What a day for a season opener yesterday was. Some seriously intense weather followed us around all day which made for a pretty positive attitude among most Gooners I was speaking to before the game. I made my way into the ground early to soak up a bit of atmosphere and find out what was going on. A few things I noticed. Firstly, the Indesit adverts for washing machines. Super bad. You can’t help but think the guys who tied up that sponsorship deal are just mad Arsenal fans. We’re also jumping two feet into social media. The club announced a hashtag for the game… kind of pointless as no one gets reception in the ground!
Then there were the players. Steve Bould has taken a totally new approach to the warm up before the game. Loads going on all over the pitch. It looks far more organised and far more technical. Giroud is a big lad when you see him in the flesh, there’s nothing gangly about the 6ft3 Frenchman. Podolski is quite small but powerfully built. Very similar in stature to Wayne Rooney. Cazorla is tiny…! Very slight in build!
The team lined up as I said yesterday. The main concern I had was around the full back positions, we looked quite weak on paper. I also wondered how our front three would work out considering the lack of size and the familiar issue we had last year of the Theo and Gervinho being a bit toothless.
Things were quite sloppy to begin with. We didn’t really get a foothold in the game. Stray passes and a lack of understanding made for quite awkward viewing. The first chance fell to them, I can’t remember who burst through into the box, but a smart save from Chezzer denied them a good opportunity. We started to wrestle back posession, down the other end Cazorla annoucned himself on the scene with high shot that was spectacularly tipped over by the keeper.
The team was quite comfortable knocking the ball around near the half way line, there did seem to be a reluctuance to really push forward. Sunderland had come to park the bus, but there’s still no excuse for being timid going forward. Gervinho was playing with a bit more guts than usual, he took the ball outside the full back, breezed into the box, cut back to Cazorla whose low shot went just wide.
Mertesacker found himself involved in some attacking player when he headed to Podolski who chested back for a snap half volley by Theo that just brushed wide of the post.
The only other time we really tested the keeper came when Diaby placed a low shot left of the keeper, sadly, Mignolet was down quick enough to tip it wide.
Overall, the first half was played with the handbrake well and truly on. We were like Swansea in our play. Too much build up around the half way line, not enough genuine penetration.
The second half was mostly dotted with time wasting, faked injury and frustration. We really didn’t move out of second gear despite the manager throwing everything he had on the bench at the issue. We were generally quite poor in posession and some of the players who should have been using the game to stake their claim on the first team didn’t really step up to the plate.
Theo Walcott was particularly disappointing. He just doesn’t have the basics there to become a consistent performer at the highest level. Speed is his one asset and he fails to utilise it to full effect. Well, that or tactically, Martin O’Neil recogised this and set up so Theo wouldn’t get the chance to run at them.
Ramsey, Giroud and Arshavin made it onto the pitch to try and kick us onto a goal, but their impact was minimal. Ramsey was particularly frustrating. He was a player who no excuse for being rusty. Giroud did look sharper than Podolski, he really does have the frame to make it in the league. He’s super confident as well, expect the spectacular from him this year. He was fed through on goal by Cazorla, but his shot with his right boot was just a foot or so wide of the far post. A real shame. He could have been a hero in his first twenty minutes!
The referree eventually blew up and we walked away from the Emirates with a disappointing 1 point. Not the ideal start to a season, but rest assured, Sunderland will take points of bigger teams than us this year.
The game lacked a certain punch I’d hoped for but there were certainly positives to be taken. I’ll get to worries out of the way before thought. I have a deep worry over the ability of Jenkinson. He doesn’t fit the mould of a right back and he really does look like a weak chink in our armoury. He’s quite clumsy and his final ball into the box is a long way off where it needs to be. On the other side of defence, I’m still amazed that Gibbs can be caught in posession and trot back like he’s an arrogant left midfielder who doesn’t need to defend. At the moment, without Sagna, we’re looking shaky.
In midfield, without really dazzling, we did ok. We controlled posession in the main, which against Sunderland is hardly an achievement, but considering Diaby, Cazorla and Arteta are completley alien to each other, it wasn’t a terrible performance. My key observation here is that Arteta and Diaby both played the holding role. We were far too deep. Someone needed to bomb on with Cazorla. Our system of rotating who sits deep needs to be refined so we’re not set up too defensively. I was pleased with Diaby though. Nothing amazing, but his ability to turn defence into attack quickly is still impressive.
Up top is where we really struggled. Cazorla is a very clever midfielder. He sees the passes no one else could last year, he loves to have a shot and he drifts into dangerous spaces with ease. I’m not sure the 3 up top were really attuned to his play yesterday. Podolski works hard but he’s still a way off the form that saw him score 19 goals last year. He’ll need time to adapt to the faster pace of the Premier League. Giroud looked more comfortable when he came on and he came closest to a goal. I have confidence both will come good at some point.
Gervinho looks like he’s made an improvement on last year. He has more confidence to run at people and he carved out a couple of decent chances. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a good year. What he needs to do is take more responsibility in front of goal. Too often we watch him play himself into good positions and not shoot. The same happened yesterday. He needs to be coached into snapping at opportunities if he’s ever to regain the form that saw him do so well in Ligue One.
Theo Walcott was very poor yesterday. Indecisive and full of bad decision making. If we could get some money for him before he decides to run down his contract, I think we’d be making a very good decision. There only seem to be a few teams that are suited to his style of play and those are the ones who let him run at them. Rumour has it he’ll be signing a new deal with us.
Overall, yesterday wasn’t the best start points wise, but I guess a disjointed performance is to be expected considering the lack of game time our decimated squad has had together. We need to gel fast though. We can’t afford 3 draws this month. We need to start putting points on that table and we need to be serious about challenging the top two. Nothing is more important than putting ourselves back on the map as contenders.
The big story yesterday was Alex Song agreeing terms with Barcelona. The move no one thought was going to happen (unless you’ve been reading Le Grove), happened. Good riddance to him. We’ll be stronger without him and hopefully we’ll be a more disciplined unit. Duncan Castles reckons we’ve all but tied up a deal to bring Sahin to Arsenal on a year long loan. The only thing holding up the deal is our insistence we have a purchase clause on the deal. We don’t want to be a shop window for the rest of Europe.
Outside that, don’t be surprised to see another new face. No idea who or where they’d play, but I’d imagine a back up keeper and a defender to be on the agenda.
I also heard a little snippet about Jack working very hard to get back to full fitness. He’ll be back well before the slated November date.
See you in the comments!
P.S. Sorry for the site outage yesterday, an air con unit went down server side and everything broke. What ya gonna do?!
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