An anxious performance from a new look Arsenal was just enough to take the three points on a day when the result mattered more than anything – but the display did little to raise the spirits of supporters still reeling from the loss of Fabregas and Nasri.
Following on from Black Sunday at old Trafford it was imperative to get a morale boosting first league victory and the fixture computer couldn’t have been kinder, handing us a home game against relegation favourites Swansea. That we only squeaked a win thanks to good keeping from Szczesny and a woeful late miss from Danny Graham shows just how much work is still to be done.
Wenger handed starts to two of his deadline day signings, Per Mertesacker and Mikel Arteta. The duo had contrasting afternoons with the Spanish midfielder starting the game on fire, linking well with van Persie to set up Ramsey for a first minute chance the Welsh youngster should’ve done better with. Arteta was picking out passes at will and orchestrating our attacks in a lively, determined display that looks like £10m well spent.
At the other end the 6’6 German certainly looked the part, but made a couple of noticeable errors, the most worrying when he was easily beaten in the air in the seventh minute by Graham and Szczesny had to plunge low to his left and make a terrific stop. At least he looked comfortable in possession and made one perfectly timed tackle that evoked memories of Bobby Moore’s famous moment against Brazil in the 1970 World Cup. It looks like he’ll take a while to adjust to the English game though and that’s a worry considering Vermaelen’s lengthy absence.
A moment of quality from the pocket Russian won the match
On 15 minutes Arsenal had another great chance to open the scoring when Arshavin drifted infield from the left flank, collected a neat pass from Arteta and sent Walcott scurrying clear. Swansea keeper Vorm took the pace off Walcott’s left footed effort though and it was cleared off the line.
By now Swansea had weathered the early Arsenal onslaught and were looking more comfortable, getting some joy down the weak left side of our defence where Gibbs and Koscielny looked vulnerable.
Just as it looked like we’d have to settle for a goalless half, Vorm had the proverbial nightmare, bowling the ball against a defender’s legs and giving Arshavin the chance to shoot at an empty net from an acute angle. The Russian did very well to stroke the ball home for a comical but very welcome goal.
After the break Koscielny demonstrated the rash side of his game as he dived in on speedster Sinclair on the edge of the box when he should’ve stood his ground. He was booked and Sinclair clipped the bar with the resultant free kick – a let off for Koscielny and Arsenal. The Frenchman is still far from the finished article.
Three minutes later van Persie showed fantastic footwork to fashion himself a chance from 20 yards which struck the post, but the remainder of the game was a tense affair devoid of much quality as Arsenal seemed to come forward less and less. The players looked nervy and with confidence still low after the 8-2 horror show they seemed content to keep possession and take a 1-0 win.
Yossi Benayoun came on for Arshavin and buzzed around, looking determined and lively without ever really threatening. Chamakh replaced van Persie and almost scored with a header, but did little else. I am eager to see what Park Chu Young brings to the table as Chamakh is nowhere near the player he was 12 months ago.
Injury time arrived with Arsenal fans frantically whistling for the game to end as they sensed the nervousness amongst the players and knew that Arsenal could throw away any lead. It nearly happened too when Szczesny failed to punch a corner clear – his only error of the match – and Graham blazed over from eight yards to let Wenger’s men off the hook.
The mood at the final whistle was a mixture of relief and disappointment. Despite being glad to get the three points, the fans knew that performances like this wouldn’t see us challenge for a Europa place, never mind a Champions League one. The excitement and anticipation of a new dawn had long gone as the realisation that the new signings weren’t an instant fix sunk in.
However, there’s no need to write off the season just yet. Wenger summed it up perfectly when he spoke of the Man Utd defeat after the match:
“You could see it was not completely out of the system today in the second half and that’s why it was so important to win.”
The anxiety we showed will disappear if we can string a few results together and I firmly believe there’s a lot more to come from this squad than we saw today. Injuries and suspensions robbed us of five definite starters in Santos, Vermaelen, Song, Wilshere and Gervinho while the link up between Arteta and van Persie was encouraging. Mertesacker will surely improve as he adapts to the Premiership and Santos, who resembled a middleweight boxer as he warmed up along the touchline, will add strength and experience to our problem left back position.
Szczesny continues to impress, not only with his shot stopping but his authority and presence. During the second half he came for and cleanly took a couple of high balls that would’ve had me crapping my pants if it was Fabianski or Almunia underneath them.
So despite the poor second half performance I’m hopeful that once the new boys settle in and the injuries clear up, we’ll really see what this team is capable of. It would be very harsh to judge the post Fabregas era on this one match – we need to allow the new signings to gel with their teammates first and only then can we truly assess this Arsenal side.
Follow oohtobeagooner on Facebook
for more latest Arsenal transfer news, injury news, team news and rumours.