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.

Dortmund 1 – 1 Arsenal – Take it, take it.

Highlights.

I nearly called today’s post ‘A Tale of Two Ties’, as the fact that Barcelona drew in Europe is not one to be hidden down the back of the FIFA score drawer.

While we led the German champions until two minutes form the end of our tie, the Spanish champs went behind, went ahead, and then drew with the Italian champs, conceding one goal from open play (when Pato brushed past Barca’s high line), and a second from a set piece. Barcelona were held at home by champions. Arsenal were held away…by champions. Arsenal are not champions.

Looking at things from that perspective, anyone who thought we could go to the BVB Stadium and bring back three points must have realised they were a touch optimistic. That we nearly did was a superb achievement, the result of some resolute defending, a work ethic that – in the main – was shared by the whole team, but is also testament to a stunning effort from Ivan Perisic that Szczesny had little hope of seeing, let alone stopping.

So we’ll take that, won’t we? On paper, that’s the hardest away tie for us in the group, and that we went ahead and then nearly achieved our first clean sheet in Europe for three years speaks to the attitude of the players playing for us. Speaking of which, what an absolute professional and genuine worker Benayoun is proving to be. The Israeli captain hasn’t looked his 31 years so far, and of the last two games he told the club site:

We beat Swansea the other day and to take a point in the Champions League will build the confidence. There is a lot of quality in this team and I’m sure we will show it from game to game.

Absolutely bang on the money. On Saturday a win was a win, and last night the point was a fine result. That Benayoun – one of the players the less experienced should be turning to  – has his head screwed off the pitch and is putting in shifts on it can only be bonus to the team this season. On being at Arsenal he’s said.

It’s lovely to play for a big club like Arsenal and it’s a big challenge for me. I was happy that I have the chance to play and hopefully, with every chance I get, I will justify myself.

Well, no complaints here Yossi. I felt the boss would choose him ahead of Frimpong to add a bit of experience and attacking nous to the Germans’ equations, and that proved to be how it played out. He may not have had the best attacking game of his life, but there was a moment in the second half where he summed it all up for me: Battling one Dortmund player, and pressured to the ground as another engaged him (while unaware of winning a free kick) he made the effort kick the ball into space for another Arsenal player to take. Such commitment is welcome, and a great example to set.

Also mainly positive are the stats from last night’s game. Arteta had an 86% pass completion rate, continuing in his Swansea vein,  and the team as a whole won 58% of aerial battles. Arteta himself spilled blood for the cause, with a pressure relieving header he needed to win. Dortmund aren’t particularly threatening in the air as far as I know, but with most of or headers won by Mertesacker and/or Koscielny, that bodes well.

Dortmund had six corners and I don’t think we were really troubled with any of those first deliveries in…which is a start. From open play the odd occasion where we were undone, either good tracking back, solid defending or top goalkeeping paid off, and although I’m concentrating on our defence here, there were sparks of promise from the forward play, and RVP’s finish was superb.

But our defence being so resilient after going ahead is the story for me. We nearly defended a one goal lead for about 55 minutes (including stoppage time), and we can be mighty proud of the team for that.

There should be easier ties in Europe this season, and we should improve.

Well done the lads. Keep up the effort.