Of Chocolate Legs and Chocolate Heads

Images taken from The Offside and The Telegraph

Wilkommen, Bienvenue and Welcome to another Friday Roundup on The Modern Gooner. We've seen an upswing in fortune in the past week: after disappointment via a draw and a loss in the FA and Carling Cups, respectively, Arsenal have bounced back in convincing fashion in consecutive away matches. I for one am still amazed at the consistent inconsistency of our performances this season, yet I'm not one to dwell on the negative when everything's been looking up, and if nothing else, it's been a good week to be an Arsenal supporter.

Arsene fielded a strong first XI on Saturday for the trip to Upton Park. There was little to criticize in the squad selection as we had our strongest side available and saw Samir Nasri, Cesc, RVP and Theo return to the fray. Happily, his counterpart Avram "Dead Man Walking! We Got a Dead Man Walkin' Heah!" Grant had much slimmer pickings in selecting his own team, especially given the injury absence of midfield playmaker Scott Parker. Considering their bottom-of-the-table status, I would submit that the dearth of impact players at West Ham has been a rather consistent issue for Grant. Still, having just seen our side lose to a side near the bottom of the NPower Championship, we all knew better than that Arsenal needed merely to turn up to secure a win. We needed a strong performance all around.

That is indeed what we got. The scoring was opened in the 13th minute when Theo's low cross was geniusly dummied by Nasri and slotted home coolly by van Persie, his first goal of the season not from a set piece, and a very welcome goal as well. West Ham, already on the back foot, saw their players' heads drop after that, seeming about as hopeful as Grant was that he'd still be employed on Valentines Day. The Arsenal lead was doubled a few minutes before halftime when Van Persie latched onto a chipped pass into the box and slid the ball across to the right fromt he end line. The newly-loaned Wayne Bridge politely let Theo Walcott step around him and hammer the ball into the roof of the net. Another trip to Upton Park, another 2-goal Arsenal advantage at the break. West Ham never seemed to have the fight to claw even one goal back, so this was a rare occasion for Arsenal fans: holding a lead at halftime and NOT being terrifyed of giving it away.

The Gunners remained firmly in control through the second half, yet the away fans would not see another goal until, after 75 minutes had gone, Theo Walcott was brought down in the box by the hapless Bridge (no dive this time). Penalty-taker-extraordinaire Robin van Persie stepped up and struck the ball past the correctly guessing Robert Green. Indeed, if not for another fine performance from Green (who really seems amazing against everyone but Americans--think about it, Arsene), we could have scored several more goals than we did. But three we scored and required no more to topple a lifeless Hammers team on their own ground. There were a couple of hiccups at the back, but apart from one occasion on which Szczesny made himself big to foil Carlton Cole (after Djourou's weak back pass was intercepted), the Pole wasn't much troubled. 3-0 the final and well-deserved.

We hoped obviously to take that momentum to Leeds for the FA Cup 3rd Round replay at Elland Road, and Arsene did not rotate quite so heavily this time. Nasri started in midfield and had the captain's armband as Cesc started on the bench, Song returned and Denilson replaced Wilshere; the forward line of Arshavin, Chamakh and Bendtner was in place, Kos and JD paired at the back (not that we had a choice), while fullbacks Sagna and Gibbs returned from suspension and injury, respectively.

Arsenal needed to start quickly, and they didn't disappoint. After five minutes, Nasri took Arshavin's pass and, dancing into the box, calmly finished past Schmeichel the Younger for the Arsenal advantage. The 2nd generation 'keeper saved a decent header from Chamakh a few minutes later and stopped an Arshavin stinger before Bacary Sagna doubled our tally with his second goal of the campaign (and 3rd for Arsenal), driving into the right side of the box and firing a ball that glanced off of Schmeichel on its way to the top corner of the net. Confidence was as high as our possession statistics, but Leeds was far from done fighting. A bit of a scrambled clearance fell to Leeds outside the Arsenal area, but Bradley Johnson was untroubled by the 30-yard distance and unleashed a cracker of strike. Wojciech Szczesny could make himself as big as Bane and wasn't going to stop that rocket into the top-right corner. We could have fielded two keepers and Johnson still would have scored. Leeds then seemed to have the better of things for the remaining few minutes before the break.

