Wenger got it right on the night!
Last night, Arsene Wenger reminded everyone why he has led Arsenal to eight consecutive top two Premiership finishes and a record-smashing 49 match unbeaten league run. Sure some of his selections this season have been questionable but on the biggest stage in world football before a global audience he got it absolutely right. The watching audience saw the return of the real Wenger Arsenal.
The Bernabeu has a massive playing surface that suits a 4-5-1 because it gives the midfield players room to breathe and express themselves. And with Gilberto at the anchor, the rest of Arsenal's midfield plus Henry played the attacking-pass-and-move football for the full 90 that until recently has been the Wenger trademark.
In fact, yesterday was the first time in a long time when every Arsenal player looked totally comfortable with the role assigned to them and totally confident in the tactics chosen for the match. This is down to Wenger, and a one nil win is good reward for our fantastic manager.
The innovation was Freddie Ljungberg playing on the left of a central midfield three. It's the first time he has played this Frank Lampard position, but he played it like a veteran. He gave great defensive support either side of Gilberto and Reyes, and his link up and forward support play down the centre of the pitch with Thierry was very good and always threatening.
Last week I paraphrased Benitez when saying that sometimes a small change can bring big results. The decision to shift Ljungberg from the confines of the right wing where he has been badly struggling underlines the truth of that good Benitez saying.
Every Arsenal player deserves a mention for yesterday's win, so here goes:
Jens: Brilliant overall handling and great anticipation to race off his line to twice prevent Beckham. Our young defence is reassured by having his experienced and his (amusingly over) confident presence.
Eboue: A true star in the making. He looks like he has been playing in the first team for five years such is his composure and reading of the game. Matching up well to the combo of Robinho, Roberto Carlos and Zinedine Zidane speaks volumes for young Emmanuel. Also is not afraid to launch driving attacks down the right. A Wenger gem!
Flamini: Big credit must go to Mathieu for giving massive effort at LB against Beckham and Cichino. A bit reckless in his decision-making but I really like his (literally) roll-up-the-sleeves determined attitude that he brings to the team.
Toure: Was not phased by the responsibility of being Arsenal's defensive leader, and now equal with TH as the first name of the team-sheet. His heart is massive and I'm proud that he is a Gunner!
Senderos: His fundamental attributes are excellent, and after a few shaky moments in the first-half -which luckily weren't capitalised upon - he regained his nerve to put in a solid second-half CB display.
Gilberto: The weekend rest did our Brazilian world cup winner good, and he made use of the additional CM player to concentrate his efforts on protecting the back four. Did this job superbly.
Fabregas: Only 18 years old but turned in the performance of a seasoned midfielder. Put in a textbook performance of defensive and attacking awareness, accurate passing, and overall fantastic composure on the ball that underlines his massive potential.
Ljungberg: A revelation in his new left CM position. Great to see signs that the old Freddie is not dead.
Hleb: Played on the right wing, and the wide expanse of the Bernabeu suited his equally expansive game. Tenaciously supported Eboue in defensive areas, and contributed well to the midfield pass and move strategy. There is much more to come from the Belarussian.
Reyes: Luckily he was fit because he was crucial to the Arsenal tactics. With only TH up front, it was chiefly Reyes (along with Freddie) who had the significant duty to drive forward to support our captain. And he carried out this responsibility magnificently. Every time he got the ball he looked a big threat, and there was one outstanding run late in the second half when he ran fifty yards beating about three players that was simply fantastic.
Henry: Like Gilberto, the weekend's rest did TH good as he looked sharp from the very first minute. The only goal (and it was important to get an away goal!) was a solo Henry masterpiece - though somewhat helped by dodgy defending - and overall it’s the best I've seen him play in the one-man-up-front role. This is mainly because the support he got from the midfield was excellent. Also, great post-match comments from the Captain calling for level-head's with a tough second leg still to play.
The players put in really good performances, but I’ll repeat the biggest credit should go to Wenger for getting the tactics and team-selection absolutely right. From the first minute it looked right, and the players obviously felt the same way because they played with an individual and collective confidence that has not been seen since the time of the 49ers. Last week I talked about Arsenal needing a big boost to restore confidence and get back on the right track. And thankfully it came last night.
P.S. Credit to regular EFT contributor GunnerPete for informing us last week that his sixty plus years of Arsenal-supporting-senses were telling him that something good was going to happen very soon… you were right! And thanks to SKG who earlier today on EFT posted good compliments on the Arsenal performance… nice one mate!