Andriy Arshavin believes he has become "more effective" since joining Arsenal, even if the Russian playmaker feels he is now "less sparkling".
The 29-year-old has been something of an enigma for the Gunners since his £15m arrival from Zenit St Petersburg in January last year. Capable of moments of sheer genius, including a memorable four-goal salvo at Liverpool, Arshavin has also been a great source of frustration for Gunners fans as he often drifts in and out of matches.
The Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger, feels much of that malaise has been down to bitter disappointment at Russia missing out on qualification for the World Cup as well as a string of niggling injuries. Arshavin has impressed during the opening three matches of the new Premier League season, scoring twice, including the winner at Blackburn last weekend. The Russian admits he is puzzled by his inconsistencies. "The year and a half in England has significantly changed me," Arshavin told the Russian media. "I became calmer, more professional and spend more time with my family. As for football I can say that my style has also altered – it is more effective, but less sparkling. I don't remember when was the last time I scored a really beautiful goal. It is frustrating. I tried to analyse this, but can find no answers. It is likely that my injuries last year had an effect, because on three occasions I was out for a month, but it is feeble to talk about injuries."
The Gunners sit second in the table, two points behind the champions Chelsea who have opened with an impressive three straight victories. Much was made of the way Arsenal came through a test of character up at Ewood Park before the international break. With the Champions League campaign kicking off later this month, there will be plenty more challenges ahead before Wenger takes his men to Stamford Bridge on 3 October to face their title rivals. Arsenal have never been short on attacking firepower, with the rejuvenated England forward Theo Walcott having scored four goals already. However, the defence has been less than watertight in recent seasons, with new arrivals Sébastien Squillaci and Laurent Koscielny looking to make sure there is no repeat of the 41 league goals conceded last term. The centre-back Thomas Vermaelen is in no doubt where Arsenal's championship challenge must begin. "It sounds silly, but as a defender you are happier after a 6-0 win with the clean sheet than if you have scored one goal but you concede two," the Belgian international told Arsenal TV Online. "Maybe for some people they are not happy to hear that, but for me the most important thing is to defend and to defend as a team as well, and then we will get further as a team. If we defend first, then we can win games. After that we will see."
Arsenal lost their striker Robin van Persie to an ankle problem at Ewood Park, but hope the Netherlands striker, who missed six months of the last campaign through injury, will only be out of action for a couple of weeks. The winger Samir Nasri could make a quicker than expected return from his minor knee operation, perhaps even in time to face Bolton next Saturday. However, it remains to be seen when Nicklas Bendtner will fully recover from his niggling groin problem, which has sidelined him since the World Cup.
At Tottenham, the goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes believes the feel-good factor can help Harry Redknapp's side continue their progress in the Premier League and on into Europe. Spurs finished fourth last season, before Redknapp then safely guided his men into the lucrative group stages of the Champions League and a place among the elite clubs of European football. The Spurs manager pulled off a coup on transfer deadline day, securing the £8m capture of Dutch international Rafael van der Vaart from Real Madrid.
When the players resume domestic action, they will be looking to prove a shock 1-0 home defeat to struggling Wigan was a minor blip ahead of the European trip to Werder Bremen and the small matter of a Carling Cup tie against Arsenal. Brazil goalkeeper Gomes feels White Hart Lane is a good place to be. "I love the atmosphere here," Gomes told the club magazine Hotspur. "I try to build a good relationship with the supporters because I like to feel together as one with them. They make the club what it is. We operate in a very good atmosphere and that can only help. It ensures team unity and, with it, a feeling that anything and everything is possible. The team spirit here is great. It has to be that way because the Premier League is so tough. You must band together to succeed."