At the restart, Leeds came out with a clear game plan: press Arsenal high up the pitch; they executed this quite well I thought. There were a few dodgy moments, but on the whole I thought the boys dealt well with the pressure and maintained composure. There were no scores despite a few decent chances on both sides, and while Leeds seemed to begin flagging a bit physically from such hard work, Arsenal were able to soldier on; it didn't hurt that we were able to call on Cesc and Robin van Persie from the bench either. That duo made an immediate impact, and it wasn't long before we widened the gap. Cesc played Bendtner into an ocean of space on the right, and the Dane put a simply mouth-watering cross into the box for the leaping Van Persie to guide in with his dome-piece. Man of the Match Nasri was soon taken off to a chorus of his now-famous song from the always excellent Arsenal travelling support for Gael Clichy, and at 3-1 up, we seemed content to hold the ball and kill off the match; which is exactly what happened.

All credit to Leeds United for playing a hard-fought match for 90 minutes without being dirty or dangerous; as the always excellent Goonerholic put it, it was "a lesson to some of the neanderthal managers in the Premiership that football can be played at that pace and intensity without leg-breaking challenges, and without two-footed lunges." Amen, 'Holic, and indeed should they be promoted to the Premiership next season, I would welcome Simon Grayson's charges despite all history of Dirty Leeds. Credit also to the much-maligned Andrei Arshavin and Nicklas Bendtner, who both put in solid shifts and worked hard. Neither is back at their best yet, but this was a good sign that they're both on the upswing, particularly Bendtner. In spite of being played slightly out of position on the right wing, he worked his socks off, provided Sagna with a bit of cover (as did AA23 for Gibbs), and was overall very positive. Arsenal advance now to a home cup tie with League One Huddersfield Town; Join me, won't you, in hoping that Arsenal won't be overconfident and will put in a fighting performance.

We also learned this week that Thomas Vermaelen would undergo his magical Achilles tendon, which turns a few days into four months. We'll all of course wish him a speedy and full recovery, although it may take a good bit of time. If you haven't seen this blog yet, The Physio's Opinion, it's a brilliant site and a very useful one. I've linked his post about Vermaelen, but the guy seems to have very knowledgeable opinions on all ranges of injuries. As an Arsenal fan, I just wish he'd been writing this for far longer!

Saturday we host Wigan; after the disappointing away draw in Lancashire a few weeks back, we'll certainly hope for a measure of revenge at Ashburton Grove. We're on a good run of form, but we will require greater effort this time to take all three points a press our case for the league. Rotation will of course need to happen, and while we may moan if Nasri starts on the bench, I would hope that Song is rested enough to have another go; for me, his performances at West Ham and Leeds were the keys to both matches. He's concentrating more on being that holding midfielder than being the "rogue striker" that our friends at Hipster Gooner are fond of calling him. He's embracing the Gilberto role, and long may it continue.

Finally, we bid a brief farewell to Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, who will head to Cardiff City on loan, and to Brazilian wunderkind Wellington Silva, who will spend loan time at Levante as we wait for his passport issues to be sorted. Arsenal 360 compared Wellington's situation to that of Carlos Vela, who needed to go to Spain on loan before he was able to join Arsenal; let's hope he doesn't pick up Vela's poor attitude and love for nightclubs there. In any event, good luck to them both, and hopefully we'll seem them in red & white soon enough.

We're alive in all competitions and making our case for each. Dennis-willing, we'll put away Wigan and rip apart the Ipswich team bus, which will presumably be parked in front of their goal at the Grove. Let's keep it going, and keep it Goonerish.