Swagger returns as well-oiled machine nears boiling point

ACCORDING to reports that suggested Robin Van Persie should’ve received a red card and that William Gallas could’ve given away a penalty, some might think we were fortunate to come away from Saturday’s outing with all three points. However, from my perspective, behind the goal at Charlton, it was nothing short of a 2-1 slaughter.

Such was our dominance during the opening salvoes that we hardly had a chance to warm up our seats. We threatened to score with almost every attack and it was appropriate on Arsène’s anniversary that we were being entertained by a well-oiled machine, moving the ball around with the sort of one-touch, rapid fire precision passing which left the home side chasing shadows.

However, having failed to capitalise on this period of dominance, I turned to my pal to predict that sod’s law would dictate that Charlton were bound to score with a solitary attack and before we knew it, they’d done just that.

Poor Justin Hoyte has never really had an opportunity to prove himself in his natural position at right-back, but playing on the left the youngster is without doubt our ‘weakest link’.

No one looked more surprised than Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink at the ease with which he ghosted past Hoyte. It was obvious from his glance up at the lino that he half expected to be flagged offside. But unlike our defence, which was culpable of failing to play to the whistle, Hasselbaink didn’t hesitate, as he raced on to put the ball on a plate for Darren Bent to slot home.

In the past I would’ve been pretty pessimistic about the uphill task of breaking down a home side which, having taken the lead, was likely to get all 11 men behind the ball. But the Arsenal of recent weeks is an entirely different proposition; we’ve witnessed a return of the swagger which was sorely lacking at the start of the season.

Obviously the win at Old Trafford was significant, but I don’t think you can over-estimate the impact of the arrival of Gallas. There’s a sense of solidity about the Arsenal now, that’s relieved others of some of their defensive responsibilities, allowing them to play their natural game.

Perhaps Cesc Fabregas started the season somewhat jaded from the World Cup; in musical terms, he had the look of a performer who might struggle with that awkward second album. Now Cesc looks capable of dictating the play in any company. Against Charlton, Fab was the hub around which everything revolved.

From the moment we appeared for the second half, I was convinced there was only going to be one winner. In fact it should’ve been Van Persie going home with the match ball. Having scored a contender for goal of the season, Robin fluffed a chance from two yards out. Our Dutch striker has proved he’s capable of scoring incredible goals, but he needs to demonstrate an ability to take some responsibility from Thierry Henry’s shoulders by delivering not just quality, but quantity.

Titi managed to take our breath away on a couple of occasions, leaving defenders for dead. However, many of his more flamboyant touches failed to find the mark. Heaven help defences when Henry does hit a purple patch, but in the meantime the likes of Hleb, Rosicky and Ljungberg are taking up the slack as the Arsenal come nicely to the boil.

Thankfully Lehmann pulled off a stunning reaction save at the death, thereby preventing me from returning north of the river cursing our profligacy in front of goal.

With the Addicks still chasing an equaliser, they struggled in vain for a touch as the Arsenal indulged in a consummate symphony of keep ball which epitomised the style and verve of Wenger-ball. I was whistling “Aye, yay, yippee” as I walked back to the car but the chant I had in mind was “Have you ever seen Chelsea play like this?”


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