So as we all know by now, Arsenal, club in crisis, beat West Brom and didn't really break too much of a sweat doing so. Think about that for a minute, and try to remember - when was the last time Arsenal won a game that they were expected to win, and won it comfortably?
One of the things about recent Arsenal is that they don't really follow a map. If they need to get from point A to point G, they'll generally go A, C, F, socks, vacuum cleaner, toothpaste, D, B, E, G. Sure, they get there, but it's a trip fraught with unnecessary nerves and tension and detours that make Billy from the Family Circus look like the most focused person in the world. At this point, I would like to apologize to everyone for making a Family Circus reference, and promise that I will not now start talking about Garfield. I DON'T KNOW WHO I AM ANY MORE
Anyway, the point to all that was, it was nice to see Arsenal win a game fairly simply. They didn't overcomplicate things and they didn't get in each other's way all that much, which given some of the early-season results is by no means a given. You know how, in sports, people always talk about "chemistry" like it's some magic potion that will make a crappy team a contender, and will make a contender be the 1927 Yankees? In soccer, there's a large degree of truth to that. Soccer is a game that depends on communication, on flow, and on rapid movement, and for the last two to work the first one has to be in place.
Communication is complicated in the best of situations, but when you have a team like Arsenal, which draws players from all over the world, it's even harder to establish solid, predictable, and dependable communication when English, the language of the training ground and of the team, is not the first language of many of the players. Given all the hurdles that must be overcome in just learning enough of the language to get by, it's understandable that a team would take a while to get used to playing together.
One of the most used cliches in soccer is some variation of "it takes a while for a team to gel" - the notion that a team of players that are new to each other will need weeks or months to learn each other's tendencies, patterns, and habits on the field. I think what we saw yesterday was the first time since the Great Crisis Buying Spree of August 2011 that this particular Arsenal team has realized they're on the same page, and after a season (seasons!) of nervy wins and annoying losses, it was really fun to watch a game that you knew by half time was pretty much done as a contest.
Now, don't get me wrong - I understand it was West Brom. Full respect to them, but West Brom are not exactly one of the Manchesters or Chelsea. But that's my point. Arsenal have dropped so many points against those "lesser" teams in the last couple years that it was by no means a given that a team in the bottom half of the table would come to the Emirates and get their asses handed to them, and it's nice to see.
Arsenal still have a fair amount of work to do, but the work they did in August is starting to pay off. Now there's another stupid pointless international break to contend with, but at least Arsenal and its fans can go into this break knowing that the team has started to play up to its potential, and can look forward to more of the same in the last -part of 2011 and into 2012.
Now can we please stop having international breaks? Thanks.