A rusty Arsenal dug deep to claim a crucial victory on the opening day and keep the feelgood factor alive at the Emirates.
To be honest Wenger’s men didn’t really do enough to deserve the victory having failed to open Palace up enough from open play, but winning ugly is a component of a title winning side and shouldn’t be criticised.
Besides which, there were mitigating circumstances to Arsenal’s lack of fizz as three key players were missing (Walcott, Mertesacker and Ozil) whilst the numerous stars who’d been on World Cup duty looked short of match fitness. Wenger claimed before the match that his players weren’t physically ready for the season kick off and he was right, as sloppy passes and a lack of tempo played into Crystal Palace’s hands.
Giroud’s lack of match fitness meant Sanogo was handed a start but the youngster looks out of his depth. He had a couple of good moments, both of which saw him recover a clumsy first touch to work an opening, but in the main the game passed him by. He is very raw and reminds me so much of a young Adebayor when the Togolese first arrived at the Emirates. There’s a chance Wenger can coax Sanogo down the same illustrious path Adebayor trod, but it certainly won’t be this season and we cannot afford to give him many more starts and expect to get away with it.
For me Alexis should’ve started down the middle. He was by far our most creative player, wanted the ball constantly and tenaciously fought to win back possession or get on the end of a pass. You want your best players down the centre where they can hurt the opposition more — we won’t win the title with Sanogo or Giroud playing there (although the latter is a great squad option who gives us power and an aerial threat if it’s needed). Hopefully Wenger will give Alexis his chance sooner rather than later and isn’t waiting for Theo to come back before doing so. A front three of Alexis down the middle flanked by Cazorla and the Ox with Ozil in the number 10 role should be how we set up at Goodison Park next weekend. Let’s see them try to press us high up the pitch with that pace and skill threatening them on the counter!
Encouragingly, there is much more to come from Alexis as you could see that despite his brilliance at times, he was still not match fit. A couple of over-hit crosses towards the end of the match as he tired was testament to that. He was not alone though, as sloppy passes from Wilshere, Cazorla and a couple of others betrayed the general lack of sharpness Wenger was justifiably bemoaning.
All this means now is not the time to assess how well we can do this season. Judge Wenger’s side next month when all of his players are back and most importantly, everyone is match fit. I am not concerned by our lacklustre performance today — the important thing was to keep up the momentum that two trophies and some good signings have brought.
The match itself wasn’t very noteworthy — three set piece goals says it all really. Pulis may not have been in the dugout but he was there in spirit as his players implemented the system he taught them very well. They frustrated us by getting men behind the ball, working hard and taking their only chance of the game to snatch a shock lead. A poor clearance by Szczesny led to a corner which Hangeland glanced in after Koscielny failed to track his run.
Koscielny celebrates his redemption
Five minutes later the roles were reversed as Koscielny got the run on Hangeland to head home Alexis’ perfect free kick and the scores were level at the break.
Palace inevitably tired with 20 minutes left and the introduction of Giroud for the hopeless Sanogo and the Ox for Wilshere gave us added impetus, but despite all our possession Speroni still wasn’t really threatened. However, a couple of determined headers from Koscielny and Giroud gave Debuchy an opening in stoppage time which was parried straight to the grateful Ramsey and the three points were ours. Job done and a great start.
The standout players for me were Alexis, as mentioned, and Chambers. He will be tested more in other games but he did his work with a calm authority and confidence that greatly impressed me. He can be our third choice centre half without doubt, but we need another body there otherwise you’re looking at Monreal or Ignasi Miquel for the fourth centre back spot. Monreal doesn’t even convince me at left back, never mind in the middle.
Arteta was also quietly efficient, although against better opposition he’s not quite up to it and won’t last a full season anyway. We desperately need an alternative there, which isn’t Wilshere or Diaby as Wenger has hinted. A specialist defensive midfielder is required, especially if Wenger intends to play 4-1-4-1 as he did today. I think it’s a formation that could get the best out of Ramsey and Wilshere, but only if a Khedira, Carvalho or even Mbia is protecting the back four while our fullbacks are upfield. At the very least I’m glad to see Wenger shaking things up tactically at last — today we tried a different formation in the league for the first time in about five years!
Anyway, if Wenger can get those last two signings done we’ll be in great shape and then we can look forward to really seeing what this exciting squad is capable of when it’s firing on all cylinders next month.
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