Arsenal played the final home game in their Champions League group against Borussia Dortmund last night knowing that a win would qualify them for the knockout stages. If the result of the other game in the group between Marseille and Olympiacos went their way they could even have won the group too. As it turned out both Arsenal and Olympiacos won on the night, and Arsenal won the group with a game in hand.
It means that Arsenal will face a runner up from one of the other groups in the last 16, and they will play the second leg at home too. It won't be an easy task for Arsenal, but at least it gives them a good chance of making the quarter finals and earning some extra money too. I don't think the current Arsenal squad is good enough to win the Champions League, but a trip to the semi-finals isn't beyond them.
Both Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere should be back from injury by that stage, and possibly a new player or two might arrive in January too. Arsenal still have one game left in their group when they travel to Olympiacos in two weeks, but I would imagine Arsene Wenger will play a very different team in that game. The game might not have much meaning for Arsenal, but Olympiacos will need a result to qualify for the last 16 or the Europa League.
On the night Wenger picked the same team that started against Norwich last Saturday, and it's undoubtedly his strongest available team at the moment. Arsenal's next game is at home to Fulham on Saturday evening, and the chances are Wenger will make a few changes for that game. I would like to see Arsenal play their strongest available team in that game too, as the midweek game after that is against Manchester City in the Carling Cup.
The current first choice players will get the night off against City I would imagine, and against Olympiacos too. That should give them plenty of recovery time between games and hopefully help them to continue their current excellent run in the Premier League. The five wins in a row they have achieved have put them right back in the picture for a top four finish, and the Premier League has to be the first priority.
In the game itself Robin Van Persie showed again why is the best player in the Premier League at the moment. His two goals were those of an old fashioned centre forward, but he is anything but one. He drops short to get involved in the play, and he also drifts wide to both sides of the pitch when he feels like it.
He must be a real pain for defenders to mark, and his ability to find space in the opposing penalty area is quite exceptional. His header for his first goal last night was absolutely fantastic, as he hung in the air before getting great power behind the header to beat the keeper. His finish for the second goal was easy, but he had the intelligence to be in the right place at the right time.
Alex Song also had an excellent game, and his run and cross for the first goal was quite magnificent for a player who is more noted for his defensive duties. He held a very tight line in front of the Arsenal defence too, as they rarely looked threatened in the second half in particular.
The second goal came when Thomas Vermaelen headed on a Mikael Arteta corner to give RVP the task of stroking it home, and Vermaelen's ability to make things happen in the opponents penalty area has been missed for most of the last year. His influence on the rest of the defence is becoming more evident with each game since his return from injury.
I was still highly unimpressed by the defensive positioning of Andre Santos at times, as he often looked like he was playing in midfield instead of defence. Both Song and Arteta did a good job of covering for him, but a better team might have exposed his deficiencies more. I know it takes time to get used to the Premier League and the way English football is played, but last night's game was a European one.
While Kieran Gibbs is injured Santos is the only option at left back, but even when he returns his defensive qualities are less than impressive. I would like to see Arsenal sign a left back in the January transfer window who has mastered the art of defending. It can't be too much to ask for, but I just can't see it happening.
With Arsenal already qualified for the knockout stages it should be great to see the other three English teams fight for their place in the last 16. As it stands Manchester City look likely to end up in the Europa League despite their supposed position as the champions elect in the Premier League. Both Chelsea and Manchester United are probably still favourites to progress, but things could get a bit edgy for them and their fans in the last round of games.
Arsenal seem to have come so far from the team that lost 8-2 to United, and if their progress continues the teams above them will gradually fall by the wayside. I expect them to overtake Newcastle very soon and both Liverpool and Chelsea look like they are vulnerable too. After that the fall of Spurs cannot be far off, and United look like they might just have been found out too.
I may be painting a very rosy picture of what the rest of the season holds for Arsenal, but it's impossible not to feel good with how the team are doing at the moment. Hopefully a victory over Fulham will increase that feeling even more, but I suspect the second string will have their work cut out against City a few days later.
I'm traveling over to see Arsenal play Everton on December 10th, and it would be great to see the team going into that game on the back of seven straight Premier League wins. That game is designated for the celebrations of the club's 125th anniversary of it's formation, and it should be a great day.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's match.
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