The Benefit Of Older Heads

The glorious thing about last night’s 2-1 win over Villa is that Benayoun proved what some of us have thought for some time. Experience can deliver. After the Man City game, Yossi tweeted:

Very disappointing result today and also not to play at all but I’m sure better days will come soon..have a nice evening everyone

Now the thing about Yossi, the thing I’ve always admired about him (even in the Chelsea kit), and the thing I looked forward to when he joined us is his genuine desire to play well and help his team. He’s one of the most experienced players in this Arsenal squad, he’s a national captain, and he’s a bit of a player.

But he genuinely works, and keeps on working. He replaced a disappointing Aaron Ramsey, scored to grab the three points, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be giving Wenger something to think about in terms of team selection. “Should Benayoun start?” was the question on the lips of a few. Perhaps, Ramsey’s off days have been rare considering the amount of games he’s played this season, and after all he is still 21. He won’t play a blinder every game, his consistency is improving, and he’d surely be the first to admit his game last night was below par. But there might be a case.

Frimpong too played indifferently. As much as I love the young Ghanaian, he looked slow on the ball an somewhat indecisive. But again he’s 19. We shouldn’t expect too much of him, and while some people might think that the quality of Jack Wilshere at such a young age is something we should be getting used to from Arsenal’s youngsters, they’d be very wrong. Wilshere’s a standout talent – we’re talking “top, top quality” at a young age. Not quite world class just yet, but if he stays on course then he might just be.

Frimpong was replaced by Tomas Rosicky, who had an immediate impact in playing direct passes forward and between Villa players. The Czech captain looked alert and full of energy, at one point losing the ball and then sprinting back after his man and performing a quality sliding tackle to regain possession.

It had me thinking that it’s players like this we need to bring off the bench, but usually it would be the young upstarts replacing the experience, and eager to impress. Perhaps we’ve got it a bit back to front at Arsenal, but if that’s the case last night should have Arsene wondering if he needs to reverse the trend.

Of course if everyone is fit and firing it’s a tough question of who starts. Song would have played against Villa were it not for suspension, and we can think on  Wilshere challenging Ramsey, Rosicky and Benayoun in the near future, but at the moment Jack’s not available and the question of either Rosicky or Benayoun getting a run over the Welshman is something I think needs consideration.

Rather haphazardly, this talk of experience brings me to AA23, Shava, Sharky, Mr Arshavin. A player I rate very highly but a player who doesn’t look the £15m Russian dynamo it seemed we’d acquired. He actually won the corner from which Benayoun scored the winner, but he wasn’t brought to Arsenal to win corners. Although if he only did that and we always scored from them then I’d crown him a football wizard and have nothing to say.

Alas, I do. Perhaps it’s unfair of us to expect Arshavin to track back 40 yards and to win tackles, but he’s surely in the squad to provide drive and guile going forward. Composure on the ball, a bit of creativity, some assured play (he is, after all, another national captain). But he’s doing very little of that currently.

I’m right behind him like I am with any Arsenal player every time he takes to the field, but when his first touch is a mis-control and he then plays a blind pass straight to an opposition player it’s hard to be encouraged. When he does that regularly, even more so.

There’s talk that he might be off in January, but I can’t see it. What I can see is that he needs some of whatever is in Benayoun and Rosicky’s pre-game meals, and perhaps a little bit of support and encouragement from thefans as much as his teammates. I can also see that we’ve a decent amount of competition in midfield. Last night proved that, and Arshavin should be a bigger part of it. Well, hopefully Rosicky and – perhaps, particularly – Benayoun should inspire him to be just that.

Arsenal United

Well that was rather nice, eh? I actually felt so bad yesterday morning (self-inflicted) that I very nearly didn’t get vertical to even attend. Working off of far too little sleep for the third consecutive night, I cursed my failure to wash my home shirt, donned my 2004 – 2005 away top and found myself at my seat in the North Bank armed with a Chicken Balti pie and a large Pepsi.

The game was much like those two items: Tasty, with a bit of spice, a rather long glug of refreshment and the desired outcome. Nervous faces surrounded me when we realised Cesc wasn’t available, but with a fresh Rambo to come into the fray I allowed myself a cautious optimism. The boy can play.

And didn’t he? I’ll refer you to my Carling Cup Final post regarding my belief that AR16 is the long term replacement for Cesc, and he certainly proved that yesterday. I don’t really want to talk about the summer just yet, but should “the thing that didn’t happen last summer” actually happen this, knowing Ramsey (along with Song and Wilshere) can perform like they did is a sizable slab of comfort.

Song was involved enough to find himself in the book (perhaps a bit harshly), but both Ramsey and Wilshere were as involved in all things in the centre of the park, and I absolutely love how they’re the first two to jump in here and try to sort out the situation. Not overly involved, just standing their ground and protecting a team-mate. That says it all.

The icing on the cake was Ramsey’s goal. He showed a presence and intelligent manner across the 90 minutes, and just before he slotted home the RVP assist, he nearly waltzed himself inside the United area, confusing three defenders in the process.

In truth, much of the team look assured throughout and, even when we lost Djourou and United had messers Nani, Valencia, Rooney, Berbatov and Owen on the pitch, our resolve was there for all to see. Unfortunately we’ve not had enough of that this season, and the win only provides the faintest whiff of hope that we can still win the title (William Hill has us at 100-1…). But it was the psychological victory that we needed.

I’ve mentioned how players need experience around them to help in tight spots, or they just need to mature themselves, and yesterday’s result is a huge step forward in regards to the latter. True it’s come too late in the season, but that it’s come at all is a massive benefit, putting the squad in a great position for next year when it’s – hopefully – supplemented with those quality, experienced players.

Finally, a brief note about Andrei Arshavin, because a lot of people – myself included – have been giving him stick this season. He put on a real display of determination and work rate yesterday, and for me he’s increased that side of his game hugely in the last couple of months. He’s not had the greatest season, but in going to the games you really notice work-rate regardless of goals and assists.

Although work rate, a goal and a victory together are always nice to enjoy. So I think we should.

P.S: The boos are for the officials.