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Sep, 30, 2009

Vermaelen: Gunners beginning to hit top form

After a stylish 2-0 victory over Olympiakos in the Champions League on Tuesday night, Thomas Vermaelen has told ESPN Soccernet that Arsenal are starting to rediscover their swagger after two disappointing defeats in Manchester.

Arsenal started the season in impressive form when scoring 15 goals in their opening four games, but early optimism gave way to introspection when they were beaten by Manchester United and Manchester City in back-to-back Premier League fixtures.

In the context of four successive seasons without a trophy, real questions were asked of Arsene Wenger and his side, but they have responded superbly, winning five games in a row in all competitions, as well as keeping a clean sheet in their past four.

The most vivid proof of the club's reconstructed confidence came on Tuesday night when an Arsenal side, inspired by front three Andrei Arshavin, Tomas Rosicky and Robin van Persie, produced a scintillating performance to defeat Olympiakos in the Champions League, dominating possession and creating 21 chances to the visitors' five. It leaves the Gunners with maximum points from two games and in a strong position, according to their £10 million summer signing.

"Are we beginning to hit our stride? Yes," Vermaelen told ESPN Soccernet. "I think in the first half we played very well. We played the game that we wanted to play; between the lines with quick passing. It is difficult but that is the way we want to play and you get a lot of chances.

"I think [a second victory is a good platform]. Especially because we won the first game away and if you win your home games I think you have a lot of points and it is very important today that we won this game."

Despite dominating proceedings at Emirates Stadium, especially in the first half, Arsenal had to wait until 78 minutes to take the lead when Van Persie converted from Eduardo's cross. With four minutes remaining, Arshavin added a deserved second when producing an inventive backheel, despite being in an offside position.

Until the late breakthrough, it seemed as though Arsenal would be denied by a superb performance from Olympiakos goalkeeper Antonios Nikopolidis who made a string of fine saves. Vermaelen, though, insists his side were never unduly concerned.

"Okay we scored a little bit late but we were patient in the game I think," he said. "We played very well in the first half, we had a lot of chances and we knew that the chances would come in the second half. If you score in the 85th minute or the 60th minute it doesn't matter, but we were happy with the goal from Robin of course."

Vermaelen was picked up from Ajax in the summer and the Belgian defender has certainly made an immediate impression on his new supporters. Striking up a promising partnership with William Gallas in central defence, Vermaelen has also proved a potent weapon in attack and is currently Arsenal's top scorer with four goals in ten games.

The 23-year-old, who averaged only two league goals a season in his four years with the Ajax first team, credits the expert delivery from team-mate van Persie and the art of anticipation for his unexpectedly-prolific form.

"It is not a secret, it is just being smart in the box really," Vermaelen said. "Think where the ball can be when somebody crosses. You just have to make good runs and sometimes the ball comes in there and you can score goals. It is the delivery as well. Robin has a great free-kick and for us that is very important, I think everything helps for us in that situation.''

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