, we did." (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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