At times I was rubbing my eyes, is this a repeat?
‘No PGL, it can’t be a repeat, Nasri is playing, what’s going on? Am I dreaming? Right, hold on, pinch your leg if it hurts your not dreaming… Ahhhhhhhhhh’
‘What wrong?’ says Mrs PGL, ‘I’m just in a bit of shock, Arsene has put Goonermobile in reverse and we’re playing last years formation, RVP is doing a Hleb and Denilson is sitting deep’.
So after two days of debate and AW telling us there was going to be changes the biggest change was we returned to a system that works and all of a sudden things we’re good again in the world.
Finally, Cesc Fabregas was cut loose. With Denilson playing a deeper role Cesc was free to roam and dictate the play. From the first minute he looked to play the type of penetrating pass we all know he’s capable of, the shackles were off and our Fab 4 finally looked Number 1 again. He drifted forward and back, picking up the ball deep when we needed a more measured ball out and ghosting forward to play the delicate and intricate passes that makes him such a force.
For me, Denilson gave his best showing in an Arsenal shirt. He’s a player that I have had issues with; not the player but more the pairing, but he had obviously been told to sit deeper and he did it with great effect. Sure, he didn’t put in crunching tackles or win a lot in the air but he was clever in his reading of the game and therefore closed up some of the holes that have left our back four exposed. He may be a more talented player than the DCM position will allow him to express but right now it’s what we need and he did it effectively. There may be hope for Cesc and Denilson yet (but don’t tell ArseneHollis I said that!)
From the off, Robin Van Persie looked on it. He was sitting far deeper than Saturday, picking up possession and linking up play. He actually gives us far far more than Hleb did in the role. He can unlock the defense with a moment of skill and his goal threat is 100 times that of the Belarusian. He also can trade places with Nasri and Ade in a way that bemused a Porto defense that is highly rated and experienced.
Ade had the freedom to roam and his movement looked far better though he missed a hat full. Theo was sparkling. Our back four may have started off a bit shaky but Denilson’s presence seemed to reassure them and our fullback looked far better storming forward without worrying about who was minding the ranch.
This was the Arsenal of last season. If Wengers plan had been to change the system, as was mooted here and elsewhere recently, he took a step backwards against the Portuguese.
You could argue that this was a reaction performance similar to those experienced post-Fulham, but I believe this was different. This was our side playing a style of football that suits the talents of it members. Cesc was back to his best and it was no coincidence, Denilson’s change of role allowed him return to his own natural game. RVP sitting deeper gave us another body around the middle for the opposition to play through. This was the Arsenal that beat Milan in the San Siro.
I know, I know… it’s one game, don’t get too excited PGL but for me this was a major break though for our season. It was AW admitting to himself the formation we had been playing was flawed and, even though the cast was more or less the same, the way we lined up was very different. In truth, it puts more pressure on Denilson’s shoulders, he will have to mutate into a dedicated DCM and learn to be more physical if he is to survive the more difficult tests ahead.
But we can be optimistic, in Song, we have a player who can sit beside Cesc and Denilson for added cover and this could be crucial against the very best midfields. Also Nasri showed he has the ability to lift some of the creative weight from Cesc’s shoulders… we have options.
Saturday’s lack of commitment was unforgivable but tonight the squad yelled out ‘Let the healing begin!’.
Over and out