A 2-1 win away at Blackburn offers hope that we might be ready to overcome the physical tests needed to challenge for the championship. But the warning signs are there that our defence will remain our Achilles heel.
Our first goal was from the top drawer and delivered the quick, one and two-touch passing that used to cut opponents apart regularly and was the trademark of Wenger’s teams. It has been lacking over the past few years and has been exacerbated by the switch to 4-3-3 but the opening strike showed that we – and particularly Theo – are at our most effective when we move the ball at pace and don’t allow opponents to organise themselves.
But worryingly, Blackburn’s equaliser was a showcase of our defensive weakness. It came from a foiled attack of our own; Fabregas and Diaby had both made runs upfield and were then unable to get back into defence; a weak challenge by Koscielny – himself having to pull over into space Sagna should have been occupying - allowed his man to hit the byline and, with the back four in a state of confusion and disarray, Almunia compounded the problems by rushing out and making it easier for El Hadji Diouf to pick out (the unmarked) Mame Biram Diouf.
It was a messy goal that we had contributed to as much as Blackburn had earned and was indicative of a naivety that is a ruinous flaw of this team. Too often we are caught pressing forwards eagerly and players are suddenly required to turn and sprint back to their position to avert the danger. Away from home particularly, I wish our defensive five would leave their foot off the gas and not committed themselves to an attack.
At least we stood up to the aerial threat with more steel than we showed in the same fixture at the end of last season. This time round Almunia, rather than Fabianksi, was pretty faultless when it came to crosses and corners and looked solid. And in the second half we were more composed and looked far more threatening. A question to ponder in coming months was how much of this was to do with Chamakh doing a better all-round job than the injured Van Persie.
So overall, four points from two trips north is not to be sniffed at. On another day Blackburn may have gained an equaliser through David Dunn’s late opportunity and it could be a sign that this team is set for a championship challenge that they took all three points. But my head says unless Wenger picks up at least a keeper before the transfer window closes on Tuesday this kind of away result won’t become the norm.